Sunday, 23 December 2007

Happy Christmas

A week of mixed activity. The first part of the week was spent in London. Monday evening was spent at Wesley's Chapel sharing in the recording of the Christmas Day service on Radio 4 (9.00am-9.45am). Leslie Griffiths led the service, in his usual splendid fashion, and the lovely All Angels and a choir sang beautifully. I preached.

Ruby has already outlined what was happening on Tuesday last. A most enjoyable service to celebrate 300 years since the birth of Charles Wesley. I have received several comments on it which reflect the breadth of our Church. Most say what a wonderful occasion it was: Anglican liturgy, Methodist preaching, Wesley hymns. A couple commented that a sung eucharist was most 'unwesleyan' and that Wesley would not have appreciated it much at all. Another suggested that a trick had been missed, and ecumenical relations moved forward significantly if the communion had been a joint celebration by both the Archbishop and the President.

Any comments?

Since returning home on Wednesday I have not done much at all. Thursday was spent in the office and sorting out a small pile of mail etc. Since then i've bought some presents (still unwrapped), spent an afternoon househunting (fruitlessly) because we have to move next summer - I suspect it will not be our last, cooked some stuff and gone to the market. 'Normal life' - a rare treat.

Have a lovely Christmas.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Carols, Charles and a celebration of a life well lived

This last week has been very hectic. Lots of meetings at work as we are right in the thick of reorganisation - to say nothing of various Christmas celebrations. It was good to be at home last Sunday and go to Ruislip Methodist's Church for the Candlelit Carol Service with drama and readings telling the Christmas story.

On Tuesday I read in the celebration eucharist for the tercentenay of the birth of Charles Wesley at St Marylebone Parish Church ( the picture is of Marylebone and not of Ruislip!). The Archbishop of Canterbury presided and the President of the Methodist Conference preached. Before the main eucharist we had a short act of thanksgiving outside by Charles Wesley's grave. This was led by Geoff Cornell, Superintendent Minister of the West London Mission and Christopher Gower, Rector of St Marylebone with the Archbishop and the President also taking part. Those of us who were in the robed procession missed some introductory narration on the life of Charles although as we gathered at the back of the Church I did recognise the dulcet tones of one of the narrator - Susan Howdle, past Vice President of the Methodist Church. Her husband Peter, another past Vice President was part of the procession as Co-convenor of the Joint Implementation Commission (the body that seeks to implement the covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church). There was also a Civic procession. So it was a pretty formal affair but with a real spirit. Martyn preached wonderfully and as people were leaving it felt like a real bringing together of Methodists and Anglicans in worship which I think would have pleased Charles Wesley.

Then yesterday I was back in Ruislip for a service of thanksgiving for the life of a member of our Church who died the previous Thursday, Eric Birtles. Eric was one of those people who was always around to welcome new people and was a real encourager. He was incredibly supportive when I became a Co-ordinating Secretary, working for the Methodist Church, in January 1998 and again when I was nominated as Vice President. I will miss Eric. In listening to reflections of the 85 years of his life it would have been impossible to remain unmoved as we heard about his war service and his service as a missionary in Rhodesia and his work as a member of the Methodist Church Overseas Division, based in London. We heard too of his family life and his love for his wife Margaret and his children, Christopher, Jane and Sarah. Those of us who knew him a little reflected on that privilege and on a life well lived.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Cliff Christmas dinner


Many months ago I was persuaded by Steve Wild of Cliff College to be the after dinner speaker at their Christmas dinner. It must have seemed a good idea at the time so I said yes. Maybe it was because I see Cliff as my spiritual home in some ways - because it was there that I recognised God in Jesus in a personal way and decided to become a Christian. Whatever my reason for saying yes, as the time drew near, I have to admit to feeling incredibly nervous. What would be appropriate for a speech to theological students, tutors, and assorted friends of Cliff?

Well, on Wednesday afternoon I got the train to Chesterfield where Martyn picked me up and took me to his home where he and Helen were hospitable hosts. When I got to the College it was to find the great hall, which is now Chadwicks, laid out wonderfully with tables laid for a couple of hundred people. The guests were all dressed for a special occasion and we were greeted with pre dinner drinks as we came through the door (non-alcoholic, of course!) John Moorley, the vice chair of the Cliff College and Steve Wild, acting Principal, welcomed us and grace was said before we sat down to eat and the servers from each table set off to fetch the food. It was delicious. Three courses then tea of coffee with mince pies. I was pretty full after all that.
Then came time for the speech. Well, I am still not sure if it hit the right note but people seemed to groan and laugh at most of the appropriate places and I finished with the Christmas story to remind ourselves what Christmas is about.
After that Roz Page, student President gave a speech including a vote of thanks to all of those who had made the evening a success. Then Martyn made a presentation to the former Treasurer who had recently left the Cliff College committee and Steve Wild proposed a toast -"To the king of kings and the kingdom". The Cliff College evangelists led us in carols to finish the evening. A good evening.

back home

Last weekend was spent 'back home' in the Leeds District. It was from that District that I candidated, and to that District I returned after theological college for my first ministerial appointment. How apt then (and thoughtful of the Leeds District officials) that I preached in the morning at my 'home' church, Otley, and in the evening at Hunslet, which endured my first stab at ministry between 1981-86. It was lovely to meet so many souls in both places, thank you all for your warm welcome and pledges of prayer. I confess I struggle a bit with 'acclaim' at the best of times, so this return home, while a lovely time, was a real struggle in this respect.

On Saturday lunchtime of the district visit I went to Elland Road to watch Leeds United best Huddersfield Town, four nil. Thanks for getting me in Paul, and yes, I'll gladly go every home match as a 'lucky mascot'. Saturday afternoon was spent in conversation with children's workers and supporters in the district, with great input from Jools Burton and Steve Day. We all know that our work and ministry among children and youth cultures is not what we would want, but what a lot we still do!

Monday was spent with ministers, again in conversation about some of my main themes: mission, renewal, the future etc. I have now engaged in such conversation several times and three things are emerging each time. First that there is a lot of fatigue and lack of energy and vision among some of us. Second, that in each district there are many things beginning to take shape which offer real encouragement and hope. Third, we feel trapped by 'systems' which, although they started out trying to facilitate our life and ministry, no longer do so. Overall, my view is that we are getting increasingly resolved that in cases where such systems can be changed to enhance our mission and ministry, we should get on with it, even at some cost.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

A commoner in the commons

I spent yesterday afternoon in the House of Commons. I'm not even sure that Ruby knew I was there!

I went, with other Christian church leaders to have a conversation with Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. A good conversation was had in which she articulated the commitment of the Government to teaching the English language to all, citizenship education, and creating greater social cohesion and integration in all aspects of our society.

Between us we were able to make various points, which I trust and hope might bear fruit.

First, that greater recognition for all that the faith communities do (and particularly Christian Churches as a major Faith) in terms of developing and sustaining communities - and have done for a long while - would be welcome. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion makes many good points, but there is a disappointing dearth of recognition of the many roles Christian churches play, in it. I once heard someone say that if every Christian ceased to do the voluntary tasks they undertook - ferrying folk about, visiting, good deeds for indisposed neighbours, lunch clubs, etc etc etc) then the Country would grind to a halt very quickly. Not to mention the role local churches play, many in rural and inner city communities. So credit where credit is due, I think.

Second, that most Christian churches are more concerned with who benefits from a particular neighbourhood project, rather than who runs it. That we Christians are not only concerned with 'Christian' values but also 'human values' and that conviction enables us to work with others of good faith to common Good ends.

Third, that we considered the suspicion levied at 'faith communities', resulting in many deeming them unable - by simple virtue of being faith communities - to receive any Local Authority grants for good, socially cohesive projects - a mistake. It was naive to imagine that peoples faith can be removed and ignored in such things in contemporary Britain. In some senses people of Faith had something deep in common that those without (a) faith could not possess. But that did not mean we were all the same, or that particular faith communities were 'uniform' - i.e. all Jews, Muslims, Christians think alike.

Fourth, we expressed ourselves as those committed to dealing justly with migrant workers, and standing against political extremism.

A good afternoon's work, I thought. Now all we've got to do is keep trying to put words into action.

Oh, by the way, an anticipatory Advent to you all!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Chanukah


It is all go this week. Last night found me back in the State rooms of the Speaker's apartments to celebrate Chanukah and this was presided over by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks. The candle was lit in the silver Menorah which was commissioned by Speaker Martin in 2003 as part of the Speaker's silver collection.
I enjoyed the opportunity to sing in Hebrew and the Chief Rabbi kept us to time. It was also good to have the English translation written down as we went along. The Jewish people have a history of persecution and the Chief Rabbi reminded us that this service of thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Jews is relevant to Christians and Moslems whose history builds on the experiences of the Jewish people as we worship the same God, the God of Abraham.
It was a privilege to join in with the celebrations and yet again to use the images of light as we worshipped God.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Christians in Parliament

Last night I was at the Christmas reception held by Christians in Parliament (CIP) in the Speaker's Apartments. It is a good opportunity for people to mingle and enjoy some refreshments and listen to an inspirational speaker. In the past these have included the ARchbishop of Canterbury and Adrian Plass. Last night it was J.John.

