Wednesday, 1 February 2017


The Half Shilling Curate

This book was sent to me by the author, Sarah Reay, the granddaughter of the Revd Herbert Cowl aka The Half Shilling Curate.  It tells the story of him as a young Wesleyan minister, serving as an Army Chaplain in WW1. It is carefully researched and lovingly written.  Sarah is fortunate to have many original letters and photographs from Herbert and his family, which makes the narrative come alive. You often feel you are listening in to conversations that took place 100 years ago.  At the same time, she has found corroborative evidence from a range of sources, ensuring that this personal story is anchored in the wider historical context and the Wesleyan Church of the era.

I found it an easy read, which helped me to glimpse something of the work of those early chaplains. Herbert and many others won much admiration from the serving men for their bravery in being alongside them in the trenches and tending to their practical, pastoral and spiritual needs.

The most moving part of the story, for me, was when Herbert was being transported home after a sudden and serious injury (Chapters 5 and 6).  The hospital ship carrying the wounded was hit by a mine, four miles off Dover and the 400 injured men on board were in danger of being lost in the sinking ship or in the freezing ocean.  Barely able to walk and having witnessed horrific scenes, Herbert finds himself trapped in a dead-end corridor with water rising.  Not only did he manage to get to the deck but he also got life rafts into the sea for a group whose lifeboat had failed.  Although 139 of the 400 people died that day, the death toll would, almost certainly, have been higher had it not been for his swift and self-sacrificing action.  For this, he received the Military Cross. 

The Methodist Church Heritage News has featured this book in its Autumn edition (2016) because it tells something of our rich history as a Church.  For in addition to Herbert’s story, there is a tribute to many others with whom he served.  The account also gives some insight into the training and stationing of ministers and the work of the Wesleyan Church in a time of war.  
Not many in Methodism have experienced the work of chaplains first hand.  I would be one of those, having never served in the military and never having been a chaplain to the forces.  But having recently spent a few days with the RAF chaplains in East Anglia, I am full of respect for this group of people and what they bring to this sphere of life and work.

I commend this book to you.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Rachel Lampard's address to the annual Methodist Parliamentary Covenant Service - 17 January 2017

“Let me be laid aside for you”

If you believe the old adage about not mixing religion and politics, then I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.  This chapel is at the heart of our Parliament.  And I’m certainly the wrong person to ask to speak today. For nearly 17 years I’ve been helping the Methodist Church to do politics. 

So you’ll have guessed that not only do I think that religion and politics can mix, but rather I believe that taking politics seriously as people of faith is part of our calling. 

For we are a people who worship a God of justice, an incarnate God, whose Spirit offers transformation.  So how can we say religion and politics don’t mix?!

The Methodist Covenant service is a very special time in our Methodist year, an opportunity to affirm the loving relationship in to which God has called us. 

Every year when I say the Covenant prayer, particular words leap out, and they’re often different words each year.  I don’t know if you find the same.  Sometimes a phrase resonates, sometimes one consoles, sometimes another jars.  This year a phrase has pained me.  They are the words “let me be laid aside for you”.

Now let’s be clear.  Being laid aside in this context does not mean being discarded or judged to be useless.  Rather I think it means for whatever reason, the things we have associated with our calling no longer seem to have a clear context or be sustainable. 

At first the resonance of this phrase for me may seem strange.  I’ve never been busier than I have been this year.  I have been so privileged to be in the role as Vice-President of the Church, and to have the opportunity to witness what God is doing in and through God’s people in this country and in other parts of the world. I’ve been able to listen, speak and learn.  The President and I have had the chance to explore our theme of holiness and justice with people from around the Connexion.  I have a suitcase permanently packed, and I need to plant roughly a tree a week to cancel out my carbon footprint over the course of the year.

So why does the phrase “Let me be laid aside for you” feel so painful?  Well this is where it gets personal.  I voted to remain.  I think that President Trump is a terrifying prospect.  And I’m a member of a political party which some may say is in the doldrums. 

For someone who has such a high belief in the worth of political engagement this is a tough place to be. 

I’ve always felt my role within the church, encouraging Christians to make the links between faith and life, to be a vocation.  And I feel passionately that my beliefs – religious and political – are rooted in my response to the love of God.

And now I find myself in a position where I have – politically – been laid aside.  We hear that the British people have spoken.  And I feel outside that definition of “the people”.  Things which I feel are unacceptable are creeping towards the norm.  And political power – the way of bringing about change – feels beyond reach.

