May 2020 – letter 4
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
As we emerge from the lockdown there is much talk of the ‘new normal’. Quite what this is or what it refers to I find hard to pin down.
One would hope that the ‘new’ was about how people behave and how people treat one another.
It has been said that over the lockdown period the number of people who have volunteered has been greater than expected. Many people volunteered after the government asked people to step up, sadly only to find that there was not the structure in place to use most of them. Apart from that many people have helped others, many furloughed workers have used their time to support others, to support the NHS, to support the most vulnerable around them. Once back at work people may not have the time they have now, but perhaps they will have the heart to do what they can.
Many companies have given of their produce and products to the frontline workers. It would be so good if they could still see their ways to continuing this for those still in need after the lockdown.
There will still be elderly people who are feeling lonely, there will still be so many homeless, there will still be people in poverty and difficulty.
It would be so good if the ‘new normal’ was one that continued to look after the needy, those on the edge, those on the verge.
We have all felt what it is to be vulnerable, we have all felt what it is to be powerless. Perhaps we all understand a bit more what it is lie for those who live in that state day after day.
If the ‘new normal’ is about that way we see people differently than before and if it is about how we treat people differently than before and it becomes the normal way to live then we have gained something from what we may have thought lost.
But this ‘new normal’ is not just for us. It surely must be for how we see the church operates in the future. It must surely be for our companies, for our councils, for our organisations, for our society and for our government to act in the same way.
If the ‘new normal’ is about compassion, about care and about support then it is not just ‘new’ but ‘better’.
In the event that the others do not respond in this way, it is up to us as the Methodist Church, with our brothers and sisters in an ecumenical capacity, as Christians to bring the ‘new normal’ into being, but funnily enough that ‘new normal’ is what we have been doing in so many cases in the past and present as we have sought and now seek to bring the kingdom in.
Rev. Mark Barrett
Superintendent Presbyteral Minister of the North Wiltshire Methodist Circuit.
Presbyteral Minister for Bath Road, St. Andrew’s and Rodbourne Methodist churches.
May 2020 – letter 3
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Each day I go for a walk, well two actually. One is just before ‘lunchtime’ on my own, another is later when my wife gets home and we walk together. I, and we, vary our routes so as not to get bored and have seen quite a lot of our surrounding areas of which we were previously unaware.
On these walks you notice things you often do not notice when driving.
There is a tendency to take notice of the houses you pass and especially along one road where there are houses that range from big to large to enormous.
Whatever the size of the house though we can look at them and create a vision of who lives there. If we are not careful we can let our minds take flights of fancy and invent a whole lifestyle and persona by just looking at the house.
We may look at the size of the house and its grounds, if the garden at the front is colourful and tidy or overgrown and seemingly jungle. We may look at the front that has no garden and muse on the gravel, tidy or with plants growing through, or the block paving, clean or weeds in the cracks.
We can look at the state of the front of the house with clean windows and paintwork or looking forlorn and uncared for.
There are the cars. What type is it, what do we think it cost. Is it family, sensible, business-like or just a bit too flashy.
Do they have a sky dish, if not do they have another company by cable or none at all.
Why are some places unkempt but have Sky or a smart car and we surmise ‘we know where their priorities lie.’
We make assumptions about employment, income, class, lifestyle, aspirations, and background.
Or maybe it’s just me and my literary imagination.
If we actually went in, knocked on the door and chatted to these people we may find out how wide of the mark our assumptions have been.
If others were walking past our house and making such assumptions about us, how would we feel when we heard them, as they too were wide of the mark?
The same is true of how we see people in and around our streets. We must not judge on what WE see, our unconscious bias may lead us astray to judgements that are neither accurate nor Christian.
The same for people looking at us. We do not parade our faith, so they do not know. That is of no consequence to us, it is what we do, not what we show, that is dear to us and God.