J.John is an evangelist, motivational speaker and author. His appeal transcends gender, age, culture, race and occupation. He aims to help people to see the spiritual dimension of life and enable people to find a purpose to their everyday lives. For more information visit: http://www.philotrust.com/ He was very amusing whilst getting across a strong message of what Christmas is about - talking regularly about what "the original script" has to say. A good evening.

Today CIP met in the Chapel of St Mary's Undercroft for the monthly service led by Steve Webb MP, with testimony and music from Sarah and other CARE interns. Gary Streeter MP spoke and I led the prayers. It was good to be together and worship God in advent. Gary took as his text "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light" Isaiah 9 v 2. Time out at work among the busyness to recognise the light and love and comfort of God in such special surroundings is itself a reason for thanksgiving.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Visit to Sheffield District

This weekend I went to the Sheffield District on what really felt like a flying visit. On Saturday evening we met with some friends who live in Yorkshire and caught up with their news. One great sadness was to hear that a stalwart of Sprotbrough Church, where I would be preaching on Sunday, had died on Saturday afternoon. Joy Mears was a wonderful, godly woman who left a lasting impression on everyone she met. She was well known in the village for her love, kindness and, indeed, her joy in the Lord. She will be greatly missed. She had been ill for some time but it is always a shock when a life passes, even when it is not totally unexpected. Joy was very involved in the church, having been on note as a local preacher when she was 16 and she was greatly loved through her work with children and young people.

On Sunday morning we began the service with some thoughts about Joy and we reminded ourselves of her love of God and her enthusiasm for singing and for learning new songs and hymns. Her presence was with us throughout the service. I knew Joy a little, having eaten with them on a number of occasions and slept on the floor at the home of Joy and Keith when attending another friend's 30th birthday party. We remembered Keith and their children Ann, Louise and Peter and their families in our prayers as we looked to think about the season of Advent.

In the evening I was at the annual Ladies' Guild service in Ryecroft Methodist Church near Rotherham. It was good to be with them and take part in the service alongside their minister Alastair Sharp. They told me they had been the young wives - and I don't know why they felt the need to change the name!

Back down the motorway last night and into work this morning, feeling blessed and encouraged by the opportunity to share with some more people around the Methodist Connexion.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Questions and Answers

This week I was part of a panel for a recording of "Burning Questions" for Premier radio. Rob Frost asked me to be involved some months ago and he had been planned to chair the panels. John Pantry did a great job standing in at St Mary's Church, Walthamstowe. The programme's a bit like Question time where all of the panellists are invited to bring a Christian perspective to the topics of the day. These ranged from whether Tony Blair should have been more "up front" in talking about his faith to whether Desmond Tutu was right in saying that the Anglican Church is too obsessed with sexuality with other questions such as whether the rules on giving to Political parties are transparent enough and whether we would be surprised to find one of our neighbours living alone had fallen ill and died because no-one was being a good neighbour. The other people on the panel were all really interesting - Stephen Timms MP, Joel Edwards, Jonathan Oloyede, Matt Summerfield and Alan Craig. See http://www.premier.org.uk/engine.cfm?i=1212 to read more about them. I really enjoyed it but forgot that it was being recorded so probably sound awful!

On Wednesday I was able to spend a little time with 5 Methodists from the Birmingham District - Nicola, Margaret, Dane, Elixabeth and David who had come to the House of Commons to lobby their MPs about the situation in Palestine. They brought me a carved "guardian angel" from Palestine and left me after a cup of tea to get involved with their real business which they all care passionately about. I met a couple of other Methodists that day who were in for the same reason. We keep the situation in the Middle East in our prayers.

It was good to have Martyn back and to see him briefly at the tea party I hosted at the House of Commons for MRDF on Thursday. The photo above shows Kirsty Smith, the Director of MRDF with MPs Meg Munn and Hilary Armstrong and myself. Alan Beith MP was there as well and Lords Griffiths and Walton and lots of invited guests and supporters. Brian Caveney, the Youth President was there on his first official visit. Kirsty began her presentation by sharing some of the questions people ask about the Methodist Relief and Development Fund - why, why, why..? she shared some great stories, answered the questions of why? and then challenged us to ask ourselves and others - why not MRDF to support in the work of small miracles. Hilary Armstrong told us of how much difference her two years on VSO had made to her as a young woman and the importance of development, lending her support to the work of MRDF. I think that people enjoyed the opportunity to come to the House of Commons and the tea - sponsored by Methodist Insurance- and most of all to learn more of and give thanks for the work of MRDF. http://www.mrdf.org.uk/pages/home.php

Friday, 30 November 2007

return of the missing President

What on earth have i been doing! No blog entry for 2 weeks!

Well I had a great time with a group of mission accompanists in Scotland, then opened a church in Hoylake - a most encouraging time. I then set off for the Youth Conference in Cardiff - read Ruby's entry for this exciting event.

I then jumped on a plane and went to Malta (as you do)! I'd never been to Malta before and didn't know what to expect. In the event I found it a most interesting place, with its long and proud history of resistance, and, until recently (i.e. the 1960's), the reality of living under successive colonising powers.

I'd gone to share in the celebrations of St Andrew's Scots Church in Valletta. It is unique (I think) in that it is an ecumenical project between the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church. So I led worship to celebrate 150 years of witness, but also attended the 'kirk session'. It is interesting to see how other traditions do the business of running church - but in the end I guess one church meeting is much like another!

The last couple of days have been spent in London, first at a meeting on Wednesday, then on Thursday a visit to Christian Aid, and a meeting with its impressive leader Daleep Mukarji. Then, if that were not enough joy, on to the House of Commons to share in a splendid MRDF event and listen to its equally impressive leader Kirsty Smith.

Hilary Armstrong MP spoke movingly of the importance of development aid, and its role in her own discipleship, and the whole event was made possible by Ruby in her important role in the 'House'. Well done all concerned - a really good 'do'.

Whether 'large scale' like Christian Aid, or the 'small miracles' undertaken by the Methodist Relief and Development Fund, the sheer need of the world, and the profound call to Christians to meet it in the name of Christ through justice, integrity, generosity and grace has taken centre stage in my thoughts and spirit this last while. And so it should.

So, happy but a bit brainblocked the weekend beckons, then its off again.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

NCH service of thanksgiving

On Thursday evening I went along to Wesley's Chapel for the NCH Annual Service of Thanksgiving. NCH is a children's charity which has it's roots in Methodism and it is a
really great organisation doing fabulous work. See http://www.nch.org.uk/
for more information. I went to their presentation at Conference this year and responded to what Clare and the then Chair of Trustees had to say. I felt inspired as we considered together their vision and values:
Our vision is of a world where all children and young people have a sense of belonging, and are loved and valued, a world where they can fulfil their potential, shape their destiny and experience the joy of life.
Passion - we are driven by our desire to help children and young people overcome injustice and disadvantage
Equality - we believe all children and young people have equal worth and equal rights
Hope - we believe in a child or young person's potential, no matter what they have experienced or what they have done.
To me this felt like the Methodist Church was really seeing Our Calling being worked out in the best of ways.
I was in good company on Thursday waiting to process into church behind a young man and his mum with a member of staff from the Pinnacle Project and the senior staff member of the London region of NCH. Then came Hilary Armstrong MP, the Chief Executive - Clare Tickell, the Chair of NCH Trustees - Pamela Chesters, the Revd Baroness Kathleen Richardson, the Revd Lord Leslie Griffiths, Revd David Deeks and Revd Bill Lynn. We had an organist called Elvis (Pratt not Presley) and sang lustily throughout the evening. David Deeks preached, on the topic "Thank God for nothing much in particular", Hilary Armstrong and Kathleen Richardson shared stories from the Going Strong project, we heard of the work of the Pinnacle project working with young people and parents and Pamela Chester read our Bible reading.
Four candles were lit before Bill Lynn and Clare Tickell led us in prayer. I lit one to remember the Going Strong project, a young person from the Pinnacle project lit one to remember that (he was great as he shared in the earlier presentation too), Mike King, Team Leader of the World Church office lit one to remember the overeas work and a member of the Trustees lit one to remember all of the Trustees and staff. Leslie Griffiths led our closing responses and blessing. Then off for tea and mince pies! I felt proud to be linked to this important work with young people. It's good to be part of a family which has got such expertise. It was the last service in this role for Bill Lynn who has been the Church and Faith groups link person for over 17 years and retires at Christmas. Thank you for all you have done Bill.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Conferring youth

