Sunday, 13 August 2017

Coming and going (or "planes in the night")

One of the great privileges of holding these offices of President or Vice-President of the Methodist Conference is the invitation to travel to different parts of the world.  In January/February this year I made a two-week visit to our Methodist sisters and brothers in Russia, which was an amazing experience with much warm hospitality offered in temperatures that reached -21C!  My full report can be read on the Mission pages of this website.

This week, Loraine has set off for her partnership visit to Hong Kong and Fiji and I look forward to hearing more about that in due course.

About 48 hours before she took to the airways, I landed at Heathrow following an extraordinary week in Ethiopia with our relief and development charity, All We Can (with whom Loraine recently went to Uganda; her reports are on the Presidential Facebook pages)

Ethiopia was a huge surprise to me - probably most of us think of Michael Buerk, Bob Geldof and Band Aid in 1984 or, if we are a bit older, of Jonathan Dimbleby revealing "The Hidden Famine" a decade earlier in 1973 and so we associate Ethiopia with desert, famine and drought.  Sadly, it is still a country of poverty, need and injustice, but it is a vast country and my visit was centred in Debre Birhan, about two hours' north of Addis Ababa in the Ethiopian Highlands (which are much higher than the Scottish Highlands!  We reached heights of around 3000 metres, where I found the altitude affected my breathing and ability to climb considerably!)  The rainy season is now underway - and farmers told us it has been a good rainy season so far, with plenty of rain, but without the excessive deluges which can do more harm than good - so everywhere was looking green and fertile.


I travelled with Claire Welch from All We Can and we were guided by two of All We Can's partner organisations, SUNARMA and ADEHNO, both NGOs working with local farmers and communities to find ways of increasing productivity and improving living conditions in mainly rural areas.  This method of working, with its emphasis on partnership, strikes me as extremely good practice.  We are not sending people into places to teach new methods but working on the ground with those who live there and who, day by day, are exploring how best to harness nature and, through soil and water conservation techniques, alleviate the effects of climate change and other environmental disasters.  


Amongst many others, we met shepherds rearing new strains of sheep; beekeepers with new design hives (I still managed to get stung!); women making a more efficient stove; an apple farmer discovering how this relatively new crop flourishes in the highlands (despite frost and hail - which we experienced on our visit!); a potato farmer having great success with Irish potatoes (now known locally as SUNARMA potatoes!), women breeding chickens (of course!)... and time and time again the farmers impressed upon us how their lives are being transformed, "Day by Day".  It was humbling and a huge privilege to enter the homes and lands of these generous, dignified people and to share around their tables in the ever-present "injera" (the local staple food) as well as huge loaves of celebratory bread, and, of course, the very special coffee ceremony.  (I politely declined the home-brewed beer and spirits, known to be very powerful!)


On the final day, as we were driving back to Debre Birhan and then on to Addis for our flight, I noticed a group of people gathering on the skyline, some 800 yards from the roadside.  Our driver slowed down and our hosts explained that they were a group of farmers waiting to see us and to thank us.  We walked along a low embankment through the mud to be warmly greeted (in the rain) by about 80 Ethiopian farmers from that plainland area.  Movingly they told us of how last winter the frost had devastated their crops.  They had had to go to the government for emergency food aid but even so many had had to eat leaves.  Their message was clear, however, they didn't want to be given food, they wanted to be supported in ways of making the land more fertile and protecting their crops from erosion and weather-damage.  Their gratitude to ADEHNO (and therefore All We Can) for working with them in this way was enormous.  It was a profoundly moving and humbling experience.

There is so much more I could write, and so much more I have to learn about the history of this amazing land and culture - with its proud ancient history of the origins of the human race, and its bloody recent history of the Derg Regime and the Red Terror of 1974-1991.  There is so much more I could write about the influence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which we attended from 5:30am - 7:15am last Sunday morning - and even then the service was not half-way through)...

I flew home with many faces, voices, prayers and hopes in my heart and mind and I am so grateful to All We Can and to the Methodist people for this life-changing encounter.  Please keep Ethiopia in your prayers.

Jill

Sunday, 30 July 2017

More from the Isle of Man

The blessings of being here in the Isle of Man have continued... yesterday Loraine and I went on pilgrimage together with around 20 others, encountering some of the ancient, holy sites on this island as we walked from Maughold Head along some stunning coastline to the Quaker burial ground - all in bright (& breezy) sunshine.

