Superintendents Letter - 3rd June 2020
Below is this week's letter from Reverend Alison Richards about her sabbatical during this challenging time, Alison is part of the Superintendency Team for the Birmingham Methodist Circuit.
Having been given the precious gift of a Sabbatical by the Methodist Church in my 10th year of ministry, I would like to thank everyone who has covered both my work in the Circuit and churches in these most extraordinary and uncertain times. The gift of time to spend with family, to travel, reflect and to be attentive to God and myself was invaluable.
We left for the trip of a lifetime, calling at Singapore first and then going to The Philippines to visit our daughter. We then flew over to the USA intending to travel to visit family in Seattle and Montana and then visit friends in Florida before spending Easter with the church in Monserrat. At every stage we seemed to be just ahead of this global pandemic and as we left each place it locked down behind us until we reached Montana. There we spent 3 weeks with David’s family in lockdown in a log cabin, by a creek surrounded by mountains inhabited by bears, elk, wolves and the occasional mountain lion. Thankfully the closest we came to them was coming across elk droppings and a grizzly bear paw print in the snow. Days were spent splitting wood, making a trail by the creek, attempting to ski, eating Huckleberry pie, playing new board games, jig saws, reading and lots of laughter and conversation whilst catching up with our American family’s views on politics, philosophy and life.
Meanwhile we watched the virus start to spread its devastation across the globe and were conscious of the suffering of so many whilst we were relatively safe. The question that I had taken with me to reflect on was, “What does it mean to be free?” not knowing that it would become ever more meaningful over the following months. Travel was limited, people were shielding indoors, social distancing became the new norm, food shortages, massive unemployment and the reality of Coronavirus was publicised each day as the loss of life increased and the inequalities in society became more evident with extreme poverty and systemic racism prevalent.
Personally it has been a time of attentiveness to God and to each other, of finding soul space, noticing the beauty of the world around me, of searching for meaning, of living with uncertainty, fear, guilt, pain and loss and seeking ways to reflect the love of God in times of uncertainty and change. With increased poverty and division, systemic racism becoming normalised and extremism increasing we are called to speak out and show solidarity with those who are oppressed in all the ways we can.
Charles Wesley wrote in his well-known Methodist hymn. ‘And can it be’, the words:
“My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”
We are all on journeys of discovery as we follow Jesus, and the going may be tough at times.
I wonder what the chains are that fasten us down and limit life in all its fullness?
How do we find a ‘soul space’ in our lives to ask the question: ‘What does it mean to be free?’
On my sabbatical with the freedom to travel, I have valued the gift of connectedness and realise that my freedom is connected to all humanity. We cannot be free until all are free. The challenge is to make the changes to our lives, the Church and the world that will enable all to live in freedom.
As we slowly begin the process of ‘unlocking’ I pray that we can be attentive to each other, to ourselves, to the world around us and to God, having the courage to speak out for justice, equality and inclusion so that we may become a global community of love and peace.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela
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