This weekend Martyn and I have been to Cardiff to be alongside the Methodist Youth Conference. 150 young people (sorry to the people who had to be turned away - book early next year) met at the Urdd City Sleepover, part of the Wales Millennium Centre, in Cardiff Bay for their Conference which had the theme of "Let my people go" or "Gadawch fy mhobl yn rhydd!" in Welsh. I popped in briefly on Friday night to find people arriving and organised chaos of the sort that any weekend conference brings. Martyn and I were staying with District Chair Will Morrey and his wife so as not to take up any of the beds in the centre which were all required for young people! Good of us don't you think?
The other Welsh District Chair, Steve Wigley, guided me from the centre back to the manse leaving the young people to games. training on the mysteries of conferring Methodist style, worship and sleep.
On Saturday Martyn and I were driven back to the centre by Will where the fabulous worship band led the worship session which was followed by two business meetings before the oportunity to join one of 4 different groups visiting tourist attractions in Cardiff Bay - a Waterbus trip, "Doctor Who close up", the brand new Welsh Assembly and the floating Christian worship centre, Goleulong 2000 Lightship or to take part in one af two workshops.
In the evenings came the "hustings" to meet the candidates for next year's Youth Executive, then dinner and another Business meeting before some time to join with the worship band, watch a filn or just socialise. Today there was a business meeting before worship in the Millennium Centre where Martyn and I took part in the ceremony to induct the new Youth President and the new Youth Executive then lunch before setting off for home.
It was good to be present as Youth Conference discussed everything from the environment to ecumenical relationships as well as hearing reports from a lot of different bodies and working on the youth participation strategy. The worship was lively and inspiring and the musicians wonderful. The business sessions were well organised and there was quite a bit of use of the "Confused" cards to get clarification. I definitely think they should be introduced at the main Methodist Conference. Not sure how it would look if the platform party were to use them! I was refused a voting card on the basis of being "too old" which felt a little harsh but I had to accept that they had a point.
The local planning team, Connexional Team staff and a range of volunteers had done a fantastic job. We were sent out from the final worship to remember, reflect on and respond to what we had heard about slavery, both 200 years ago and today. A really worthwhile experience. Thanks to everyone involved.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Sunday night with Rob

Following on from yesterday's blog about this past weekend, I spent last Sunday evening at St George's hospital. I went to visit my long-time friend, Rob Frost. I, like many others, knew he was seriously ill - and getting worse. After sharing in the 'Frost on Sunday' show on Premier Radio some weeks ago, we went for an 'all day breakfast' and talked till lunchtime. It was clear he was deteriorating, and he knew it. He was full of faith, but utterly realistic about what doctors were saying to him.

Last Friday, on my way to Cumbria I learned that Rob had been taken into hospital and was seriously ill. So, when I arrived in London last Saturday night I ascertained how things were and tried to make arrangements to see him on Sunday, after all the arranged engagements were over. Jacqui Frost, bless her, invited me to visit on Sunday, but warned that Rob was dangerously ill.

So it was that I arrived at the hospital shortly before 9.00pm, courtesy of excellent taxi service supplied by Geoff Cornell of the West London Mission (thanks Geoff). While I was there the consultant made it clear that everything that could be done had been done, but to no avail, and recommended that Rob be released from various apparatus and made comfortable. Jacqui agreed.

Together with Jacqui and Marian and John Izzard I was able to 'visit' Rob and said goodbye. I had taken a little oil and was able to sign him with the cross. The following, traditional, lovely declaration came to my mind and I pronounced it over Rob:

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who suffered and died for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!
May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion,
Well done thou good and faithful servant.
Amen.

I took my leave about 10.00pm, leaving Rob with his wonderful faithful family. He died shortly before midnight.

I count it a real privilege to have been present at such a time, to offer prayer. It was a piece of providence for which I am deeply grateful to God.

Many tributes will rightly be paid to Rob Frost. He was an exceptional man. I happen to think that the public face of Christian witness and broadcasting has suffered a severe blow with his death. I consider that his initiatives have contributed to the enlivening of Methodism more than any other single factor in recent years. My own ministry - like many others - has been hugely enriched by his events like Easter People over the years.

But I will miss his encouraging friendship the most. He was utterly supportive of me and my ministry, completely loyal and profoundly pastoral. In his frenetic life he sustained true care with so many - including me. I thank God for Rob, and for being able to 'visit' on Sunday night, one last time - this side of heaven at least!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Touching base

Back after an enjoyable, but seemingly relentless series of engagements, I am back at home for 24 hours. Last Friday I went to Cumbria to do 'the Thornleigh lecture', at the very nice and welcoming Thornleigh hotel. I met a number of 'old pals' (nice to see you again Cyril!) and made some new aquaintances. The brilliant 5 course meal after the lecture was, of course, no part of the reason why I, or anyone else, was present at the event!

On Saturday I travelled from Cumbria, stopped off for 3 hours at home (but no one was in!) before travelling on to London in order to attend the Remembrance Sunday event at the Cenotaph.

The Cenotaph was impressive. Thousands of people, many clearly 'remembering' with great feeling. I loved the understated dignity of it, and the lack of words, very moving.

I also met a number of the other 'faith leaders' having a very interesting conversation with a leading Imam about the common issue facing both Christianity and Islam about youths without faith. I also met Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling (name dropper!).

Then it was off to a Chinese speaking congregation opposite Kings Cross station to preach. What a great group of folk, it was a pleasure to preach. Finally a Communion service at Hinde Street/West London mission.

This last 24 hours have been spent in Edinburgh, at a Mission accompaniers conference. A great group of folk all desiring to do mission better and enable better mission. So I flew back into Manchester, caught a train and arrived back early evening.

First night in 5 in my own bed. Lovely!

I will blog soon, hopefully, about how I spent Sunday night, but I need to talk tyo a couple of folk first.

Martyn

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Sword of the Spirit?



As I have travelled around this year a few people have expressed interest in what I do in my day job and are intrigued by the idea of my carrying a sword. So this picture is a response to those who have asked to see a photograph of the full regalia!

Today was the State opening of Parliament so I was wearing the frills which I don't wear on a normal uniform day. It was a long day with official photos taken from 8.30 am and then the House was sitting until about 10pm. It will be the last State Opening that the current Serjeants and our close colleagues will participate in together due to the re-organisation which is imminent so it felt a bit sad in a way. I will need to rely more on the armour of God and the sword of the Spirit in the next few months I think.

If you would like to read the official Methodist Church response to the Queen's speech go to

http://www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.newsDetail&newsid=242

Monday, 5 November 2007

November nights in Newcastle

A short but interesting visit to the Newcastle District this weekend found me meeting with a whole range of people and it was great to be there. On Saturday, after making suitably sympathetic noises to the President about the state of his feet I was whisked off by the District Chair, Leo Osborne, to Great Lumley to meet with some young people, mainly from the Chester le Street and Sunderland Circuits with their leaders and Mark Bagnall, the Training and Development Officer. After some food and a role play game we heard from the young people what they would do if they ran the Church and what they appreciated about their churches and what they found more difficult. It was a good opportunity to hear them talk about a whole range of topics including highlights of ecumenical gatherings like Soul Survivor and also about how good it is to have opportunities for people to share testimony in services about what God is doing in their lives and to ask for prayer.
On Sunday morning I was interviewed by Charlotte Osborne in the service at Prudhoe about being Vice President. It was good to take part in the service alongside the minister Neil Cockling and the worship band there. I really enjoyed sharing with the people of Prudhoe and neighbouring churches.



On Sunday afternoon Leo and I went to Spoor Church in the South West Tyneside Circuit to meet with a group of young adults in their 20s and 30s and hear about their experiences in their local churches as well as opportunities for them to meet together from across the Circuit. We found a mix of people who felt their current church was where they should be but without a particular
concern about denomination and some who felt that Methodism was where they felt they should be because of the Theology and outlook.
This was followed by evening worship in the form of an Agape service, with copious amounts of food, which was led by the minister, Liz Kent and myself including music led by three of the young adults. There was time to name those who we wished could be with us in our worship and another point where people could share testimony about what God was doing in their lives. Following that we went back to the manse for hot chocolate and fireworks. As the minister is due to have her second baby in the next couple of weeks there was some nervousness about the fireworks but it seemed that all was well when we left. I felt particularly touched as I left when 2 year old Ruth said to me - "You need a hug" and proceeded to administer one. It was good to meet with all of these people in my flying visit and I felt I received some real encouragement and hospitality.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Tired, happy pilgrim

We finished the pilgrim walk last night. Titled 'walking in the footsteps of the Saints' it involved setting off from Holy Island last Sunday, then five daily stages taking us to Alnmouth, Newbiggin, Tynemouth, Jarrow and Monkwearmouth. We celebrated the lives of northern (Celtic) saints in each place: Aidan, Cuthbert, Oswin, Bede and Benedict Biscop respectively.