Now at this point I should say that I wholly accept that many of you here will be in a different place.   And will hold very different beliefs with passion and integrity. I am very privileged to count as friends and fellow Christians people with whom I profoundly disagree politically, and am honoured that some are here this evening. 

And I suppose my pain could come from a realisation that I am wrong.  Politics is, after all, a human endeavour.  As much as we yearn to understand the mind of God, we are never going to bring about the kingdom of God through a party manifesto.

And yet.  We are political beings, and this is the way in which we choose how we order our world.  The sense of being “laid aside” from this is, for me, painful.

Having wrestled with this in the light of saying the Covenant prayer, I think there are (in a Methodist fashion) three reflections.

Firstly we are here for the Methodist covenant service, not the Methodist contract service.  Ken Howcroft, a former President of Conference, once described his understanding of the difference between the two as being that a contract sets out how the future will work.  Whereas a covenant involves setting off together, into an unknown future, but promising to walk together whatever comes. 

Early versions of the Covenant service included words that were very similar to the marriage service – for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer. This covenant, this relationship, is for the good and bad times. 

We are promising to abide with God – notice the frequent use of the word in the passage from John.  That is where we remain, abiding in God’s love, through the good times, the bad times, the times of power and the times of pain. 

So firstly God does not abandon us, but abides with us, for, in that very tender phrase, he has written his promise on our hearts.

Secondly the Covenant prayer reminds us of the corporate nature of this covenant relationship.  Although the prayer is in the first person we will be saying it together, as the people of God,
·        people who voted different ways,
·        people who are members of different parties,
·        politicians, and people for whom this is the first time in Parliament,
·        ministers and lay people, Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists
·        ...and those who may be searching or wondering.  

In the passage from Deuteronomy we heard that all those assembled were part of the covenantal relationship with God – the leaders of your tribes, your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your women, and the aliens who are in your camp, both those who cut your wood and those who draw your water”. 

Everyone, even those on the edge, is invited into a covenant relationship with God. 

 And our relationship with God means we are in relationship one with another.  Those who are employed for God are in relationship with those who are laid aside for God.  Party politics are never more important than the relationship that we are offered as part of the body of Christ.

So secondly we are all part of the vine, in relationship with God and with one another.

Finally the Covenant prayer reminds us that there is a time for being laid aside, for suffering or being done to, for being empty, for having nothing. 

But this is not God rejecting us or what we offer. For when we are in these places we can be there for – and with - God. 

Perhaps we sometimes have an expectation of power and influence, just look around at the venue we’re in today.  Perhaps we expect to be listened to and taken seriously.  Perhaps we’re not used – as churches or as individuals – to being on the margins ...of politics, of society, of our church. 

But it’s not always a bad thing to be at the margins.  And who says that change can’t come from there? 

Indeed Methodism started in the margins – small groups, outside the power structures of the church, preaching the love of God to the poorest and most marginalised in society, raising up people as lay preachers, as itinerant ministers to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. 

And when you’re on the margins you can always look around and see whom else God has placed there. 

For the Covenant prayer is not passive.  It’s not about sitting still where we end up.  It is about being offered renewal in Jesus Christ.  It’s about opening ourselves up to the greatest transformation of all, through the love of God.  Because vines bear beautiful fruit. 

So from this sense of being laid aside comes awareness that God does not abandon us but holds us in loving relationship.  We are all part of the vine together, one with another and with God.  And that being at the margins can be fruitful.

Whether this year you feel you are being employed, laid aside, exalted or brought low, I pray that you will experience renewal and growth in Jesus Christ, and be fruitful, be it at the centre, or at the margins. 

For ultimately the most glorious truth is there in the words that we will say together in a few moments.  “He is ours and we are his.  So be it”.

Amen



Monday, 7 November 2016

Baked beans and wetsuits

Yesterday afternoon I could have been wearing a wetsuit and white water rafting down the Lee River to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday.  But with rain and a temperature of 5 degrees I was only partially sorry that I had a prior engagement at the Whitechapel Mission for its annual service.

The Mission provides breakfast to around 300 people a day, many of whom are sleeping rough, all of whom are homeless or vulnerable.  People for whom rain, cold temperatures and the dangers of the street are more than just a nuisance. As I was told yesterday, the Mission saves lives.

Earlier in the week I went to visit Whitechapel Mission to see them in operation.  I arrived at 8am, the centre was already full of people hungry and ready for breakfast, and the kitchen was staffed with volunteers cooking more eggs than I’ve ever seen in my life.  Each day, 365 days a year, teams of volunteers from city businesses, churches and beyond turn up at 5.45 to start preparing breakfast.  Cups of tea and coffee are served from 6am, with breakfast available for 50p (or free if people can’t afford it) from 8am. 