When Samuel is sent by God to Jesse to look amongst his sons for the one chosen to be king in place of Saul, Samuel surveys all the sons one by one. When Eliab appears, Samuel is convinced he is the one:
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”’ (1 Samuel 16:7)
So too must we, not just on our walks observing houses or people in this time or the future, but in all we meet as we travel this journey of life and faith together. As you would want people to judge you by what is in your heart, so in grace, mercy and love God commands us to do the same for them.
May 2020 – letter 2
Dear sisters and brothers,
Monday 11th May was a special day. It was Somerset Day. Somerset, my home county.
If I asked you to name famous people born in Somerset would you come up with these? Mary Berry (TV Cook), John Cleese (comedian), Jenson Button (Formula 1 racing driver), Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones actor), Dame Jacqueline Wilson (children’s author), Russell Howard (comedian), Richie Blackmore (guitarist with Deep Purple), Amy Williams (skeleton bob Olympic gold medallist), Kris Marshall (actor-Death in Paradise). These are just a few. There are other greats who have lived there for a while such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, Ranulph Fiennes, Sir Peter Blake, Deborah Meaden and Robert Falcon Scott.
The two famous things about Somerset I was proudest of are:
General at Sea Robert Blake (27 September 1598 – 17 August 1657) was an important naval commander of the Commonwealth of England and one of the most famous English admirals of the 17th century. His successes have been considered to have “never been excelled, not even by Nelson” according to one biographer. Blake is recognised as the chief founder of England’s naval supremacy, a dominance subsequently inherited by the British Royal Navy into the early 20th century. Despite this, due to deliberate attempts to expunge the Parliamentarians from history following the Restoration, Blake’s achievements tend not to receive the full recognition that they deserve.
The Battle of Sedgemoor was the last and decisive engagement between the King of England, James II, and rebels lead by the Duke on Monmouth during the rebellion, fought on 6 July 1685, and took place at Westonzoyland near Bridgwater in Somerset, resulting in a victory for the King’s army. Victory went to the Government and about 500 prisoners fell into their hands. Monmouth escaped from the battlefield but was captured, taken to London and executed nine days later. Many of Monmouth’s supporters were tried during the Bloody Assizes. Many were transported abroad, while others were executed by drawing and quartering. It was the last battle on English soil.
Perhaps with those two, that’s where my non-conformity comes from.
My dad was a very proud Somerset man and we can trace our line of Barretts back to……………
Although I have lived over twice as long out of Somerset as I lived in it, it is still the place of my roots. It is especially important for me as an itinerant to have a place like that.
But each one of us have another place that we fully relate to. As much as we may take aspects into our lives from our places of birth or experience, so we even more so take them from the Kingdom of God.
As Christians the place of our rebirth, of our sojourn and of our destination is the Kingdom of God. On being reborn into it we seek to learn it ways, as we travel through it we seek to share and show its gifts and blessing to those we travel alongside, and at the end we gather in a place of peace and love.
For us there is the opportunity that every day is Kingdom Day.
May 2020 – letter 1
Dear brothers and sisters,
Every day Gill and I go out for our exercise on her return from work. We walk one day, perhaps cycle another, depending on the weather and our own particular wont.
As we pass people who are on foot or cycle we acknowledge one another, a brief glance, a smile and a word of greeting. Each day we take a different route at slightly different times and so meet different people, but all respond.
I would not say that it induces a sense of community in us as we pass, but it does bring a sense of humanity into a world of distance and space between us. I suspect for a number of people this chance to walk or cycle has only presented itself because they have time. Previously they may well have been rushed by the demands of work, of school drop offs, of family journeys most of which have ceased for the time being.
Now there is talk of the lockdown being eased. There is talk of people, some, going back to work. There is talk of some years being allowed back into school. There is talk of a gradual return to the cycle of life we had before the lockdown, and while it may be a good few months before we are at all back to the ‘normal’ of before, each is a step in another sort of journey.
As we ease back into how things were, will we also ease back into how we were with each other. Will people have discovered that the time taken to walk/cycle together as a family, is a benefit to continue, or will the time crowd in? Will people have discovered that a fleeting glance, smile and word were pleasant to share, give and receive? Once back in cars will people return to the incarceration of greetings, once they are shut in the safety of the metal box they also shut themselves in?