The venues were carefully chosen to have a connection with the saint in some way. For example, St Pauls Jarrow was 'Bede's Church'. What was impressive everywhere was the hospitality and welcome given to us, a group of Methodists. This resulted in people attending local churches they have never been in before, and more than one person claimed the whole idea a great success, simply on this basis of improving local ecumenical contact.

I spoke each night, which was enjoyable but demanding. I expected to be able to use two or three themes repeatedly, but in the end - and probably spurred on by the fact that a few people attended each evening - very little was repeated. I've never written as many sermons in my head!

In several places Leo Osborn - the much-loved and respected District Chair - and I offered anointing in oil as a response to the word, and in each place people responded openly. The 'call' was always the same, the Celtic saints sought to know God and serve God. They strove for a deeper faith which was always given for others. What about us? It clearly struck a chord.

So I preach tomorrow and go home to sleep in my own bed for the first time in 9 days. But it hass been a great time, and my thanks go to the lovely, friendly folk who have made me welcome, showered me with thoughtfulness and gifts, and encouraged every bit of the way.

Just got to get still weeping toes sorted out now...

Friday, 2 November 2007

"Britz" - food for thought?

While Martyn is continuing on his pilgrimage I have fallen in front of the TV after work for the last two evenings to watch "Britz" on Channel 4. So far this year I have hardly had time to watch any TV so was amazed to find that I was able to watch a drama which was on two nights running.

Written and directed by Peter Kosminsky, Britz focused on a Muslim brother and sister, British born to Pakistani parents. The siblings are pulled in radically different directions by their reaction to life post 9/11. I know that there were many exaggerations to make points but it did make me think about the way many young Muslims may feel. As someone who would want to see herself as an activist in terms of social justice, I was challenged to see how it would be possible for a young woman who had seen her friend driven to suicide and then been persuaded that her political activism was going nowhere, to be drawn into something sinister. That is not to say that it is right, but to see that there are points when it would have been possible to influence that energy for good. Nasima begins as a medical student who campaigns against the Iraq war. Her brother, Sohail, played by Riz Ahmed, is a law student who offers for MI5 and finds himself in disbelief at times as members of his friends and family are shown to be involved in terrorism. He feels the system has worked for him and wants to pay something back to Britain. Eager to play his part he begins investigations into a terrorist cell. Their influences push them in different ways.

The description of life under a control order which led to Nasima's friend committing suicide had great impact on me. I understand that only 17 such orders are in place with 9 of those for foreign nationals, so there would have had to be more to the story I think than being in possession of 6 large bags of pepper, but the points of loss of freedom were made. This pushes Nasima to listen to the radical influences she had previously rejected and ultimately to train as a suicide bomber. There are also elements of romance and family intrigue as both young people decide which things to hide from their family.

I found the storyline held me for the 4 hours and it is important to remember that these issues have many subtle layers to them. We remember Nelson Mandela, received now by heads of state, once dismissed as a terrorist. We see those in Ireland who have spoken against each other, now working together. What can we learn to avoid wasting years in that kind of conflict? The actress, Majinder Virk, who played Nasima, ended one interview by saying:- As the American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin once said: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until faced".

We need to be aware of the influences in our society and how they are seen and felt by different people. As a Christian I recognise that my faith is not as well thought of as it once was, that I do not have a right to be heard just because I am a Christian. That many people have been hurt by individual Christians and by Christian bodies, including the Church. However, I know that my faith has been a power of good both for many individuals and for communities and I want to find ways to offer that in ways that make sense in today's world. Food for thought indeed.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

in the footsteps of saints

Just a quick log, while in the home of a fellow Methodist minister. Spent the last 2 days walking down the beautiful coast of north east england. After preaching in Berwick on Sunday morning, Leo Osborn and I, ferried admirably by 'Ian and Elizabeth' went to Holy Island. We just beat the incoming tide, and stayed with the vicar, Brother Damian, a Franciscan. I preached as part of evensong and we had a lovely evening at the vicarage. Then Monday we started walking in the footsteps of the Celtic saints. 17 miles to Alnmouth, and to the Franciscan Priory there. Set in the context of compline we remembered Aidan, the founder of Lindisfarne. Lovely and atmospheric.

Then today. Supposedly 18 miles which turned into 22! So I am not at my best tonight, in spite of a lovely evening service in Newbiggin by the Sea Methodist Church, focusing on St Cuthbert. Very sore feet, not helped by the legacy of two operations on my ankle because of sports injuries, which have decided to protest against the rought treatment they have received today. We'll see how I am in the morning...

In spite of sore feet and bruised toes however the spirit of the folk we are walking with, and meeting each evening is terrific. And the hospitality we have received everywhere is wonderful. More later.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Return to my roots



On Sunday I was up early to be interviewed by Radio Nottingham. Geoff Saville picked me up at 7 am and I really felt like a local lass as I was interviewed by Sarah who asked about my roots in the county.

Later that morning I led worship at my home Church in the village of Clipstone. I must admit to shedding the odd tear or two as the sons of old friends of mine from around the Circuit led us in the worship songs at the beginning of the service. It was a very odd feeling coming back to the Church where I had become a member of the Methodist Church so many years ago. The minister, Bob Jones, and members of Clipstone and other local congregations had arranged a fine homecoming so that after the service there was a great lunch and some time to share. Some people hadn't changed at all and others seemed very different. It was a fantastic time for me.

After the lunch I went to visit Joy and Philip Johnson who had led a youth group in their home when I was a teenager. On my first Sunday at Clipstone after my conversion Philip had preached and invited me to join that fellowship. There were no other young people at Clipstone and it was the start of my introduction to being connexional when I joined groups led by Philip and Joy and by Eddie and Marina (see earlier entry). Joy has been very poorly and this meant that they were unable to come to the service but they made Garry and I very welcome in their home and it was good to catch up and to reminisce - and for me to give thanks.

In the evening I went to Aspley in Nottingham to lead worship and it was good to be in their refurbished premises and hear of the work which was being done in their local community and for people further afield. Tired but encouraged we made our slow way back down the M1 to home. It was great to go back and think of so many things which had inspired me in the early days of my Christian commitment. The "icon people" that I referred to in my Conference address. Who are your icon people - those in whom you can see the image of God so clearly? And how are those of us who have enjoyed such inspiration and unconditional love passing it on to others?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Remembrance, Education and Challenge


On Saturday a small group of Methodists including the Chair of the Nottingham and Derby District, Wes Blakey and myself, were challenged and inspired by what we learned and saw during a visit to the Holocaust Centre in Laxton, Nottinghamshire. http://www.holocaustcentre.net/ We were greeted by co-founder and Director Emeritus of the Centre, Mrs Marina Smith. We learned of how the centre came into being through the vision and hard work of Stephen and James Smith, now renowned world wide for their work on holocaust and related genocide issues. The vision of the Holocaust Centre is a world without genocide. We heard something of the work going on in Rwanda and now in Darfur where the plea is to learn from the genocide of the past. Their objectives are to:
* commemorate the victims of the Holocaust
* educate a generation of young people about the Holocaust and genocide
* raise awareness across the broader public
* stimulate more people to use their voice and challenge society's values
* engage our professionals and parliamentarians
* influence governments to take action in a timely way so that in future lives may be saved.
The exhibition and the gardens helped us to see how important it is to have a place of commemoration as well as to educate people about the past and current situations and also to challenge people to act now. We learned of the plan for an exhibition aimed at primary school children - "The Journey" and of the work of the aegis trust, seeking to protect against genocide. We all need to be aware of what is going on across the world on these issues. I recommend the centre for a visit and it is important to take time in the memorial gardens after taking in the horrors of the exhibition. This was a special visit for me because Stephen and James' father, Eddie, was minister of my Methodist Church in Clipstone in Nottinghamshire when I arrived back in Methodism after my conversion at Cliff College 30 years ago. I owe him and Marina so much for their personal care and encouragement so it was wonderful to see them.
This is an inspiring and challenging place and I think that the church must continue to work out how it engages on these issues. The kingdom of God is Justice and Joy we sing. Do we mean that? And what are we doing to make it a reality?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

A musical interlude


Having worked until 11 pm on Monday night I was not really feeling enthusiastic about going out on Tuesday evening after a full day at work. However, some months ago I had thought that in the midst of this year it was important to do some things that were not strictly work or Church and had got tickets for Garry and I to go to a Runrig concert at Shepherd's Bush Empire. With a distinct lack of enthusiasm we met at the Tube Station and went off to join the queue - which turned out to be the wrong one, so we joined the next, eventually getting into the right one on the third try! Not an auspicious start.


