Church Reopening

Happy New Year!
More than 10 years since leaving full-time education our three children still think of September as the start of a new year. This seems so appropriate when we think on the historical emphasis Methodists have placed on education and the scriptural and social transformation of society Methodism has been so involved in for well over 200 years. I say again; Happy New Connexional Year!

This year feels like no other. It feels ‘new’ in respect of new thinking that is required in growing our on-line presence, new measures in opening up our buildings for worship and community use. New arrivals in Rev Bethany and her husband, Joel, filling the gap left by our sister and brother, Ruth and Richard. We have a new way of a local Welcome Service in Monmouth, rather than a Circuit wide one. We have a new model of Circuit which feels old; Four Missional Hubs reflecting the drawing together of 3 Circuits in 2008/9 and new, experienced Ministers in the gracious offer of Revs Joe Rooney and Lin Healey to help out in the Caldicot and Rogiet part of the Chepstow Missional Hub.

We have new social distancing rules, new hand sanitiser dispensers in our Churches and we enter a new reality unsure of what the future holds. As a Circuit Leadership Team we are trying to lead in these strange times. We have booked a Circuit Meeting for the evening of Wednesday October 14th. This will be done electronically, and we will inform you how this is to take place when we have a clear idea. We hope to arrange a Local Preachers Meeting in a similar way, and we are to encourage local Churches to have Church Council’s for good governance and opportunity to pray together and to look ahead on how we continue to share the good news of God’s love shown to the world through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and the continued active work of God through the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth day-by-day.

May I say what a privilege it has been to be involved with so many detailed risk-assessments as regards opening our sacred and community spaces. The care and attention to people’s well-being has been a wonderful witness, and the practical solutions from so many gifted people has got us to a point of beginning to build people’s confidence up and allowing folk to enter sacred space and encounter God alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we have shared so much down the years.

Let us tread gently into this new year, and new beginning, and let us look forward to when we can all, as a Circuit, gather together to sing God’s praise; to say a big thank you to Local Preachers, one of whom has dedicated 60 years of ministry this year; to say a proper goodbye to Preben, Margaret, Ruth and Richard; to welcome Bethany and Joel and just to be together rejoicing that we can echo the words of the Psalmist: ‘I sought the Lord and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.’ [34:4]

Gordon

Holy Communion

This Sunday, 20th September, we will share Holy Communion together for the first time in over six months! This is something that I am very much looking forward to, as it is certainly something I’ve greatly missed over these past months. However, I know that we might all feel a little hesitant, given what is going on in our world right now, so I wanted to make you all aware of the steps we will take to make receiving Holy Communion as safe as possible for everyone:

I will be completely responsible for the bread, which will be gluten free. I will buy it on Saturday and prepare it myself at home, after sanitising all surfaces I’m using. I will wear gloves and a mask to cut the bread into bite-sized pieces, then cover it with cling film. At church, after completing a slightly shorter communion liturgy than normal, I will then put on a mask, sanitise my hands again, then remove the cling film on the bread. I will distribute the bread to each person at their seat, being very careful not to physically touch anyone while distributing (I will do a very short ‘drop’ into people’s open hands, which should be cupped together, if possible, to ‘catch’ the bread). I will be the only person to handle this aspect of the elements.

One of the Communion Stewards will prepare and distribute the wine, again wearing gloves and a mask. There will be glass cups instead of plastic, as glass is more easily sanitised. Each person will take their own cup from the tray. To make sure no-one touches the cup of another person, there will be a gap left between cups. At the end of Communion, you will place the glasses on the floor by your seats, and they will be collected at the end of the service after the sanctuary has cleared.

I hope that this is clear, and I will describe these steps again on Sunday morning to make sure we all know what is happening. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please be in touch with me this week. I know that this is a very different way of sharing together in Holy Communion. It may feel strange and a bit clumsy, but I hope that we will all still find great joy in being able to share in it, in some way, together again. I pray that we will all be spiritually nourished by this, although in a different form. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday for Holy Communion!