However others may behave, can I encourage us as Christians to continue to share that fleeting greeting, that acknowledgement that we recognise one another as one humanity with all our frailties and foibles. We do not know what others have been through, but we do know that we have all been through something together. I pray that we will continue to show others that they still matter, that they still have a place in our lives, even in passing, where they deserve to be acknowledged.
As we continue to recognise, acknowledge and greet our neighbours and those in our community we may find that it builds and strengthens a sense of neighbourliness and community. Our faith is one built on an act of remembering, so let us not forget those we see in passing, then, now and into the future. May we be a people remembered because we remembered to remember those around us.
April 2020 – letter 7
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Our daughter who is locked down in Oadby, Leicester, sent us a family lockdown present. It was a jigsaw made up of family photos. Now, I am not a great jigsaw person and especially one of 1,000 pieces.
You all know what it is like, you start from the edges. That’s not always so easy is it? Having moved on then to the body of the puzzle we face the trauma of dark coats, red coats, greenery, gravel paths, dark backgrounds in restaurants and snowscapes.
Frustration is the word, but we are now nearly at the end.
One thing with a jigsaw puzzle is that there are no useless pieces, no pointless pieces. To finish it you have to use all the pieces and it is not finished until all the pieces are used. Each piece has a purpose and each piece is as valuable as each other.
Together as people we make up our communities, together all communities make up our country, and all countries make up the world.
In his poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ T. S. Eliot wrote this as a man contemplates the insignificance of his life:
“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.”
In terms of the way the world sees that maybe true in his case and at times we may see ourselves as such. But we do not look as the world looks at us, at each other, at ourselves.
The world may be attracted to brightly coloured central pieces of the picture and once the main bit is done the rest can be left and the other pieces almost discarded.
Not so in the kingdom of God.
When people pass your window in lockdown, when you see people as you shop or exercise, even at social distance, remember they, like you, are a precious, useful, purposeful, valuable piece of a jigsaw that when complete makes a beautiful family picture that brings joy and happiness to our creator God.
April 2020 – letter 6
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
One of the things we have heard so much about in the lockdown period is that we are grateful to those who are caring for the sick and those who are keeping our various necessary services and deliveries going.
We have finally discovered that it is not wealth or power that makes people valuable or memorable to us and our lives. The order may have been seen to have been tipped on its head.
It is not the grand gesture or the great plan that affects us, that touches us. It is the small acts and words of kindness and compassion. It is those who enable our day to day lives to function.
Those people have for so long been almost invisible to our society, unseen and unknown to and by the often self-proclaimed ‘great and the good’.
In the past we may too have been guilty of not seeing those before us who enable our day to day life to run smoothly.
In God’s kingdom, no one is invisible, no one is forgotten. There is not one who is not loved by God. This is the kingdom we pray for when we say ‘thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.’
Some have said that we must not go back to the ‘old’ normal as that wasn’t working. I somehow fear that once over the self-proclaimed will proclaim themselves again.
It may be that it is for us to keep held high those who have served us so well. It could be that ordinary people can continue to see and to give thanks to other ordinary people who do what they do. It is for us to hold to the values of the kingdom of God.
In 1 Peter we read
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud, but shows favour to the humble.’”
Once we come out of this lockdown we need to ensure that as we read in the gospels about the kingdom, ‘the first will be last and the last, first.”
April 2020 – letter 5
Dear sisters and brothers,
At present our exercise is limited by our being in lockdown. We have taken to walking around where we live as have so many. About 45 minutes to an hour a day. I have always liked walking, time to do it is a factor though.
In 2004 I did the Three Peaks Walk over three days to raise money for Christian Youth work. That was a great experience with some wonderful views and entertaining company. While at school as a 12 years old pupil I did a Roman road walk, camped in the grounds of Longleat House then. I remember a lad I shared a tent with opened a steak and kidney individual pie can and ate it out of the tin, uncooked, as he could not wait for us to set up the camping stove!! Later we did a Quantock Hills walk from Fyne Court to Great Wood, where we camped overnight, and then from Great Wood to school, Bridgwater.