But then when the band started we were drawn into something which raised our spirits and caught our imagination. The band sang songs in English and in Gaelic. There was a fantastic number with four of the band playing drums. We sang along to the choruses of many songs we knew and the final encore of Loch Lomond sent the audience out on a high which was for me a spiritual experience. I needed that lift and share some words from one of my favourite songs below. I am interested to know what music lifts your soul. It's not always the things people expect.

But you came to me like the ways of children
Simple as breathing, easy as air
Now the years hold no fears, like the wind they pass over
Loved, forgiven, washed, saved

Every river I try to cross
Every hill I try to climb
Every ocean I try to swim
Every road I try to find
All the ways of my life
I'd rather be with you
There's no way
Without you

A Church like Tubestation


I promised some more info from Cornwall...

Sunday afternoon was spent 'opening' Tubestation (http://www.tubestation.org/). This is a great story of what can happen with a lot of vision, resolve and hardwork. The Methodist chapel has enjoyed the idyllic views over the beach at Polzeath for 100years, and in recent years the congregation got down to a few faithful souls. Led by their minister, Gareth Hill, the small aged congregation caught the vision of a mission to the surfing community that filled the beach.

The result is tubestation, the chapel now completely refitted to include skateboarding facilities, cafe, prayer room and soon to open Christian surfwear shop.

The opening was great. It was packed to the gunnels with young folk and families. Nibbles were served, a band played, I cut the ribbon and said a word or two of encouragement and congratulation.

Over 100 people are currently attending morning worship a-la- surfing community, each Sunday.

I can't forsee a time when there is a tubestation on every beach in Britain. But I do rejoice that a need was first discerned, then resolve and determination was created to respond to the need. Whatever else they bring, Fresh Expressions bring a sense of energy, purpose and relevance. Long live tubestation! And many more equivalents in the near future.

Off to Newcastle, will log in soon.

Martyn

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Cornish images - Slum Survivor in Truro

Slum Survivor - living for a weekend as others live for a lifetime

Monday, 22 October 2007

Cream of Cornish hospitality


Well, what a weekend it was. I arrived in Truro last Friday morning around 7am having travelled down on the sleeper after work - an interesting experience and a great use of time. Chris Blake, Chair of Cornwall District, kindly met me and whisked me home where he and his wife Joy began their weekend of superb hospitality. I bumped into a sleepy looking President briefly (a bit like the photo here) and then set off on a full programme of events.
First of all we visited St Petroc's homelessness project where I was able to meet the Chair and Chief Executive and some of the staff and visit a newly refurbished house. It is great work with homeless single people in Cornwall. Then we met with Rose Westwood, the Chaplain on the University Campus of Tremough where two Universities are sited. We met a range of people there including staff, a Methodist Student and the Welfare President of the joint Sudent Union. (We also met a poorly rabbit but that wasn't on the agenda). It was really interesting to hear of the work there and share with the folk making things work on this relatively new campus. Hope to hear more of the good work there. Then Chris whisked me off to Truro School where, after lunch, I gave the Burrell lecture to fifth and sixth formers. The lecture was named after a previous headmaster who had also been Vice President of the Methodist Conference. I really enjoyed meeting with the young people and hope they are now having an enjoyable half term. From there to Gwennap Pit which was fascinating for me as I had heard so much about it and never seen it before - also good to hear a little more from the experts there. After a lovely visit to Pamela Luke, another ex Vice President, we went to Bob Senior's home for a fabulous dinner then a Celebration service at Penzance wher Martyn and I shared in leading a Bible Study.
Saturday morning I led an event at Truro Methodist Church where it turned out I had met the minister, Mark, before - at a 40th birthday party! I enjoyed sharing with the people there as we thought about being a Christian at work. (I also enjoyed hearing that Mark's father in law had accepted eagerly what he thought had been an invite to something beach due to being a little hard of hearing!) In the afternoon Celia Phillips whisked me off to the Eden project which was wonderful and the company was good too. Martyn has given you a flavour of the Civic service on Sunday which came after we had been interviewed by Naomi Kennedy of Radio Cornwall (haven't managed to track you down on facebook Naomi!). However, Martyn failed to tell you of his fabulous address which played a big part in making the Civic service such a success. Then on the train home for me, leaving Martyn to enjoy a bit more of that Cornish hospitality. Thanks everyone.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Cornwall Calendar

What a great time we are having in Cornwall! Ruby has had her great time as she has just caught the train back to London, as she points out to me 'some of us have to work for a living!'. I'm staying until Tuesday.

I'll let Ruby tell you about her visit, but I've had great fun, visiting Newlyn Church, and its lifeboats, and accidentally being driven around industrial estates (thanks Bob)! In a few minutes I go to 'Tubestation' a surfer congregation - I'll say more about this some other time.

Yesterday was a 'resourcing renewal' day at Saltash, and it was great to see so many there on a lovely Saturday - true commitment. I hope it went well. I'm one of these people who, when I am responsible for input, have no idea how it has 'gone'. But at the very least it again indicated a deep desire among many Methodists to be open to God's renewing - both in themselves and the Church. Which is wonderful.

This morning Ruby and I were at Truro Methodist Church, along with several hundred others, and Mayors and Civic officials from all over West Cornwall. We paraded from the town hall to the church dressed in great finery - chains of office everywhere. The bubble was burst a little when we heard a small child say as we passed in dignified silence - 'Mummy, why are all these people dressed funny?' Out of the mouths...!

The service was great. The young adults of the church were having a weekend as 'slum survivors', camped out with a wood fire and some bin bags, and some ghastly grub in order to raise awareness of the millions of people worldwide who live permanently in such conditions. Well done, guys! Ruby did a great ten minute address based on slavery and freedom through the Gospel, which really hit the spot. So a good do all round.

Anyway, off surfing (I hope they don't want me in a wetsuit!)...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Serendipity

Thanks to all the (surprisingly many) people who tell me, as I meet them on the road, that they read our blog. One or two have asked me to give a bit more information about how I am spending my time. (They clearly think I am idly unemployed!) So I do that here.

Life is very busy but enormously enjoyable. I am enjoying every minute of being President! Not in the 'pomp and ceremony' bits so much, which aren't really 'me', but in the honour and privilege of going places and being received with warmth by people who do not necessarily know me, but rejoice in the visit of the President.

Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago to describe the role, and almost before thinking I replied 'It's swanning around with purpose'! That one-liner has stuck, and I repeat it often.

Last week in Germany was great - see next weeks Methodist Recorder article about a deep spiritual experience in Barmen.

My life is made harder, inevitably, by the unexpected privilege of being the nominee to Conference as the next General Secretary of our Church. So, for example, last week this involved returning from Germany to participate in interviews for Connexional posts, then a 4.00am start the next day to catch a plane back to Germany, where what was originally 7 days activities were squeezed into 4.

So intensely enjoyable but, at the moment, considerably exhausting.

This week Ruby and I attended the Methodist Council Monday and Tuesday, and I then traveled on to Queens Foundation in Birmingham. I was asked to preach at the weekly Eucharist, but also to welcome those from all around the world who have come to study at SOCMS (Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies), many through the Methodist systems of bursaries and the like. That was a highlight for me. I enjoy all worship, but after all these years of belonging to the Cliff College Community, which is international in nature, I am most at home in such an environment. It is just better when we gather from north and south and east and west to worship the Lord! So thank you Queens for the invitation.

Today has been a day in the office, meeting a couple of folk and answering lots of letters, inquiries etc. I've struggled a bit because Sue, my secretary is on holiday this week.

I turn now to get ready for a visit to the Cornwall district, so that's the rest of today and tomorrow till lunchtime spoken for.

Thank you for all your assurance of prayer - we really do appreciate them.

More in due course.

Martyn

Monday, 15 October 2007

A covenant visit

Good to have Martyn back - we've missed you. Do read his accounts of the Political Conferences in the Methodist Recorder (sorry, not online). We are both off to the Methodist Council for the next two days so it is all go.
Yesterday I went to St Mary's Oatlands, Weybridge where I preached at the 8am and 10 am services. Good to remind ourselves of the Anglican Methodist covenant and wonder how that works out in practice. What are our links and our differences? Managed to get through without making too many gaffes in the standing up and sitting down activities with the odd turning to face various directions and nodding - a bit like being at work. I am not convinced about early morning worship for myself. I prefer to be awake when I worship. I have rarely had Communion twice within three hours either. But it was interesting to see the different people who come to the services. I was especially encouraged to meet young couples who had been on their marriage preparation courses, which are taken very seriously.
St Mary's are taking time to look at their mission and values and this service broke up a series of sermons on those. Something we can all learn from, I think. All the hymns were by Charles Wesley - an effort to make me feel at home perhaps. It was a good time and important for me to experience different types of worship. Certainly more traditional than Martyn was experiencing in Germany. But the question arises as to how we ensure that different people are given opportunities to worship in ways which allow them to come closer to God, becoming more of the people God wants then to be and making a difference in the world. The picture shows me with the Curate, Lynne Bowden and the Vicar, Andrew Parsons. Thanks to them and the congregation for their welcome.