In my first communication about Holy Communion, I did not mention people who were worshiping with us from home via Zoom. This was because I was unsure of how this would work, as the Methodist Church essentially has a policy against ‘virtual’ Communion because of our theology around Holy Communion.

However, having spoken to Gordon about it, we agreed that people at home may bring their own bread and ‘wine’ to ‘the table’ and share with us in Holy Communion as we are, in fact, one bread, one body, and those at home will be participating in the service and hearing the words of consecration live. So, if you will be joining us via Zoom on Sunday, please feel free to celebrate Holy Communion with us in your homes with your own bread and wine.

Blessings,
Rev. Rachel

Great News!

Back to Worship in Church: we can now meet in Church as a group for services. 

However, this will be different to what we have been used to and a number of safety measures have been put in place. Please do read this carefully and follow the guidelines/instructions that have been put in place to keep everyone safe from Covid-19. 

One difference will be the number allowed to attend any one service, a maximum of 30 including the Minister/Lay preacher, Musicians and Stewards. To ensure we keep to this number there is a “booking system”. Please contact Debbie Cairns seatbooking@chepstowmethodist.org.uk at least two days before a service to indicate that you and, if appropriate, members of your family will be attending giving names and a contact phone number.

However, if you cannot be at a service you will still be able to be see the service via a Zoom link. Services will be available as podcasts later on a Sunday, on the the Church website in the usual way.

Returning to Church

After five months away from our church building and many Zoom sessions under our belts, I thought I would ask the house groups how they felt about returning to worship in person. Here are a few responses:

I am looking forward to being in church with other people. The podcasts have been good but, living alone, I miss the interaction with other worshippers.

I’m feeling quite dubious, especially as we are going to have to be careful about being too close to others. Also, I’m not sure about not being able to sing hymns, very much part of worship for us. On the positive side, it will be lovely to see others again, and it’s one step further on the road to normality! We have to remain positive, whatever happens.

I can understand people have different thoughts about it. I myself would need to know how it will be done and I know a lot of people will feel like this.  It will be a case of going into the unknown. I think people will feel safer with a structure.

I am still very cautious. I enjoy the links to all the services. So, I think when they do reopen, priority should be given to the seniors who cannot access the website. Also, I will miss gathering for tea and coffee afterwards. I quite often sat in church after the service for ten minutes as I enjoyed the musicians playing.

I am probably a bit anxious and excited to see others again, but pleased to see they have worked hard to set up so that, as far as possible, everyone is kept safe and keeps to COVID guidelines. It will be a shame that we can’t join in any singing yet, but of course we can while watching at home. I am also pleased that should we not be able to get to a service we can watch a podcast or live at home when the event happens.

Gordon’s August Letter

It is a delight to be a small part of your loving and caring fellowship here at Chepstow Methodist Church. Your pastoral team is excellent, prayer and house groups have continued despite lockdown, the podcasts are a real eclectic mix and there is a sense of a real desire to grow Christ’s kingdom in this beautiful part of South Wales. Well done good and faithful servants.

In light of the pandemic and the changes in ministerial oversight over this past 2 and bit years, you really do need to give yourselves a pat on the back. One of many strange things in the Methodist Church is a Minister needing to give, in effect, 15 months’ notice to leave. There is that time of gentle de-coupling and then wondering what’s next. The anticipation of meeting someone new and then having to wait 9 months for them to arrive. All very strange in my eyes!

As you are all aware, it has been a dark and difficult path for Rachel upon her coming to Chepstow. Not through yourselves but through life’s events. Your prayers and support to Rachel and Tom speak volumes for you all. Rachel is starting to emerge into a better place. The Lord is guiding her through the valley she has found herself in and she inches toward that green pasture of God’s promise. We hope that she will be back amongst us all in early September and that she will become the blessing we all desire her to be. I will keep you informed and thank you for your support of me at this time.

