Newssheet July 5th 2020

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Dear Friends,

I don't know about you — but I miss gathering as a church even if...

Abraham Lincoln once said:
'If all the people who fell asleep in church on Sunday Morning were laid out end to end... they would be a great deal more comfortable!'

I miss the warmth of the welcome on the door.

I miss the rousing worship offered to God as we lift the roof singing 'How Great Thou Art'.

I miss reading the bible together, offering our prayers for one another.

I miss the laughter, the banter, the fellowship, the tears as well as the listening ear over a cup of coffee.

I miss the sense of shared mission and outreach doing all that we can to support one another, to serve the community and to share God's love through being together.

We know that the church is made up of people.

The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means an assembly or gathering of people.

The very first church that we read about in the book of Acts is described like this:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Going to church and being involved in church is important because, as we see in the early church:

It brings us together for worship
It builds up our faith through preaching, teaching and discussion
It empowers our ministry and mission through corporate prayer
It deepens our fellowship and care for one another
It enables us to use our gifts to serve others as well as to be served by others.
It gives us opportunity for outreach and service.

And some words in the book of Hebrews reminds us that we meet together so that we might encourage one another in our faith and life.

We can 'do church' in a different way...

We 'are the church' in the community...

But I do miss coming together!

Down through the ages the church has faced many difficulties and our next conundrum is how we open up the church responsibly and safely for worship and service.

Here are some of the challenges...

Boris Johnson announced last week:
"I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing."

This is good news — however the small print contained within the government guidelines which came out this week soon reveal that the careful and safe reopening of churches is far from straightforward.

A detailed risk assessment is to be carried out — as a requirement.

Churches are to follow social distancing with worshippers 2m apart (or 1+ with various restrictions) limiting numbers.

Washing hands or hand sanitizer on arrival

A record kept of every attendee for track and trace.

No singing (one person can behind a Perspex screen!) or the playing of blown instruments.

Specific guidance on the careful administering of Holy Communion (Think about the risks there!)

No holding the baby at baptisms (phew!)

One-way systems where possible

No shared coffee time after the service

No offering plates passed around; gloves worn if counting cash.

Signs and posters advising safe practice

Extra cleaning before and after people gather.

What to do if someone becomes unwell

And above all seek to protect vulnerable people — the document includes any 70+ with or without any health issues!

You will be pleased to know that a small team of people in each church is working on the detailed risk assessment (and glad you are not on it as yet — unless you've been asked!)

They will also be thinking about how people can use the church buildings during the week (our own and outside hirers)

As a Methodist Circuit we are not intending holding 'worship services' in our buildings until September at the earliest — and even then, we are sharing thoughts and ideas as to what a worship service might look like under such restrictions!

Our priority through all of this is to keep everyone safe and well whilst continuing to provide on-line services as well as printed worship sheets for your use and encouragement.

Worship This Week

Sunday Service — Hymns, Songs, Readings and Reflections led this week by Rev Philip Simpkins and Rev Michael Hopkins (The Spire URC/Methodist, Farnham)

To listen to the service and join in — please visit the Alton Methodist Church web site (front page) where it will be available on Sunday morning:


Sunday July 12th 2020
Alton Church Anniversary & Gift Day

We are delighted to say that Rev Ian Bowley will be providing the talk next Sunday as we celebrate the life of the church and give thanks for God's presence with us over the years.

For those at Alton — please also see the Gift Day letter which invites you, if able to make a special donation to the life of the church in these difficult times financially.

Liam Sheridan, a valued member of our church family and a Local Preacher in training shares some reflections on John's Gospel.

Introducing the Gospel of John
I wonder if you have ever spent much time in the Gospel of John? Perhaps it is your favourite Gospel? I was surprised to discover that in the lectionary which provides the Bible readings for many of our services, there is a different primary Gospel each year of the three-year cycle — but none of them is John, which instead supplements readings from the other Gospels. I have to confess that I have personally struggled with this Gospel. The prose we find there can be a little confusing, with lots of talking by Jesus apparently in concentric circles: I am in you, and you are in me, and I am from the Father, and the light, and the dark, and the love, and the life, and the resurrection, and the world, and the Word... I find myself getting to the end of a paragraph and needing to work out what I have just read!

A book with a mission

Why is John's Gospel so important? Well, most importantly, it forms part of the evidence we have for what we believe: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was written a little after the other Gospels, probably between 80 and 90 AD. The identity of its author is hotly debated, but the Gospel itself gives a clue in chapter 21 when it refers to the "disciple whom Jesus loved" as being its author. Many scholars go along with the early church fathers in believing this to be John, the son of Zebedee, an apostle. Others think a community, known as the Johannine community, wrote the Gospel along with some or all of the letters 1, 2 and 3 John and Revelation. These questions are interesting, but not as important as the reason it was written: "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (see Jn 20:31). This is a book written with a mission: life for us!

Worth it!

John's Gospel has been criticised on many grounds in addition to being confusing, but I believe spending time in its pages is well worth it, for many reasons. Here are a few:

i. A unique perspective on Jesus — we find much of Jesus's life revealed exclusively, or in a particular way, only in John. In fact 90% of its content (including 6 of its 8 recorded miracles!) cannot be found in the other Gospels. I love the various "I Am" sayings you can find there: Jesus saying "I am the bread of life", "I am the gate", "I am the way, the truth and the life"... By thinking about what these images mean, we can get a deeper understanding of our Saviour. I never realised until I preached on it recently just how much teaching on salvation Jesus wrings out of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 — if you read chapter 6 from beginning to end, you'll see what I mean!

ii. A Gospel that defies the critics. In training to be a preacher I've seen that people have attacked John for being other-wordly. Yet God, says John, so loved the world that he gave his Son for it (Jn 3:16). Some have also seen parts of John as anti-women, anti-Semitic and overly negative about other faiths. These should be taken seriously. Yet there is a risk, as with all Biblical criticism, that we throw out the baby with the bathwater. By settling on parts we find problematic, we may discount the book as a whole. In it, John sets out a rich account of a God who comes to earth, loves all and who demonstrates compassion, kindness and grace in a way unheard of anywhere else.

iii. A Gospel that's not as random as it may first appears. John actually follows a structure: chapters 1-12 are known as the Book of Signs, with Jesus revealing who He is via miracles and teaching, while chapters 13-20 are the Book of Glory and tell the story of the cross. You'll also find a prologue (1:1-18) and epilogue (chapter 21) to give you a way into, and out of, the book as a whole.

I've enjoyed spending some time in John's Gospel, learning more about how it came to be, and I believe God has a message for us that can be found uniquely in its pages. If, like me, you've found it difficult, I'd encourage you to have another go — and I pray that as you do so, you'd find your faith strengthened. I'm still working much of it out too. Perhaps we can have a chat over the bits you like, the bits you don't, and the bits that don't make sense. Liam.

A Blessing

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

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