Some people in the UK may have seen the first of the two Songs of Praise programmes to celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of Charles Wesley last night. The next one is next week - an oportunity to learn a little more. I thought they did a good job last night of piecing together the hymn singing with the background information. Always interesting to see how the media approach subjects related to Christians.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

back home

Well, any readers of our blog must have thought I've disappeared off the face of the earth!

Not quite, I've been in Germany! I've been there for the last 8 days, with a late-in-the-day arrangement to return to London for three days in the middle of the week. So sadly my carbon footprint is huge this week, though I have tried to walk somewhere of distance each day.

The German Methodist Church is very interesting. It is based on the United Methodist (American) model of Methodism, and therefore 'has bishops' - Rosemarie Wenner, a lovely person and good leader, and operates mostly 'pastorates' - one minister to each church.

Last Sunday (a week ago today) I visited a 'fresh expression' - one of very few in German Methodism from what I could glean. It met in the suburbs of Hannover, in a bar. It was great, filled with children and younger middle aged couples and singles. Some were members of the main Methodist Church in Hannover and attended both churches; others were new members and some clearly newish Christians.

What was slightly odd was that although in a cafe/bar, they rearranged all the chairs so it was like rows, they had a modern choir and good musicians, and the service was lively but not unusual (songs, sharing, readings, sermon etc). But it had a good feel to it and everyone was most welcoming.

The highlight for me was the way they celebrated it was harvest festival. Loads of them, young and old, had brought some item for which they were thankful, and filed to the front to lay their item on a makeshift altar/table. Then they spoke a sentence into a microphone explaining what they were bringing forward and why. Some of it was veruy moving. A woman brought a picture of her aged mother; a young man a bible - he had just become a Christian and had never read one before; a young couple brought each other!

It struck me again, even in this cultural context quite different to our own in a number of ways, how when 'the people' worship, and we share in it together, that is when we are at our best.

More later this week.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

My history is not my destiny, journey into freedom

Yesterday at lunchtime I walked next door to the House of Lords for a reception hosted by Baroness Kathleen Richardson on behalf of the Langley House Trust. This included the launch of their latest Annual Review "Journey into freedom". The Langley House Trust is a national Christian charity. Its mission is "to help people to lead fulfilling and crime-free lives and, in so doing, to help protect the public". The Trust provides training, accommodation, education and other appropriate services, and welcomes those of other faiths and those of none. Much of its work is with ex-offenders, and the disadvantaged homeless. For more information go to http://www.langleyhousetrust.org/)

I was very interested to hear more of the work of the Trust from the Chair of the Trustees, David Lane and members of the Senior Management Team as we milled around at the beginning of the reception. It was a surprise to see a familiar face and discover that the Treasurer is a fellow Local Preacher from the Harrow and Hillingdon Methodist Circuit.

Kathleen Richardson welcomed us and then Rt Rev Terence Brain, Bishop of Salford spoke about the work of the Trust and got us thinking using the story of the crucifixion asking which was the "good" and which the "bad" thief next to Jesus on the cross. Lots of food for thought. Four of the residents of the projects presented awards to four staff who had been nominated by residents as people who were particularly special. That was a fantastic part of the proceedings. It was interesting to see art and craft pieces by residents of the projects and gain insights into how important this work is.

It was good to see that the Methodist Church was held in high regard in relation to their support for this work. I was challenged to think about what happens in my area to help people such as ex offenders and the disadvantaged homeless. The Bishop talked about the fact that re-settlement of offenders is often something of a misnoma and that offences sometimes happened because people weren't settled before. What could I, what could you be doing to help in an area of social responsibility like this?


Monday, 8 October 2007

New term at the Big House


Well it's back in the thick of things here. Started with a meeting at 9am to catch up with people who had been off at different times over the recess then back to dealing with queries of Members of Parliament, looking at arrangements for potential lobbies of Parliament etc, getting changed into the uniform and then back into the Chamber. It was interesting to be in the Chamber for Gordon Brown's statement on Iraq and Hilary Benn's on the Bluetongue outbreak. Also had the opportunity to hear two maiden speeches today during the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill second reading. They were from Phil Wilson the new MP for Sedgefield who took over from Tony Blair at the by-election and Virendra Sharma who became MP for Ealing Southall in the by-election after the death of Piara Khabra earlier this year. Back to the Chamber soon for the adjournment debate on Pre-payment energy meters. It is interesting but tiring! Still, at least we have had Big Ben chimes back since last week to give that sense of structure to it all. I am also thinking about the theology of work at the moment for a planned discussion to be had during the Cornwall District visit in a couple of weeks time. How often have you heard a sermon about work or been asked about how your work relates to your Christian faith in a Church context? I'd be interested to know and you might be quoted in that discussion!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Free Burma


International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Wesley tercentenary at Westminster


At 5pm yesterday I took part in a service of Evensong at Westminster Abbey to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Charles Wesley. It was the first time I had processed in an ecumenical gowned procession which was interesting and a little daunting. I was then seated with three Methodist clergy (Martin Wellings, President of the World Methodist Historical Society, Martin Turner, Superintendent Minister of Westminster Central Hall and Peter Sulston in his capacity as Methodist Church Ecumenical Officer) and 8 Anglican clergy in the Sacrarium in front of the High Altar.

These included the Dean of the Abbey, John Hall and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (pictured here - I am the one in the middle!)

The congregation seemed to be made up of a mix of Methodists and Anglicans and all joined in the lusty singing of three Charles Wesley hymns. The introit and some of the other choir pieces were by Samuel Sebastian Wesley so it was a real Wesley celebration. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached wonderfully, helping us to think about Charles Wesly as his own person and not just one of the Wesley brothers. Indeed, he looked at some of the areas of conflict between the brothers as examples of how we can disagree and still be alongside one another. He praised Charles' hymns for their ability to encapsulate the gospel message.

I was privileged to be invited to stay afterwards for a "Spiritual Pilgrimage" of the Abbey where a number of people had tours of the Abbey conducted by Canons of Westminster. That was fascinating, seeing graves and monuments and learning more of the historical links of the Abbey - as well as the reminder of the tourists who are coming to follow up from Dan Brown's book and related film - The Da Vinci Code. A tour of the Abbey is well worth the £10 charge that is made.

I enjoyed this opportunity to represent the Methodist Church at this special ecumenical gathering. The tercentenary is certainly giving opportunities for people of all denominations to give thanks for the birth of Charles Wesley and to think about the Christian message that we share, as well as what I think Martyn would describe as our distinctive Methodist charisms. I hope that there will be opportunities for others to share with us the benefits of such gatherings across the country in the next few months as well as those which have already taken place.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Cut the carbon celebration service


Just stopped to have a coffee after service at St Paul's Cathedral. A team of marchers from rich and poor countries have marched for 1000miles, from Northern Ireland, through Scotland Wales and England, to call for the UK government to cut carbon emissions. The march has had representatives from every continent bar Antarctica. They began on 14 July and completed their march today at St Paul's Cathedral.

It was a great occasion and I was particularly moved by the interview with Chirhalwirwa Murhambro from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He had gone on the march to emphasise the message that his country has contributed virtually nothing to the causes of climate change but is being massively effected by the results.



It was a wonderful service with excellent music in a fabulous setting but the campaign goes on. Why not go to http://www.christianaid.org.uk/climatebill and email your MP? And what are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint? Let us campaign but also make sure we are examining our own actions too.

Monday, 1 October 2007

A 'postcard' in transit

A 'postcard' in transit.
Back late last night from a great weekend in Notts and Derby District. Spent Saturday with about 80 local preachers - what a lot of people remain deeply committed to the ministry of preaching, and desperate to become more effective ministers in this respect!
Sunday was spent on local radio and then three services, and a couple of pastoral visits in between.
The evening service was a district celebration to mark St Thomas' Rd Methodist Church centenary, and 300 years since the birth of Charles Wesley. There was a large choir, and a large overflow in the back hall. It was a great sing, and i got the feeling of a time of mutual encouragement.
Observation? 'Dry' as we are in many places, and struggling in all sorts of ways, there remains among us a deep desire for greater passion and commitment. In the words of one of my mentors, Donald English, 'Methodist people want to be better than they are'. By this he did not mean they want to be upwardly mobile, but they experience, deep in their spiritual bones, the desire to be better Christians. I think last night many of us realised that that desire has not yet disappeared. Therefore there is hope.

Off to the Conservative Party Conference. I wonder what level of hope I will encounter there...?

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Where did you get that hat?