We are also planning on re-opening our sacred space. There is a planned prayer and meditation Service on Thursday August 27th beginning at 11.00 AM. I will lead this through. There has been a thorough risk-assessment and it is unfortunate that the maximum number of people allowed to gather is 30. This will be the case, too, when we open on Sunday mornings. This is planned to begin on Sunday September 6th at 10.00 AM with Cliff Randall and his team working on ways to transmit parts of this worship into our homes so that we can all share together. More information will emerge, and the Stewards will let you know of the plans for the Thursday event and the arrangements for the Sunday mornings.

We also need to keep an eye on the future. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is today. We have revisited the past in establishing the Chepstow Missional Hub almost as a replica to the ‘old’ Chepstow and Caldicot Circuit. It is hoped that this much smaller and local unit will be effective in fulfilling our calling of growing God’s kingdom here and now. We have also revisited ‘A Way Forward’, a visioning exercise undertaken by Chepstow Methodist Church under the Rev. Rod Ingrouille.  This time we are to share this visioning with Caldicot Methodist Church in the hope that shared vision and ministry will bring fresh fruit into the lives of our Churches and Chapels as we seek to enable others to know of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Please do pray for this initiative and we are hoping to start planting this ‘tree’ before the end of September. These have been unprecedented times. The Circuit has reduced to 4 Ministers (there were 7 when the initial amalgamation took place in 2008) and the Circuit has been able to release £44,000 of reserves to help Churches over this last six months and we emerge into an unknown future. As a Circuit Leadership Team, we believe that the Missional Hubs are the way forward for us as a Circuit, and I believe that ‘A Way Forward’ will help the Chepstow Missional Hub in discerning God’s call into his future.  For God is God and he offers these words of encouragement; God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7) Let us trust and obey, and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Gordon

Pink Streak

During Lockdown, feeling a bit low one day I dyed a Pink Streak in my hair (for a bit of fun) and I must admit I was surprised at the reaction, a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it!! I sent a photo to my daughter who came back with “I do hope that is a Photoshop Mother and your grand children are not impressed” As I don’t know how to do a Photoshop I informed her that it wasn’t, my eldest sister thought I was “brave”, my great niece thought it was “fantastic” and my friend thought it was very Zandra Rhodes. My granddaughter Ellie saw it as an act of rebellion (which I suppose in away it was) and asked if I was a rebel when I was young (back in the dark ages to Her!!!)

I wouldn’t say that I was a rebel, I didn’t wear a Ban the Bomb badge and I have never been on a demonstration but I was never afraid to speak up.  One day at school a girl ( Janet) in our class was given a detention for talking, to which I piped up saying “that’s not fair miss, Janet wasn’t the only one talking” so Miss put the whole class in detention, as you can imagine I was not very popular that day.  I believe I found my voice after being Baptised at the age of 14 and becoming a member of my Baptist Church where I was encouraged to attend and take part in church business meetings (I don’t think I was allowed to vote at that age).  I have often written to my local councillor and MP of issues and concerns which have resulted in positive outcomes.

Coming into Methodism during the 1980s and becoming a Circuit Steward, attending District Synods and even having the privilege to attend Conference in London,  I have experienced that we all have “a voice” within the Methodist Church.  Our Church stewards are there to listen (they are not there just to put the hymn numbers on the board and show you to your seat on a Sunday) along with the Church Council representatives to any concerns you have and to take them to the Church Council which is the governing body of our church and as there are going to be many changes when we eventually get back together as a Church Family and within the Circuit your voice is valued as “The Body of Christ” as we go forward in love to Worship and serve our Lord in whatever we can.

I think maybe I’ll try a Blue Streak next time !!!!  Kathy

Gordon’s July Church Pastoral Letter

Dear lovely folk of Chepstow.

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus. May the peace of God be with us all.

It is such a privilege to be a small part of Chepstow Methodist Church. Your care for each other shines through, and your desire to reach out to others with the love of God in Jesus Christ is striking. As the Superintendent Minister, it is great to see such a beacon of light shining in the Circuit.

