**The below reflection is published by kind permission of Professor Clive Marsh, Vice President of the Methodist Conference 2019-20. It was first published yesterday in Theology Everywhere, where a reflection on an issue or topic is posted each Monday. All are welcome to subscribe.**
We are using a whole new language. (‘Are you on mute?’, ‘Send me a link’, ‘Are you the host?’) Digital natives (those who’ve lived with computers since birth) are simply saying ‘welcome to our world!’ (the new real world?). Those not au fait, or even wanting to be au fait, with such technology are saying ‘but I’m now not part of the “we”’ you’ve just referred to. So when this is all over, I won’t be within what you’re calling “the new normal”.’ And I won’t even mention the question of ‘Zoom Communion’. I’ll just say it’s at times like this I’m glad I’m not a presbyter. No one can buttonhole me (even virtually) and ask why on earth we can’t ‘do Communion’ across the WWW and expect me to be able to do anything about it.
‘Zoom Communion’ is, though, just the tip of a very large iceberg of issues raised by the digital world for the ways in which the church conducts itself, undertakes its mission, and in which theology takes shape. I can quite see why those who actively explore ‘digital theology’ become exasperated with a church which seems to go at a snail’s pace when, from their perspective, ‘things have to change (and quickly)’. I can also sense (and sometimes share) the alarm of what might happen if too many changes happened too rapidly, and too substantially.
There can be little doubt that when our lockdown ends, or as its strictures are gradually relaxed, when social distancing is eased, and when we take stock of what has been happening in recent weeks, digital theology will have more allies, or sympathizers: ‘you know, that Zoom thing really is good. It’s got me thinking about the different ways our theology of conferring could happen.’ ‘Pastoral care could be thought of differently, you know, than we’ve been doing it for years.’ ‘More people might be willing to join in with meetings, so we could have a more diverse group.’ ‘Class meetings could make a comeback.’
That’s only the positive stuff, of course. There are counter-arguments too. Lots of people I know are ‘Zoomed out’ already through all meetings and one-to-ones going online. Plenty are missing seeing others (really seeing), not to mention the extroverts who need their hugs. I’ve been wondering myself whether I’ll get things wrong ‘after lockdown’ – or at least behave awkwardly – by hugging people I’ve never hugged in my life before (and can’t honestly remember whether I have) simply because I’ll be so pleased to see them. It will take a while to adjust after the initial re-assessment of social relations (actual and virtual). But we will, I hope, start to ask harder questions, and in fresh ways, such as: when do we need to meet in person? What is best done online, not just for money-saving reasons, but also for the sake of resisting climate change, and to save time? And these practical questions are caught up within a bigger range of issues of direct theological import, not least about creation, Sabbath, and what ‘church’ is anyway.
Behind those hidden, theological framework kinds of questions other, even more basic, stuff is buzzing around too. What is ‘really real’ anyway? The terms ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ have become fuzzy, but have helpfully pressed us to say what is ‘real’. ‘Fake’ has also intervened as an overused, but still important, term. ‘Virtual’ is not the same as ‘fake’. But the realm of the ‘fictional’, the ‘made-up’ is tangled up in there too. This has always been the case in the worlds of faith, belief and theology. We do make things up (even some of our God stories) but that’s only because it’s sometimes hard to get at what’s true and real (really real), as what’s real and true has never simply been about ‘what happens’ or what we can prove (scientifically).
I recall that one of the first pieces I ever wrote which had to do with the Internet (20 years ago? I can’t even remember) was prompted by claims that it would give us a whole new understanding of the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen some of the thoughts I put on paper back then re-emerging in articles and blogposts which have appeared in recent weeks. The Holy Spirit is really real, even whilst not visible, and yet seems very active as people connect ‘virtually’.
A new insight brought to my attention in the lockdown is how inclusive some new more informal forms of church are proving for those on the autism spectrum. People can be involved (e.g. doing a craft or art activity at home amongst family members) in a ‘bigger congregation’ without necessarily having to look at the camera, and without the stress (for them or for other family-members) of ‘going to church’.
All I hope, in the post-lockdown phase of the church’s life, is that we don’t get polarized, and that we do really reflect carefully and appropriately critically on the experiences that we’ve been having. For some, it will be about ‘getting back to normal’ (for which read ‘proper worship’). But what if the online worship has sometimes felt more ‘real’ than some of our past Sunday activity? What if we find that online life has added a new depth to what we go back to experiencing on Sunday (or Monday, or Wednesday, or whenever our face-to-face worship happens)? There will, in other words, need to be fresh considerations about what is real, and what helps us connect with the Really Real (I’m sure someone must have used that term for God before) in all our post-lockdown theological debate – whether or not the word ‘theology’ itself is used.