People can have showers at the centre, and are given clean clothes from the vast clothing store, as well as personal items such as toothbrushes or razors.  The “Life Centre” is open later in the morning, offering help and advice – locating birth certificates so that people can claim the benefits they’re entitled to, helping to get people into hostels, referring people to drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Sue Miller, Centre Manager
(and her fabulous shoes!)
The Mission is an impressive feat of organisation – feeding huge numbers of vulnerable people, co-ordinating thousands of volunteers, receiving – and sorting - donations of food and clothing from churches all over the country. 

But it is so much more than that.  As I said in my reflections at the service, it is the Church in action; it is an outworking of God’s love.  People in terrible situations are welcomed, known by name, helped to cope and to overcome huge obstacles, to see that things can be different.  The mission statement says: Since 1876, The Whitechapel Mission has been called to serve the men and women caught in the cycles of poverty, hopelessness and dependencies of many kinds, and to see their lives transformed to hope, joy and lasting productivity. Tony Miller, director of the Mission, said to me that it is vital that the two elements of the Mission – the worship and the charity – are not seen separately.  Both are church.

Rev John Hayes, who
is minister at Whitechapel
Mission and chaplain to the
guests and staff.
Rough sleeping is rising across the country, as are the numbers of homeless people in temporary accommodation.  Over the last year, the Centre has seen a third more people than it did the previous year.  All at a time when prices are going up and budgets are shrinking. 

When I visited the Mission last Tuesday the church sanctuary was piled high with crates of food which had been donated from church harvest festivals.  Yesterday it was a calm and welcoming worship space once more.  But we were told that the tins of baked beans from harvest festivals, which in previous years had seen them through the year, were already running low, and there was also a desperate need for razors. 

The Mission depends entirely on voluntary donations.  So how about donating the cost of a couple of catering tins of baked beans and a packet of razors?  And in rain and cold temperatures pray for those who cannot escape them.


You can find  out more here https://whitechapel.org.uk/ and donate here https://whitechapel.org.uk/donate/online

Thank you to Tony and Sue Miller, Revd John Haynes, Keith Aldred and the many others who give time and support to the work of the Mission.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Reflection at the Labour Party Conference prayer breakfast

Reflection by Revd Dr Roger Walton, President of the Methodist Conference, at the Christians on the Left prayer breakfast on housing
at the Labour Party Conference 2016

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  John 4:5-7  

Last Sunday I was participating in Harvest Service.

We took our theme from the Relief and Development Charity All We Can, whose focus for Harvest is Make a Splash.  It is particularly focused on access to clean water and we used information, stories and videos from Uganda.

Their suggested reading was the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan women in John 4.  Re-reading this passage with the issue of access to water in mind meant that I read the passage differently and noticed different features.  I realised that question of ownership is central in the passage.  Whose water is it? Who has the water and who doesn’t? Who owns it? Who can give and who needs to receive it?

In begins in the opening verses – whose well is it?  Samaritans or for all children of Jacob?

It was also the church’s Jubilee Year– 50 years since it was built.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the Year of Jubilee was a special year.

It was the year after 7 cycles of 7 years.

Years were grouped in units of 7.

For six years, people worked the land, in the seventh year, the land was rested. There was no sowing or reaping. The land had a sabbatical, so that the earth could replenish itself, so the poor could glean, and so wild animals could roam and graze. It was an environmentally and socially sensitive year.
But after 7 cycles of 7 years, it was Jubilee Year.

Jubilee Year was extra special, because not only was the landed doubly rested but all debts were cancelled and all those who had become enslaved because of debt were released.  People remembered that the land was gift from God and no one owned the land other than God.

In relation to housing the issue of ownership is central too.
·         When I worked in the north east of England, the Church of England did some outreach work on the new flats down by the Quayside in Newcastle. Many flats were bought and deliberately held empty…so that with ever increasing house price rises, the owner could sit on an ever more valuable asset. They didn’t want people to live in them.  Yet, you would walk from the quayside into the centre and meet many homeless people.
·         What a contrast with my visit to Fair Isle in the Shetlands, where the National Trust owns the Island and everyone rents from the National Trust.