This has been a difficult time for the whole world, a difficult time for Chepstow Methodist Church, and a difficult time for your Minister, the Reverend Rachel Frank.

As you are aware, life has thrown many perplexing and arduous things Rachel’s way this past year. The care and support to Rachel from you all has been, and is, much appreciated. Please do keep her in your prayers. The Coronavirus has taken us all by surprise and has drawn us into some dark and fearful places. For Rachel, coming to terms with grief, the virus has not helped in any way. She is in the category of being vulnerable due to a variety of health issues, and has been, rightfully, isolating to ensure safety. With so many varying stressful events I asked Rachel to see her G.P. and take some time away from the stresses of Circuit and Church life. Hopefully, this is for a short period of time and she will regain her energy and enthusiasm and provide the impetus for the next stage of Chepstow Methodist Church’s life.

 In the meantime I am your interim Minister. The Church is blessed by so many capable and caring people. The Sunday podcasts have provided a real lifeline to many and these will continue throughout August under the guidance of Cliff Randall and his team. The Stewards meet regularly, the Property Team are working hard on risk-assessments for the Church as a worshipping community, as a place of outreach and as a community centre. The Finance Committee are meeting regularly at this particularly challenging time for all churches. There is the prayer Chain that is being used, the weekly online Bible study, a weekly Zoom house group and Elena and Kathy are doing a wonderful job in enabling pastoral care to continue, particularly to those in our church who are not connected to the internet.

In my role as interim Minister, I will be praying for you all and making myself available to each of these groups. There will be other matters that arise, I’m sure, and I am grateful for all the prayerful support offered to Rachel and myself at this time.

As a Church we are looking at opening up for worship in the near future. There will be a ‘Plan’ of worship created to begin on Sunday, 6th September. Risk assessments will be carried out for this and more information will follow. There will be only one Service on a Sunday at 10.00 am. This is, at the moment a temporary, but necessary requirement, as we cannot ensure safety of all by having two services. The Coronavirus lingers for 72 hours and without a deep clean between Services the risk is deemed too high. There are plans being developed for this Service to be accessible to people in their homes as we recognise there is a need for this. We also have safety of all at the forefront of our minds and don’t want people to feel an obligation or duty to come to Church, as we can find ways of bringing Church to you where ever you are.

I hope that this temporary arrangement will allow us all to praise God’s holy name together and strengthen us at this time. As we draw closer to God together, the Spirit will bind us close and enable Rachel to return into this lovely, Spirit filled Church and enable us to go forward in growing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. If you have any questions please do contact me on any of the above media and may the peace of the Lord go with us all.
Gordon

Gordon’s July Circuit Pastoral Letter

Dear fellow disciples of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

It was with sadness that we said farewell to Revs. Preben and Ruth, alongside Margaret and Richard, on Sunday. Whilst we couldn’t gather, the Podcast put together by Cliff Randall and his team was wonderful and, hopefully, allowed our four dear friends to know how appreciated they have been and are. We look forward to welcoming them back to the Circuit next year when we can gather and say a personal thank you.

This watershed event is a prompt to bring an update about where we are as a Circuit, and as Connexional Church.

Circuit Meeting

We have not met, formally, as a Circuit Meeting since November. However, the appointed Leadership Team have been extremely busy on behalf of the Trustees of the Circuit Meeting ensuring that safe and legal procedures have been followed through. From advising running taps and flushing toilets, to Safeguarding audits, to agreeing a budget for next year, work has continued. A formal letter went out to all Trustees and we are in a position to move forward into the next Connexional year in September having fulfilled our legal requirements for this year. The CLT are due to meet at the end of August, and we hope to be able to organise a Circuit Meeting as soon as it is safe to do so.

Finances

Roger Langford has worked closely with church treasurers and has gained agreement for next years budget. About £44,000 has been taken from Circuit reserves to assist local churches over the two quarters of lockdown. This has been agreed by the Circuit Meeting. A budget for next year has been agreed. As a CLT, as Synod and as a Connexional Church we are aware of the significant challenges in front of us all. Roger will continue to work closely with church treasurers.