I thought I would try to give a flavour of the seriousness with which the business of the World Methodist Council Executive was carried out through this photograph! The Secretary of the Council George Freeman, on the left, and the President, John Barratt, were presented with these hats by the Australian representatives at an early stage in the proceedings.
PS a few photos have now been added to earlier entries.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Methodism - its effect on Gilbert and Sullivan!


I have just arrived back from Australia this morning and am not entirely sure which way is up! We enjoyed a few days holiday after the World Methodist Council Executive. Later this week I will probably blog about serious and important things, but for the moment I wonder if anyone reading this can answer a question for me. On Thursday evening Garry and I went to the Sydney Opera House to a performance of the Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan. We were interested by quite how emphatic the laughter was at the line referring to the King of Barataria having become a "Wesleyan Methodist of the most bigoted and persecuting type". What did Gilbert and/or Sullivan experience of Wesleyan Methodism for this to be here at all? Is it intended to be ironic? Certainly no Methodists I know could be seen as in any way bigoted or persecuting ;-)

I had an interesting conversation recently about how Methodism is alluded to and portrayed in the media and a number of examples came up that were intriguing (my favourite is a quote from the comedy"Dinner Ladies" by Victoria Wood) and this is a similar train of thought. What makes the writers have their particular view of Methodism? The Gondoliers was first performed in 1889 and I wonder what the general public view of Methodism was at that time.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

First bite at fresh expressions

I spent Saturday in London at a Fresh Expressions vision day, one of several events over this year in association with FEx. I enjoyed it, and I think it was a worthwhile day for the 150 or so who attended.

Most of the issues I had reflected on before, but one question was new. 'when is a fresh expression not a fresh expression?' I was asked to comment about how FEx related to Emerging Church and the growing number of 'renewed expressions' in inherited churches (i.e. restarting the youth group and calling it a FEx).

I made the following comments.

I am less concerned with what you call all this stuff than with the fact it happens. Anything which contributes to the enlivening and renewing of the Church, large or small, seeming significant or modest - I'm for it!

But I do think there are differences between FEx and Emerging Church. Namely

EC tend to be a new ecclesial community in virtually every respect. Often arising from Alt Worship they tend to be configured around a group of believers, often pilgrims with stories of aother associations with church and churches, now finding a home together in a group with a rich ecclesial life. They spend time and energy adopting and creatively using all kninds of materials from Christian history to enrich their lives. They often talk in terms of new monastic movements.

There is growing up a corpus of writing, blogs and websites relating to EC, which already demonstrates a rich variety of expressions (e.g. Karen Ward seems to have a different kind of enacted ecclesiology to Dan Kimball)

By contrast FEx arise largely from inherited or traditional Church networks and often represent a renewed or innovative ministry within the whole ministry of the church. They seem to be more traditionally evangelistic in the sense that they are very often designed to engage people who do not know or have not experienced Christian faith with an authentic and innovative version of it. In this sense many FEx are not full blown ecclesial groupings (though some are).

But I'm sure there is more to it than this! What do you think?

Martyn

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Last Sunday in Sydney











G'day. Am blogging from Australia from a very slow computer - but the connection is free so has a lot going for it! Now on a few days holiday after a week or so at the World Methodist Council Executive meeting in Sydney and thought I would share something of last Sunday. All of the representatives at the Conference and any accompanying partners (about 200 in all) were allocated to go to over 30 churches around Sydney on Sunday morning where members of the Executive had been asked to preach and share with local congregations.

So, last Sunday morning, six of us - Garry and myself, Jenni Sweet and Anne Vautrey from the UK, Vishwas from India and Margaruita from Bulgaria, met at Wesley Mission at 8.15 am to be taken to Lane Cove Uniting Church for the morning service. Lane Cove is to the north of Sydney so we crossed the famous Harbour Bridge, which was an experience in itself. The people there were welcoming and the service very familiar to those of us from the UK at least. Some of the concerns expressed were very specific - with sharing at the beginning of the service about the terrible droughts in certain inland areas, but the style of worship was a fairly formal communion service.

I was the Preacher and had only heard which church I was to be at on the Thursday afternoon which was followed by hasty conversations with Gerry Duncan, the minister there. I was also asked to share a little of what the World Methodist Council is. (More of that at a later point!) They were using the lectionary readings so I focused on the gospel reading of the lost coin and sheep.

After the service there was coffee and then we vacated the building so that it could be used by a Korean congregation (just as happens in my home church in Ruislip). We were then taken on a guided tour of the area and given opportunities for photographs of wonderful scenery before being taken to anothe Uniting Church centre for a barbeque lunch. It was good to share with th congregation there.

We arrived back at Wesley mission just in time for an afternoon reception and then the evening service in the Wesley theatre led by Keith Garner, one time Chair of the Bolton and Rochdale District and now Superintendent Minister and Chief Executive Officer of the Mission. What fabulous work is done there! The service was fabulous and set us up for the rest of the Conference. I look forward to writing more when I can get a faster connection - or should that be Connexion?!

It is good to share with the larger Methodist and Uniting Church family - even if the frustrations of our home churches are sometimes magnified. More of that later.

Friday, 14 September 2007

TUC - mimicking the Methodist Conference and mirroring Christian mission?


Ruby and I spent Monday and Tuesday this week in Brighton, visiting the TUC. Very enjoyable. And thanks David and Andrew for organising the visit, and Hannah Reed for playing 'mine host' so well!

How like the Methodist Conference the TUC is! It has a General Secretary (Brendan Barber), and an annually appointed President of Congress - Alison Shepherd. It has special seats reserved for speakers, a sizeable agenda, lights on the podium, and a lively exhibition area. People sit in groups, behind tables overflowing with paper. It was like being in Blackpool in July - nearly. But Trades Unionists, more than Methodists have adopted the 'mission statement' T shirt, and messages of varying kinds were emblazoned on every other person's top.

What the visit impressed on me again (a person not unsympathetic to Trades Unionism) was how closely the issues and agendas mirrored those of Christianity: protection for the vulnerable, equality, training and reskilling to increase opportunities, defence against exploitation, etc. The TUC, like many other groupings in our postChristin society, adopt many of the values of Christianity, but without the dogmas. Rather than see this as a glass half empty, I believe we should see this as a glass half full, and partner and work together with all those of good will who share values we hold dear.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Sibiu - super or superfluous

Well, after being away for what seems like an age - I arrive home again. Just as Ruby goes away for a couple of weeks - have a great time in Oz Ruby!

Most of last week was spent in Romania, in Sibiu. I'd never been there before but it is a cultural city situated in beautiful Transylvania - and hardly a sign of Dracula anywhere!

I was attending the third European Ecumenical Conference - with 2500 others. It was a grand affair but I return with some mixed feelings about it.

Many things were good. It was great to meet so many different Christian people, and I had some wonderful chats with Waldensians from Italy, Catholic reporters from France and Orthodox missionaries from Albania - to mention just a few. Some of the 'fringe' meetings were very helpful, and most of the acts of worship very moving. The Iona Community's 'Fencing In God's People' (about 3000 years of wall building in Israel and Palestine) was fantastic, taking place in a candlelit Lutheran cathedral.

The conference demonstrated to me again, in stark terms, just how varied European Christianity is. How, in different ways, Europe remains a challenging mission field - perhaps the hardest nut to crack of them all, in Christianization terms. The 'North/West' is very different to the 'East'. One is post Christian, the other post Communist. The adopted role of Christianity in (some) historically Orthodox and Catholic regions is very different to Protestantism in Britain.

Speaking personally, I return with questions, and it would be interesting to hear from anyone else who attended.

First, I was left with the impression (rightly or wrongly) that a major reason for the Conference was to provide a public forum for Catholics and Orthodox to speak to each other, and say generally affirming things - repeatedly. That is very important, I'm sure. But probably didn't need two and a haf thousand of us to be there to watch them do it!

Second, the hierarchical structure of both Catholics and Orthodox seemed to dominate the Conference. plenary sessions seemed stage managed to ensure that nobody's nose was put out of joint. Some of the vestments were fantastic - but I came away glad to be a Protestant, thankful for my jeans, and grateful that almost everyone refers to me as 'Martyn' and not 'Your All Holiness', 'Your Beatitude', 'Your Eminence' etc.

But third, and most significantly, there appeared to be a lack of real 'conferring'. Three and four hour sessions had mere minutes of opportunity for anyone other than prepared speaker numbers one to seventeen to contribute. This gave an overall impression that people were speaking 'at' or 'past' each other rather than 'to' or 'with' each other. I think for a number of Western European this modus operandi was particularly frustrating.

But hey, what do I know! I was glad to be there. And now glad to be back.

I'll post something on the TUC Congress on Friday.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Weekend in Wales


Well what a weekend! The inaugural sevice of celebration for the new Wales Synod of the Methodist Church in Wales took place in the Arts Centre of the University of Wales in Aberystwyth on Saturday afternoon following the Synod. With worship in Welsh and English, the commitment of the office of Synod Chair to Will Morrey and Stephen Wigley and presentaqtions in picture and music it truly was a celebration.