Seems such a luxury now doesn’t it?
As I read an article in the paper my mind was drawn back to those early walking days. The article is about Capt. Tom Moore, I will come to him in a minute. But my mind was drawn back to a ‘strange’ woman in my early childhood. Dr Barbara Moore, a long-distance walker among other things. Worth “Google-ing” if you do not remember her. She was of Russian extraction, not only a vegetarian but a breatharian who believed we did not need food to survive and that we could all live for 150 years. Best known for her 1960 walk from John O’ Groats to Land’s End.
Mind you, she may not have been so far off the mark about age and this brings me to Capt. Tom Moore. He is the war veteran who at 99 is walking 100 lengths of his garden to raise money for NHS Charities Together. He had hoped to raise £1000 but as of Wednesday morning nearly 170,000 people from around the world have donated money to his fundraising page and so far he has raised £15 million.
Mr Moore began raising funds to thank the “magnificent” NHS staff who helped him with treatment for cancer and a broken hip.
He hoped to walk 100 laps of the 25-metre (82ft) loop in his garden in Marston Moretaine, in 10-lap chunks, before his 100th birthday at the end of the month.
This is not to encourage you all to do the same, but to make two points.
The first is that age is never a barrier to God. Remember Simeon and Anna who received the baby Jesus at the temple. Though age may mean we become less active in the body, we are still active in spirit. Age is not a barrier to being both a challenge and an inspiration, that we can be by small and gracious deeds for the good of others.
Secondly people of all ages and climes are inspired and challenged by the smallest of deeds (walking in his garden) to be incredibly generous and kind.
For those of age, remember, you still have so much to offer. For those of younger years, there is time to do so much for others.
Faith, hope and love are not things related to age but to heart and that we all have to offer to God and all his people.
Keep safe and well and every blessing,
April 2020 – letter 4
Finding I had some time at my disposal at the weekend I decided to arrange my vinyl album collection in alphabetical order. As I have taken albums out to play I have been remiss in my putting them back correctly. My DVDs, CDs and books are all arranged, I thought now to sort my LPs.
In my sorting I came across three albums that I forgot I had, that I was pleased to find again. I also reacquainted myself with old favourites. Each of them, like films, books and cd’s speak to me of the time when I acquired them.
Having time to sort, gave me time to remember, not in ‘wasn’t it all better back then’ way, but in a ‘remembering of times past’ way and thankfully in fewer volumes than Proust.
I thought of friends I listened to records with, people with shared tastes. Some moments almost brought back to life. Hair and clothes styles perhaps best remembered and soon forgotten.
William Blake begins his poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’ in this way
‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.’
If we take that time we have now to look, really look we can not only be astounded by the creation around us but also realise that a simple artefact can stir us to memory and thought, to thanksgiving and laughter, to aching and loss.
In this time that we have because the world we know has slowed and paused, we have time to remember. We have time to play our music, read our books, watch those films and peruse those photograph albums long left on the shelf.
In looking back, we realise how far we have come, what we have learnt and how we have been blessed. In looking back, we realise that we were always looking forward. As my vinyl albums date from the late 1960’s onward, and my music came to me then via cassette (never went for 8 track), CD and now mp3 we see that as our collections grow and move forward then so have we.
This week is for Christians a time of ‘remembering’. Remembering the roots of our faith, remembering the foundation on which we stand. Remembering what happened in the past, but moving forward today and in the future as we continue to do much in Jesus name because he asked us to do it all ‘in remembrance of me.’
I wish you a joyful Eastertide, keep safe and well.
April 2020 – letter 3
Dear sisters and brothers,
There are only so many times you can watch ‘Midsomer Murders’ before you realise not only have you seen it before many times, but you immediately remember who the murderer is. I suppose the worrying thing is when you start to try and work out how you could have done it better!!