The Greek word for house is Oikos.  Interestingly, we developed some fairly key words from it.
·         Economy = the rules of the house – the way we rule the household
·         Ecumenism = which tends to be thought of churches cooperating but its actual meaning is much more inclusive and means the whole inhabited earth. All who live in the house
·         Ecology = the word or discourse about the house – which in modern usage is about how we treat the planet, all creatures and one another.
For Christians, these three words are deeply connected and inform one another.

The biblical tradition holds that inclusive, responsible stewardship informs the way we develop our economy, and that the economy has a creativity loaned by God to be a benefit and blessing for all.

The day of Pentecost resulted in a community that was radically different in its holding all thing in common.  This leads Norman Kraus, the Mennonite theologian to write:

“In the new order of things life is no longer lived for one’s private advancement. Selfishness and greed are now recognised for the idiocy they are! Life is together. Individuality finds fulfilment in a community where personal relationships are more important than individual achievement. Each brother and sister’s worth is perceived in their reflection of God’s grace, not their economic utility or social role.

There is space in the biblical tradition for each to have his or her own space (for example Micah 4.4 talks of each person sitting under their own fig tree and vines).  But true fulfilment is found in the interaction of all in a diverse and rich world in which everyone has a place. 

Housing is one signal that we have such a place.




Saturday, 24 September 2016

(Channel) Island Hopping: part 2



For those of you waiting with baited breath for Part 2, the wait is over.  Here is more about our amazing visit to the Channel Islands.


As second in the tag team, I arrived on Saturday evening into Guernsey on a sunset flight and tagged with Rachel (and ate some of her ice cream), after her visit to Jersey.  Chair of District David Hinchcliffe, was there also, together with Andrew and Esther Male with whom Marion and I stayed that evening. 

The Sunday saw Rachel and I up early for an interview on Radio Guernsey followed by a service to celebrate forty years since the forming of the Bailiwick of Guernsey Circuit.  In 1976 the French speaking and the English speaking circuits came together to form one circuit, which also included the islands of Sark and Alderney.  Whilst Rachel worked with children and young people, I preached on the theme of ‘Life Begins at Forty’ and we all joined to share bread and wine and sing our final hymn, Thine be the Glory (À toi la gloire O Ressuscité) in English and French. It was a wonderful sound of praise.

After a splendid lunch with the Bailiff of Guernsey (the first citizen of Guernsey, who has number 1 as his car registration plate) and ecumenical guests, we were whisked off by boat to Sark.  Sark is an Island of a little under 500 inhabitants and has its own government.  There are no cars on the island. All transport is by bike, tractor, horse or walking.  We got a lift on the ‘toast rack’ pulled by tractor up from the harbour and the rest was on foot.  We travelled with the Rev Karen Le Mouton, the Methodist Minister on the Island, and headed for the exciting new Sanctuary Centre.  On the way we called at the Jeremiah Project.

The Jeremiah Project is a potter’s workshop where visitors are invited to make a pot under the guidance of master potter Loraine. It is later fired and finished and sent to the visitor at no charge. The Methodist Church covers the cost and uses the engagement with tourists to relate to the notion of God forming people (Jeremiah 18).  Lots of correspondence comes back after the pots are received and many have been prompted by this gift to think more about God in their lives. 
The Sanctuary Centre is an ambitious project costing around £650,000 and it is nearing completion. When finished, it will house support services for the islanders including the island’s only youth facility, as well as medical and psychological services. There are few, if any such services on Sark because the island has no social security provision; health care must be paid for and there are few safe spaces for people to seek help without everyone being aware.  For historic reasons, the land is owned by a small number of people but the Methodist Church owns land on which to build due to an incident in the Church’s early history. Originally the Methodist Church was on land owned by a land owner but apparently their singing was so loud, it disturbed the land owner, who then gave them land much further away on which to build a new church.  This has worked well because it means the Church now has land on which to build the Sanctuary Centre and it is away from the main centres and thus ensures some privacy for folk seeking help.  



After returning to Guernsey and having an informed tour of the Island, including standing on the stone on which John Wesley preached, we attended the MHA Care Homes, Maison L'Aumone, and Maison de Quetteville, which offers Dementia care. There we met staff, residents and the Chaplain, the Rev Mark Street, and learned something of the challenges facing those involved in care for the elderly.  Like elsewhere in Britain, the cost of quality care is above what local authorities (and individuals) want or are able to pay but as we saw high staff ratios and active programmes make a huge difference to the experience of those living there.  I reflected that if and when I needed such support for later life there is nowhere I would rather go than this MHA (Guernsey) facility.

Then it was time to go home and get ready for our next trip.  We will treasure this visit and are grateful to Revd Dr David Hinchcliffe and everyone who made the experience so special.