Today it has been our privilege to lead worship; Loraine in the north of the island at Ramsey and me in the east at Union Mills. Both were celebration services for 6 or 7 congregations coming together so we had full churches and a good feel. (Read more in Loraine's Facebook post).
In conversation over these few days we have sensed God at work amongst the Methodist folk here and as we leave tomorrow we are grateful for the welcome and spirituality we have encountered here and will continue to pray for this part of the Connexion.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Loraine and I crossed the Irish Sea (separately) yesterday to make our first joint district visit- to the Isle of Man. Various people of the Isle of Man have been woven through my life story (and I am very glad to have a Manx daughter-in-law) so this is my fourth visit to the island, Loraine's first.

We were welcomed at the airport by chair of district, Richard, and Ruth, and went first to Balagarrey Methodist Church, a small chapel with a big heart. A recent extension gives wonderful views over beautiful countryside and there the members meet to pray at 7:30 every morning.

Their prayers are prayers of blessing, blessing the community around them, blessing all with whom they come into contact, yesterday blessing us. We were moved and very grateful - What a wonderful start to a visit!


Our next call was at Manor Ark on the Pulrose estate where community worker Panda explained to us how this former police house has been leased by the church (for a peppercorn sum) and is being developed as a youth and community centre.
Located as it is right next to the primary school, immediately opposite the Methodist chapel and right at the entrance to the estate it is in a prime position and we heard exciting stories of the ministry unfolding there.

Yesterday evening we were taken to the area around Tynwald Hill, adjacent to the Royal Chapel which is home to the Manx parliament, believed to be the oldest continuous parliament in the world having celebrated its millennium in 1979. The Celtic cross of the national war memorial looked resplendent in the evening sunshine.  We gathered across the road at St John's Church hall with around 70 members of the island's churches to share in a delicious meal after which Loraine and I did a sort of double act, sharing something of our role, something of our hopes, some of our stories then hearing and discussing questions from the floor. There are challenges ahead for the Methodist Church in the Isle of Man (where aren't there?) but we were heartened by the love, faith, vision and prayer we met yesterday. Jill.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

I have just returned from a visit to Uganda with ALL WE CAN.  I have posted on my Facebook page and these are some random thoughts of my journey. 


Our first day we visited Bussie Island  a very derived community on Lake Victoria where I met  Gladys a widow who now has no  children of her own at home and takes in orphan children. She was overjoyed with her tippy tap and her Lattrine and water tank that she says has saved her life. These were provided by the VAD team and 'All WE CAN'  She asked if I could pray with her and it took some doing as it was such an emotional moment.

On Tuesday we travelled to Jinja  and passed over the source of the Nile and  worshiped with the local Methodist Circuit when we used Cliff Praise and felt very much at home. Feeling very blessed by welcome and hospitality.

A few weeks ago I attended a Bridge builders course when £240 was raised for All We Can for a women to be empowered somewhere in the world. Today I met Edith at her new piggery with her piglet in Jinja Uganda. Edith is a widow and when she sells her piglets will be able to have her own home and not live with her eldest son, she will also be able to feed her children. £240 changed a life today thank you Bridge Builder colleagues and thank you God.












While in Jinja  we worked with the Methodist Church in Uganda in seminars on leadership. Stimulating day with so many really interesting conversations. Hoping and praying that Bishop William and the team can achieve there vision. 












This is a Methodist school and you can see 3 classrooms!  The staff and children were so welcoming to us. 














I have waited a few days to post about my last day in Uganda as I was not sure what I would write and if in fact I could write anything without becoming too emotional as it was so harrowing as we visited the region of Bwondha where 40 thousand people live in a settlement called by many a slum and is one of the most inaccessible and deprived communities in Uganda. We arrived to a public meeting where the mood was sombre as people complained about the lack of support for them as we listened as they described themselves as a lost and left community. They had no fresh clean water other than that they have to pay for which course many of them cant afford. The women have to walk down to the lake and you will see for the photographs what they have to content with as pigs and livestock live near the water and cause disease but the women have no choice and you cant call it a beach it was more like a tip. Can you imagine how that must be gathering water that you know is going to harm you and your children, but as one women told us what choice do we have. Having gathered the water the women then have to walk up the big hill back to there homes that may be more than 2 or 3 miles way or even further. 






A visit that wil stay long in my memory. Thank you to ALL WE CAN and especially Graeme Hodge and Dean Gillespie who made the trip so stimulating, educating and where I  learned so much.  Loraine 
Jill and I have been together today July 14th as first thing Friday morning we met over breakfast to catch up then to Lambeth Palace for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Gareth Powell, Neil Stubbens David Walton and Anglican colleagues with an agenda which was wide ranging which reflected our concern for European relationships in the light of Brexit and a update by David and Bishop Paul Bayes  on the Joint Covenant Monitoring and Advocacy group. Our conversation was good humoured, generous and in the spirit of seeking the Lords will for our world.

