Pastoral Letter (September 2018)
from Revd Catherine Bowstead
It's now a couple of months since I returned from my Sabbatical. It's good to be back, although there's been a lot for me to catch up on and so I'm very grateful for those who covered for me whilst I was away.
I'm grateful too for the opportunity to have had a sabbatical for it's a gift from the Church to enable ministers to have an extended time of study, rest and recreation. I had the time to do plenty of all three and over the next few weeks and months, no doubt, you'll be hearing about how I spent my time.
My major focus was to explore singing. I wanted to consider why singing is such a major part of the expression of our faith and how this could be enhanced. To help me in this I experienced several different worship traditions ranging from the plainsong chant of the Benedictine monks at Douai Abbey to the vibrant, contemporary singing at a Hillsong church. I joined a choir and took part in a day's singing workshop. I also did a fair bit of reading, reflecting and talking with others about singing and several helpful threads emerged.
The first is that singing is an innate God-given gift, we sing because we can. The first cries that we make as babies are pitched sounds which are more like singing than talking, and these pitched sounds elicit a response – usually given in love – to meet our need for food or comfort. Mothers and other carers often instinctively sing to a restless baby to sooth and comfort. When we sing praise to God in worship, we are offering something of ourselves for we use our own unique singing voice which is God's gift to us, to offer him worship.
Singing is very good for physical and mental well-being; it can help with good posture and breathing and the recent emergence of 'community choirs' have enabled people to re-discover these benefits. It's interesting that the church, and the Methodist Church in particular, has maintained a culture of singing.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of my reflection is that singing together is a very powerful expression of our unity as Christians. When we sing, we connect with God and with one another in a very powerful way. John Wesley encouraged Methodists to "sing lustily and with good courage" and when we do so we can engage our emotions and intellect in a profoundly physical and spiritual way. Of course, it matters that the theology, the poetry and the music of what we sing are all good – but perhaps we'll reflect on that another time.
During my absence, the Strategy Group have been working hard to collate the responses to our Day of Engagement back in March. I am grateful for the work that they have begun, and you can read of the progress so far in David Morgan's article in September 'Greetings'. There is a certain urgency to this task, for if our church is to continue to be successful in our outreach and mission, everyone needs to play their part. There are several key roles that are unfilled at present and unless we can find people willing and able to take on these tasks, we will have to make significant changes in how we operate. During the autumn we will all have the opportunity to think about the talents, time and treasure that we have and how they can be offered and used in the life of the church.
But to end on a singing theme; the title song of our Team Builders holiday club this summer included the words "No one's gift is better than the other, we need each other for together we are stronger". There are so many exciting things for our church community to look forward to, so I hope that this will be our theme as we use our gifts to work together to extend God's Kingdom in this place.
With every blessing