Re-opening of Churches

The Welsh Government has issued guidelines as to the re-opening of places of worship in Wales. These include provision for safe distancing, the numbers of worshippers allowed in a space (currently the limit is 30 max), no communal singing and steps to be taken for the giving of Holy Communion. The Methodist Church gives guidance too. As a CLT we are keen to see our sacred and community spaces open up as safely, and quickly as possible. As such we advise the following:

A/          Each Church/Chapel needs to complete a written risk assessment and demonstrate that they have implemented this before allowing people back into their space.

B/        We recommend that Sunday worship be continued in it’s current format, which is done in various ways across the Circuit. This continuation is until August 30th as we will be planning for Sunday worship from September 6th.  From September it is recommended that there be only one Sunday Service in any given Church.

C/        We recommend that Churches attempt to open for prayer in a corporate way, if desired, on a weekday in August, allowing people to safely access ‘their’ sacred space before formal worship commences on a Sunday from September. This is a recommendation, not instruction, but, for Insurance purposes, we do insist on a written risk assessment being completed prior to opening up.

D/         The Churches can start to plan for community use of their building. The Welsh Government guidelines indicate that they are willing community spaces to be used from Monday August 3rd. Any user group needs to produce a written risk assessment that the local Church Council are willing to agree.

E/        We will try and update Property Stewards of new guidelines as and when they arrive.

Staff Matters

As indicated in my last letter we have brought forward a planned restructuring of the Circuit into 4 Missional Hubs. As such, a local Preaching Plan will be prayerfully compiled in and for each Hub.

Chepstow & Caldicot Missional Hub: Overseer: Rev Rachel Frank

Preben has retired and is moving over the water to Clevedon. We wish him and Margaret all the best. Revs. Joe Rooney and Lin Healey will take pastoral responsibility for Caldicot and Rogiet. Rev Gordon Gresswell for Earlswood Hope/Valley and Penycaemawr, with Rev Rachel Frank having pastoral responsibility for Chepstow and being the Missional Hub overseer.

Monmouth Missional Hub: Overseer: Rev Bethany Willers

Bethany and her husband, Joel, come to Monmouth in August. They replace Ruth and Richard as Ruth takes up an appointment in the Dorset South Circuit, herself being based on the Isle of Portland. Bethany is a MOCC Minister, Minister from Other Church or Conference, in this case the USA Conference. She brings a wealth of experience and we look forward to welcoming, as a Circuit, Bethany and Joel, once it is safe to do so. There is a ‘local’ Welcome Service with the Chair of Synod, Rev Stephen Wigley on Sunday September 6th, that will be, due to safe spacing, by invitation only.

Newport East Missional Hub: Overseer is Rev Les Jones and he is excited about this new venture.

Newport West Missional Hub is myself and I, too, am excited about this and look forward to working closely with Rev Paula Rose Parish and the Circuit appointed Mission Developer, Tim Crahart.

Local Preachers

The coronavirus lockdown has revealed some creative and imaginative ways of worship. It is hoped that the online presence will continue, and people are to be encouraged to use their gifts. Upon re-opening from September, Local Preachers and Worship Leaders will be, certainly for this first quarter, to be as local as possible, primarily in their Missional Hub and certainly in shaping the context of delivering Passionate Worship in their local Churches.

We have not had a Local Preachers Meeting during lockdown. My hope is that we will arrange one for the Circuit when it is deemed safe enough to meet. It may be that the local Missional Hub Local Preachers and Worship Leaders will be able to meet on a more regular local basis sharing creative ideas and helping to shape Passionate Worship in their Local Churches and Missional Hubs.

Circuit Stewards

The Stewards continue to work hard in the background supporting the Circuit, myself and the staff members. They have all agreed to serve another year and Keith Harvey has graciously agreed to stay on as Senior Steward at this time due to a pastoral need. I publicly thank them here on all our behalves.