We then moved to the chapel in a moving Eucharist lead by the Archbishop as Revd Clinton Langston was collated and licensed as Archdeacon to the Army. A number of Methodists from the forces chaplaincy teams were present and in this ecumenical gathering we shared in the bread and wine, a sort of pinch yourself moment which I found very moving. An interesting moment when I received the wine from the Archbishops Chaplain Isabelle who used to be our local Vicar in Edwalton at Holy Rood until a few months ago. 

All going our separate ways  Jill and then walked up the Lambeth Road to the office of the Methodist Recorder to agree our engagement over the next year.  

I then  discovered that the publishing house has sold out of the prayer cubes!
Loraine 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Celebrating Methodist lay leaders at Tolpuddle

"Tolpuddle" is a name I seem to have known all my life.  I think it was probably in Sunday School that I first learned about the Tolpuddle Martyrs - six Dorsetshire labourers who, in a desperate attempt to save their families from total degradation in 1834 at a time when wages were falling, formed one of the earliest trade unions.  Because they then also took an oath to secrecy, they were tried and sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia - an extremely harsh sentence which caused major public outcry.  After three years they were pardoned and able to return, and their names and their courageous actions have lived on ever since.  You can read much more about them and their stories on the Methodist Heritage webpages.

Annually in July the Trades Union Congress (TUC) organise a festival in the village of Tolpuddle which now attracts about 10,000 visitors and yesterday (Sunday 16th July) I made my first visit.  It was everything a festival should be - sunny and hot (with no mud in sight), happy and noisy, celebratory and yet serious, as all sorts of unions, groups and organisations took the opportunity to highlight their desire for justice and holiness (although they may not all have put it in those words!)



I was proud to march under the church's banner, which, on the reverse listed the names of the six martyrs along with their Methodist connections.  Rev. Steph Jenner, the local superintendent minister, has done much to increase the involvement of local Methodists and other Christians in the festival and to take this opportunity to bear witness to the faith of the martyrs which led them to take their courageous actions.  As Rev. Inderjit Bhogal commented to me as we marched, "all these people are here because of the commitment, faith and actions of Methodist lay preachers" - Wow!

We did glimpse the festival's most famous visitor - Jeremy Corbyn - who has been attending regularly for over thirty years, but now draws crowds in his own right of course!  Inderjit preached powerfully at the service which ended the Festival in the "new" Methodist chapel (around 150 years old, but newer than the "old" chapel, which is the focus of a major restoration project) and I was glad to lead prayers there too.  In a day which focused on justice, liberty, faith, government, heritage and celebration, there is still much to pray for around the world.  Jill

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Honouring Pauline Webb

On Saturday 8th July I had the great privilege of attending the Memorial Service for Pauline Webb at Wesley's Chapel, London. Pauline was an outstanding lay woman in the life of the Methodist Church - and on a much broader platform too - and much has already been written about her in many places which I will not duplicate here.  (See the Guardian obituary for example).

My reason for being there was as one of her many successors in the role of Vice-President of Conference, an office which she held in 1965-66 at the age of 38; the youngest person ever to have served as Vice-President.

It was during her year of office, when I was about 7, that I first heard of Pauline Webb. As chance would have it, I had a friend in Sunday School with the same name; when the JMA awards were given in church that year there was a ripple of laughter as "Pauline Webb" was called - I later asked my mother why and still remember her reply; "Pauline Webb is the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference and one of the greatest Methodist women of all time"! I didn't understand what "Vice-President of the Methodist Conference" meant but was intrigued. Her name - and her great achievements, especially in the areas of world mission, gender and racial justice and religious broadcasting, have woven like a thread through my life ever since and have blessed and challenged me and so many.

I left Glasgow in cool, damp weather at 6:30am and returned there (after the hottest hours on a train I have ever experienced) at 11pm, but I was more than glad to be there; to bring a short greeting from Conference this year, where Pauline was remembered with great affection and respect, and to read from Romans 8 in the church and then the 23rd Psalm outside as her ashes were interred - close to the feet of John Wesley's statue.

But it was at the feet of Christ that Pauline lived her life - receiving and acting on the challenge of the Gospel to work for the coming of God's kingdom of justice, peace and righteousness. Thanks be to God.

A recording of the live stream can be found on Wesley's Chapel website