This time aside and inside is perhaps a time to do those things we have left off doing. I have a list.
It is also a time to make sure we do not do too much to occupy the day.
Whilst Kipling wrote:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,”
It is not an order of life to fill time with something done.
He calls it an ‘unforgiving minute’ and so defines time as a harsh ruler of our lives. The ‘worth’ he talks of is not in what we have done/run, but of something measured by the time we took to do it.
If we are not careful we either run around trying to fill that ‘unforgiving minute’ with everything we can and so wear ourselves out or if we worry that we are not filling the time and then we fear we have wasted that time. We waste time when time uses us and we seek to fill it with no real point.
When Gill was in Uganda one of things that struck her was Sunday church services. In the morning was the English service and the local people turned up at the appointed time, went through the service for the hour and then dispersed home. In the afternoon the African service began. The local people heard the drums and instruments and began to arrive. They continued to arrive and sometime later when a lot had arrived the service began. The service continued, way beyond an hour, until it finished. The local people then began to go home.
The same people attended both services, not just different in content but in time. In one, the morning, time dictated the length of the worship to the people. In the afternoon service time was there to be used, enjoyed and spent as long as the worship dictated.
Time is a gift to be used, to be filled as we wish with the things that give us joy and happiness, as well as those things that are needful to do.
Remember: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’
Time is God’s gift to us, enjoy it.
April 2020 – letter 2
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
What a difference a day makes let alone a week. I hear some of you saying ‘that would be a good song title’, well it is.
“What a Diff’rence a Day Makes”, is a popular song originally written in Spanish by María Grever, a Mexican songwriter, in 1934 with the title “Cuando vuelva a tu lado” (“When I Return to Your Side”). The song is also known in English as “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes”, The English lyrics were written by Stanley Adams, and was played by Harry Roy & his Orchestra. It was published in late 1934. The most successful early recording, in 1934, was by the Dorsey Brothers, In 1975, Esther Phillips recorded her version of the song. Her record had a disco feel to it which some of us remember very well.
This may all come in useful when this is over and you are in a quiz team.
But what a difference from where we were on Monday morning until now.
We are being asked to change the way we live for the good of others around us.
But for us as Christians that is nothing new. We have sought to live in a different way to the world for so long. We have striven to put other’s needs, fears, and situations if not before ours then certainly alongside.
We also have within our fellowships a huge capacity for caring for others and while this initial period of three weeks will be difficult for different people for different reasons, we can come together to help each other through that time.
As I said before, and will continually say, we must keep in contact with those in our families, but also in our church family. We can all pick up the phone and make a call, we can still use social media where we can.
BUT do not try to do too much, do not try to do everything. As always do what you can, take time to rest and take time to be with God.
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
That well-known Wesley quote has the words ‘you can’ not as an order to do more, more, more. No, it is an understanding that there is only so much we each can do, but if we each do something then great things can be done.
Keep well and keep safe,
In Jesus Name
April 2020 – letter 1
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
These are indeed strange times we are living in. Times that frustrate us in all we may wish to do, times that may worry us in what may come. But it is a time for us to stand away and apart from some parts of our society. Not away and apart as in not engaging, though that is limited anyway, but in the way we behave and show ourselves.
We have an opportunity to be church where we are, each one of us. When the Israelites went into exile they asked in Psalm 137:
“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
Well we are in a strange land, but we can still sing the Lord’s song. Whilst we may not be able to meet together to share worship, we can still share our support, fellowship and love, with those around us and those of our church.
Some of us can still be able to get out and about, then we can offer to get shopping or medicines for those who are self-isolating for one reason or another, for our neighbours. There are a number of local support groups that are being set up on social media and through local advertising, there is the chance to be involved while still adhering to advice given. We can also make phone calls to those again of our fellowship and in our neighbourhoods, who are self-isolating. We have an opportunity not to let them feel alone or at worse, forgotten.
So, sisters and brothers, in this strange land sing as Wesley says in his ‘Instructions for Singing’ at no.4 “Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength …’
God bless you all,