Professor Clive Marsh
Vice President of the Methodist Conference 2019-20
One of our Local Preachers in the North Cheshire Circuit of the Methodist Church, Professor David Clough, who is also Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, shares his reflections on the current COVID-19 pandemic and our response as believers. This was recorded live during a service at Wesley Methodist Church, Chester, held recently via Zoom.
Each Sunday morning, BBC Radio 4 broadcasts worship from a church somewhere around the UK. Last Sunday this was a service for Passion Sunday with Methodist theologian Associate Professor Edgardo Colon-Emeric who is Director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke University in the US and the Rev'd. Canon Dr. Jennifer Smith, Superintendent Minister of Wesley's Chapel, London.
The service reflected theologically on the current world situation in the context of Passion Sunday and the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Oscar Romero.
Maybe this is a good time for reconciliation in our own lives? If we have not already, we can use this opportunity to reconnect with someone we had a disagreement with or phone a friend who we have not spoken to for at least a month. Let's keep in touch with the people who are important to us and support each other in these challenging times.
For those who are interested, the Radio 4 service can be found on the BBC website here for 28 days after it was broadcast, and this is also where future broadcasts of Sunday Worship may also be found.
Frodsham Methodist Church Webmaster
During this time, the Methodist Church in Britain is providing a number of resources online for Methodists to continue to worship.
Online Worship Resources
The best place to find these online resources is by following this link:
A number of Methodist Churches around the country are also conducted acts of worship online. These include the following:
Wesley's Chapel in London who will live-stream from the chapel (the Minister lives on the premises):
Swan Bank Methodist Church in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, this worship will be studio based – with strict distancing rules being followed:
www.youtube.com/user/SwanBank and www.facebook.com/swanbank/
Methodist Central Hall Westminster:
Frodsham Churches Together with The Salvation Army
What it is, what the church is doing, what you can do.
Developing a plan of action for the Church working together.
Frodsham Methodist Church, 29th March.
For registration complete the registration form, available here, or for programme and further details e-mail email@example.com.
On Tuesday 10th December we are able to visit the Beacon House of Prayer, which is in Stoke-on-Trent, to spend time learning how the House works, using the prayer spaces in the House and joining in their prayer gathering that happens between 12 and 1pm.
Karen Porter, the pastor, will talk to us about how the House came into being and they will provide a sandwich lunch. A donation will be given at the end of the day. We shall leave soon after 9am and leave the House mid-afternoon. If you would like to go please speak to Andrea Ellams or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Beacon House of Prayer, visit their website.
At 2pm on Friday 30th November, Mr. Graham Evans, Member of Parliament for Weaver Vale, will be officially opening the 2012 Art Exhibition, 'Creative Winter'.
We invite all to come along and welcome him to Frodsham Methodist Church and to be the first to see the entries to this year's Exhibition. Please join us if you can. All welcome.
The Exhibiton will then be open throughout the weekend:
Friday 30th November from 2pm to 5pm
Saturday 1st December from 10am to 5pm
Sunday 2nd December from 1pm to 4pm
Stalls : Pluck-a-Duck : Children’s Activities : Traidcraft : Refreshments
Admission Free : Programmes £2.00
For more details, e-mail Exhibition Organiser Mr. Alun Evans on email@example.com.
“Daring to Be” is a dramatic presentation of worship for our time. It has been prepared and will be presented by the churches of Frodsham.
It is at St Luke’s on 8th September at 8pm. It is the Church’s contribution to Weaver Words, Frodsham’s first Literary Festival.
A Service of welcome and installation of Susie Treeton as the Chaplain of Chapelfields Care Home will take place this Sunday, 8th July at 2.30pm at Chapelfields Care Home, Frodsham. Chapelfields is managed by Methodist Homes for the Aged (MHA).
Please do come along and share in this important event. All welcome.
The Traidcraft stall in the Church Hall will be selling Fair Trade Easter eggs this week - the 'Real Easter Egg', which includes a little booklet with the Easter story (£3.99), and a Denis the Menace egg with a Dubble bar, which includes a donation to Comic Relief (£4). There will also be Easter cards on sale.
Check out our Calendar for a listing of all events.
Frodsham Methodist Church on YouTube here.
North Cheshire Circuit on YouTube here.
The reflections are written by members of our congregation.