Monday, 19 September 2016

(Channel) Island Hopping Part 1

Jersey: home of Bergerac, finance industry, cows....and gorillas, foodbanks and knitting.

Roger and I visited the Channel Islands District as a tag team: I went to Jersey and Guernsey; Roger visited Guernsey and Sark.  And whilst the islands were as beautiful and the people as friendly as  you'd expect, we were both privileged to see life beyond the tourist trail.

I met with Revd Tony Morling and colleagues at the Methodist Centre in St Hellier in Jersey.  This stunning building, built originally for the French Methodist population, is now home to a community cafe, foodbanks, Toddler Church, Messy Church and much more.  Its local population is now largely made up of Portuguese migrants.  Tony talked with me about the poverty and inequality on the island, and the increasing number of people who were coming to the foodbank for lack of other options.  The Centre is clearly committed to offering a warm personal welcome to all who visit, and exploring ways of deepening discipleship among everyone who connects with it.

The circuit is investing a lot of energy into work with families and children.  I was fortunate to spend a morning with the layworkers on the island, who run a selection of Messy Churches, toddler groups, youth groups, to talk about what holiness and justice might look like in their life and work.  But this was the first time I had come across "Messy Vintage" - taking messy church crafts, conversations and worship into care homes and dementia units.  What a great idea.



For this really is a creative place!  I met Cathy Morling of Talitha, a group of professional artists and arts therapists passionate about the potential to restore hope, dignity and worth to people who have experienced exploitation or violence through the freedom of the creative arts, which is starting work on Jersey.  And Revd Elaine Halls gave me a wonderful knitted nativity, which is distributed to people before Christmas as a way of exploring the nativity story.

On the Saturday morning I shared interesting conversations with members of the circuit as we explored what "speaking truth to power" means in Jersey, looking particularly at issues of poverty and ethical investment.  In the afternoon, I was pleased to attend the Pride Jersey march, a lively community celebration of human identity and our ability to coexist.

At various points I was reminded that the Channel Islands had been occupied during the second world war.  This experience has not surprisingly shaped many residents.  This swastika, scraped in the brick of a house occupied by someone who was alleged to have collaborated with the Nazis, is a reminder that the scars run deep.

So where do  the gorillas come in?  Well I had the pleasure of visiting the Durrell, an amazing conservation centre with the aim of "saving species from extinction".  We were shown round by Dominic, the Head of the Mammals Department, who talked with pride and passion about the work of the centre.  It was sobering to hear from him about the impact of climate change on animal populations, as well as the increasing impact of deforestation.  And whilst the bats were probably my favourite animal there, and the breeding programme of endangered frogs was the most interesting, what a sheer emotional privilege it was to see the mighty gorillas at such close quarters, the mother holding hands with her baby.  

On Saturday afternoon I flew off to Guernsey for the celebration of 40 years of the creation of the Bailiwick  of Guernsey circuit...but I'll let Roger pick that up in the next post.  Thank you to Revs Graeme and Elaine Halls, Rev Tony Morling and colleagues at the Methodist Centre, the lovely layworkers and everyone who welcomed me to Jersey.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The struggle continues...

It was off to the House of Lords last night on a sticky London evening, where I was privileged to speak at the launch of a book by Methodist minister, Rev David Haslam.  

A Luta Continua (The struggle continues) is a memoir of David’s ministry.  David has been deeply committed to working for justice in the world.  He was at the forefront of the campaign to challenge the apartheid government in South Africa in the 70s and 80s by pressing for companies to stop investing there.  He has worked for justice for Dalits, some of the most oppressed people in the world.  He’s argued for the urgency of action on climate change. And he’s pushing for tax justice by transnational corporations.  

Reading the book I chuckled at the audacity of some of David’s actions – borrowing a Franciscan monk’s habit to go to Downing St and demand that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher give him St Francis’s prayer back – but David has also worked to build relationships and coalitions.

Like many prophets, what he says is often uncomfortable for us to hear because it challenges vested interests. Even if you don’t agree with David’s views or his politics (though history suggests he’s often been right), our Church needs people like David to keep us uncomfortable.  We should never become a comfortable place to be. 

Pictured above and right are David, together with (Lord) Leslie Griffiths and (Baroness)  Hilary Armstrong, the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, Fr Abiola, and David's wife Sarah.  

Also present were some of the many, many Methodists who have worked with, argued with and been inspired by David over the course of his ministry.

A Luta Continua  is available from all good bookshops...! 


(Photos by David Hardman)