Then Martyn and I went with a large group from the celebration to the MHA 90 bed nursing & dementia Care Home, Hafan y Waun in Aberystwyth, which was opened in February. That too was inspiring as we heard about the work there and met members of staff who care for the residents and people who visit the day care centre. It makes you proud to be Methodist!

At that point Martyn and I went our seperate ways and I was driven through the wonderful Welsh countryside up to Wrexham in North Wales ready to take the morning service there ( I had a wonderful time, I hope the people in the Church there enjoyed it as much as I did), leaving Martyn to lead worship in Aberystwyth. We received wonderful hospitality and it was a joy and a privilege to be in Wales this weekend.

It isn't always easy to deal with the changes that a move to a larger District brings. In London many were nervous that they would be lost in a larger set up and I sensed a little of that this weekend in Wales. Our prayers are with those in the Wales synod and the Cymru synod in these next months of change. I wonder how others feel when Church structures change. Any words of encouragement? Any words of caution? It would be good to hear.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Help, I'm drowning not waving!

The last two days have been ones of preparation for me, although I was interviewed for Magnet magazine this afternoon on the way to the dry cleaners after sending in my next instalment for the Methodist Recorder! Martyn is in Sibiu, Romania as part of a delegation at the Conference of European Churches' Ecumenical Assembly. A couple of texts indicating a very long journey (approx 13 hours) and bad weather also said that all were in good spirit. We await a detailed report!

I have had just enough time to recognise that I don't have enough time to do all the things I need to do! The plan is that I meet Martyn at Heathrow tomorrow evening as he arrives back and that he then drives us to Cardiff. On Saturday we go to Aberystwyth to take part in the inaugural service of celebration for the new Welsh District. Then off to visit a new Methodist Home http://www.methodisthomes.org.uk/ following which I will head off to Wrexham ready to preach there on Sunday before an interesting train journey home. On Monday Martyn and I are both going off to Brighton for a day at the TUC Conference on Tuesday. Gordon Brown is speaking on Monday morning but I just can't make the logistics work to see him along with packing another bag for Brighton and finding time to pack for the trip to Sydney, Australia for the World Methodist Council Executive. I set off for that on Wednesday morning. I am hoping that I have sufficient clean underwear for this series of trips. (Is the Vice President supposed to talk about underwear? - oh well that will be something else I've got wrong!) Really worried am going to arrive in Sydney without a sermon for the Sunday morning when I am supposed to be preaching at a church as yet unspecified! So if anyone who reads this spots me over the next week or so, please let that be a reminder to pray. The smile may be fixed and the waving may be drowning but it still looks like it will be an amazing time. Now what have I done with the dry cleaning ticket? Help!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Starting the new Methodist Year

Yesterday Martyn and I certainly knew that the new year had started. We spent the day in Central London, at Wesley's Chapel http://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/ in the morning and Westminster Central Hall http://www.methodist-central-hall.org.uk/ in the evening. Both were very vibrant services with diverse congregations made up of regulars and visitors. Martyn preached at both services and was excellent (Thought I should mention that as he probably wouldn't) and I led the intercessory prayers.

In the morning Martyn preached on the theme of "All Planned Out", an excellent start for the new year. Ermal Kirby, District Chair in the London District presided over Communion and the Superintendent minister, Leslie Griffiths led an Act of Commissioning for their stewards. That was a real boost for me, to see 22 lay people make their commitment for the next year and have it recognised by the congregation -6 Church Stewards, 7 Offertory stewards and 9 Communion Stewards. There was a link back to the Methodist Conference for me as we sang both "And are we yet alive" and "Captain of Israel's host" which traditionally begin and end the Methodist annual Conference. We had an informal international lunch in the gardens afterwards with about half of the congregation staying on. The food was fabulous with people originating from different continents having prepared a range of hot and cold foods. There was the opportunity to look around the Chapel and the Museum which are both very interesting.

In the evening a very different experience at the service of Healing and Holy Communion at Central Hall. Again we had warm hospitality with a large tea provided (there may have to be major dieting take place in 2008/9!) before a prayer meeting with the healing team which Martyn and I joined for the evening. The Superintendent minister, Martin Turner, led the service with other ministers from the team there. Martyn preached on "Jars of Clay" linked to the theme of the healing service and presided over Communion. During Communion people were invited to stay at the Communion rail for short prayers of healing or to go to one of the specially designated prayer points for longer prayers. It was a quieter but very moving service with a mix of new and older hymns linked to our theme. Afterwards more refreshments and the opportunity to share with people before Martyn had to rush off for his 9.30pm train to get him home in the early hours of this morning.

It has been a privilege to share with people in this way and to listen to people's stories who have talked to us just because of the office we hold.

This week we are also speaking at New year services with the Connexional Team staff, Martyn today at Manchester and me tomorrow in London. Once again it is a privilege to meet with people who contribute to the life of the whole Church and to share in worship with them.

New starts, time to think about what the year ahead has for each of us and to give thanks for the thoughts and prayers which we know are being offered up on our behalf. We hope that those who read this will also face this new year knowing that whatever it brings, God is with them and they are a special person known and loved intimately by God.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

thanks for the help, let's keep going

Thanks everyone for all the comments, including a few who sent them directly by email for various good reasons.

Without trying to summarise what is a pretty diverse set of comments and observations, I do think there are certain repeated themes, which I float here.

First, there is a clear distinction between ministry and 'The Ministry' (in the sense of ordination). And we have mixed views on this. Some accept this reality, recognising that their ministry - being evangelistic, outwards or missional - will remain a lay ministry, that they will 'work for a living' rather than receive a stipend, that they are freer than they regard most ordained people to be, and all that is fine. Others clearly feel that the categories of ordained ministry (in function rather than name) need to be broadened to include different sorts of ministry, which are fully stipendiary etc. The 'pastor-teacher' model won't do for everyone, and it shouldn't have to.

Second, is the need for clearer communication about what is possible in terms of ministry/ministries - ordained and lay - in the Church. A greater on-line input would be helpful for some, particularly younger potential candidates. In many cases the need for a knowledgeable accompanist or mentor was a key role and requirement. Perhaps a group of people are needed who know their stuff, and can mix formative and spiritual discerning roles, especially among younger candidates? Would such a group be more potentially important in the future than some other models of regional or district appointed staff?!

Third, our experience of initial training is mixed. This is hardly surprising. What is intriguing is that those who were trained some years ago are generally more critical of that training than those who are in it or have just left it. So are we getting better in our training?

Fourth, even if we are getting better in terms of training for missional ministries today, there is a generally critical view of what awaits you in circuit ministry. This ministry especially tends to frustrate and fatigue those who felt that they were being trained for a different sort of ministry - indeed they feel betrayed. It also seems to constrict those who would try to change it, or lay alongside 'normal' expectations of circuit ministry a further commitment to mission and evangelism etc. The role of stationing, district chairs and superintendents are all key here. Certainly 'circuit ministry' as understood and experienced by our group does not easily facilitate ministry among missing generations. Indeed younger ministers express a chasm between themselves and their congregations in certain cultural and theological ways.

Fifth, the jury is out about age being a barrier to selection for training for ordination. Some feel the structures don't help, others have found no problem. Several contributors feel that there are too many hurdles early on in the process (Local Preacher training for example) which tend to dissuade some from pursuing a potential call. There is a call/need for the interviewing panels to include more young adults.

Sixth, there is some evidence that Methodism as a 'lay movement' is a myth! Several folk commented that either lay people contribute very little other than turning up on Sunday, or what they do is not up to scratch! Fighting talk. But is it true generally? And if so, has our style of ministry - and minister - in recent decades so deskilled or dissuaded laity - especially laity that has been thoroughly 'churched', that is, taught how to be a good laity - from truly taking the part we would now hope of them?

Seventhly is the intriguing suggestion that the Connexion and the Districts particularly, (and some Circuits) are producing and implementing a missional agenda, but that local churches lag behind in this mindset. True? If so, what can be done about it?

Eighth, there are one or two good ideas floating about. The six year contract for young people whereby they do a training course part time, while in situ in a particular mission project seems exciting, and is surely not beyond implementation if the idea passed muster.

My own little theme/scheme, which I am still cogitating and is not novel or new, is what it means to go further and faster down the route of locally ordained people, of different kinds and to several localised ministries. Some recent literature by Roman Catholics I have read suggests some are beginning to take this seriously in their own tradition. In tandem with this would be a rethinking of presbyteral ministry in terms of its historic leadership, itinerant and missional elements rather than (simply) its sacramental and pastoral elements. Diaconal ministry too holds out huge possibilities of truly pastoral ministry in a post-christian society rather than simply existing in a christian enclave.

Hmmm.
Martyn