Stationing

We have no stationing needs at this point. We have agreed to work with 4 stationed presbyters at this point and in light of the uncertainty of the current times, this is a relief.

Synod and Connexion

Conference met electronically and there is a briefing from this available on the Circuit website. Synod has postponed the September 12th Synod and hope to have this in the Spring of next year. The discussion on Marriage and Relationships was postponed at Conference and we await the next steps.

On a personal note can I say a big thank you for all of the prayers, support and encouragement many have given me. I find being a Superintendent really challenging and I appreciate the graciousness in which people cover up my mistakes and offer wise counsel. This has been the strangest of times for us all, and I have heard so many wonderful stories of  God’s grace amongst his people. There is an article in the next Link magazine about the Missional Hubs. I truly believe that this pandemic has shown the value of local over global, and passionately believe this is the right structure for the Circuit going forward. There will be niggles, but, in Christ, we know we are more than conquerors.

Shalom,
Gordon

June Message from Rachel

To the people of Chepstow and beyond:

There is no doubt in my mind that many of you reading this are weary. I know it because I am weary myself. We are now several months into ‘lockdown’, and I know that how we are all feeling now is very different to how we felt when the announcements about ‘social distancing’ first came. Nearly all of us are grieving the loss of something or someone, and being unable to hug those we love the most during these times can take its toll.

We are also seeing a lot of division and tension in these times, including those regarding when the ‘lockdown’ should or shouldn’t be lifted. While I have my own views on these matters, as we all do, I think that what is most important is that we continue to love and show compassion for one another and recognise that a lot of what we are feeling right now is rooted in fear: fear of this virus, fear of losing a loved one or our own lives, fear of not being able to financially recover, fear of what continued isolation will do to our mental health.

Remembering this when we encounter those who disagree with us will help us all to empathise and find middle ground. The other thing that is incredibly important in the middle of all of this is to remember that we are the Church. The Church is not the building in which we meet; it is us, the body of Christ. No matter how long it takes for us to be able to meet in person again, or how long it takes to feel like anything is back to ‘normal’, we can still be the Church in this world, making justice and love for neighbour our top priorities.

We must keep hold of the hope we have and know that we are together through all of this, even if we can’t gather in one place. But even more, God is with us, too.

Blessings,
Rev. Rachel

Lambing Time

April is an exciting time on the farm. Preparation has been made months before; getting the lambing shed ready and keeping a close eye on the expecting ewes. We wait with anticipation as the lambs arrive and ensure the mum and her babies have bonded well before the little family are let out into the paddock in the warm sunshine.

It’s easy for a ewe and her lambs to be temporarily separated as she leaves her youngsters asleep under a tree while she moves around grazing on fresh spring grass. When the sleeping lambs open their eyes and realise mum is no longer next to them they feel abandoned. They call out alarms with their bleating, rushing around to locate their mother. The ewe responds and bellows for her lambs. Quickly enough, the lambs recognise their own mum’s call, distinct from all the other ewes’ bleating, and once again they are reunited. Lambs rush in directly underneath her as if they had never fed before.

Occasionally, a young lamb will need to be bottle fed, 3 times a day for 3 months. They know who is bringing them their warm milk and will rush to the side of the pen, clambering over each other as if calling out “Feed me first!”. The person who feeds them needs a calming voice, to gently settle the excitement, with each lamb called by a nickname rather than just a number. This unnatural bond becomes regular and familiar as time is spent talking to these little characters.

Months go past and all the season’s lambs are ready to be weaned off bottles and their mums. They no longer get all their nourishment from milk and so roam the fields like gangs of teenagers. When it’s time to bring them in for routine jobs like vaccinations or medications, its easy to spot the bottle-fed lambs amongst a group of a couple of hundred lambs. You only need to stand in the field and call for them and a dozen 30kg sheep come galloping, close to bowling you over. No bottles or any other enticements needed to gather this group together as they know the voice of someone who protected and nurtured them.

Just as Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me’.

by Anna Birt (Pam’s daughter)