08 October 2020

Zoom learnings - the importance of relationships and social holiness

Before March of this year the word ‘Zoom’ instantly conjured up in my mind two images. The first one was an iced lolly in the shape of a rocket which was popular when I was a boy. It was coloured, red, yellow and orange. Zoom iced lollies were so enjoyable because they represented the beginnings of space travel which was every young person’s dream in the early 1960’s.

The word ‘Zoom’ also reminds me of the noise my young grandson sometimes makes when he is playing with his toys. Since March those two images have been superseded by another one. Zoom meetings!  Communicating with many other people in a totally new way. One day recently I visited three All We Can projects in Uganda, was interviewed about the Presidency and preached a recorded sermon for the Darlington Circuit and had a meeting with a group of Chaplains—all via Zoom. The wonders of modern technology. It would not have been thought possible before March. Zoom is not the only answer to how we will communicate in the future but it has been and will continue to be a very useful tool for us.

Last month in this column I suggested that good leadership demands that we listen deeply to God and each other as we discern what it means as a church to move from disorientation to reorientation. I have been trying to listen via Zoom! I have heard at least two suggestions for our way forward. They are the importance of relationships and social holiness.


A Zoom meeting allowed me as the President to meet about 50 Methodist Homes for the Aged Chaplains (MHA) all at once. I was overwhelmed, moved, touched and humbled as I listened to these chaplains talking about the experiences of their work during COVID 19. Indeed, one chaplain emailed me to inform me what the manager of the MHA where she is chaplain said about her ministry and it was this, ‘I have never had a chaplain where I have worked before and I have been transformed by your pastoral ministry’. These words were said in response to the invaluable ministry of that chaplain amongst residents, staff and relatives during COVID 19.

Yes there were stories from some chaplains about the guilt and frustration of not physically being around, but there were also many profound stories  about the importance of care and how the chaplains had found new ways of working with people, offering worship and pastoral support not just to residents but also in new ways to staff and relatives, who in many cases had been known for a number of years. They had become family. Relationships have been built where previously they had been superficial.

As we go forward from disorientation to reorientation MHA has much to teach us about the future. The church should be the creator and shaper of community, and as, such, relationships are of the essence. We live in a relational society, and COVID 19 has made this so difficult for many of us. The quality of our ecclesial communities must be a prime concern for us. Warm, purposeful, engaged communities where relationships are given high priority reflect the creative, loving and purposeful power of God. Let us relearn this way of mission.

Social Holiness

John Wesley had a passion for the needs of the whole person, and stated that there was no holiness that was not social holiness. He frequently described holiness as ‘renewal of the whole image of God’ and he did not understand this in a purely individualistic way. For Wesley the spreading of scriptural holiness entailed changing the economic and political order of his time, it involved fighting for the abolition of slavery and justice for the poor. As I have deeply listened to the voices around me recently there appears to be developing during this concerning time a rise in hate, increase in racial discrimination, young people not really knowing what the future holds, huge rises in domestic violence and mental illness, increased unemployment and isolation. Wesley would not hide away from this developing social landscape. Someone recently quoted to me the words of Sam Ward from the Message Trust, ‘The opposite of Poverty is not prosperity but Community’.

As I am listening it seems to me that the churches' mission as we move from disorientation to reorientation is to be that kingdom community of bringing people together (maybe in new ways at the moment), fighting for justice and being a community of equality and inclusivity. Being God’s loving presence, which offers safe spaces for the vulnerable and warm hospitality and welcome for all.

We have come a long way from thinking about Zoom, but as I have listened to people during my myriad of Zoom conversations, good leadership will encourage the creation of community where good relationships are the essence and social holiness helps define who we are. I think Wesley would approve!

Richard J Teal, President of the Methodist Conference 2020 - 2021. This first appeared in the Methodist Recorder.


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