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?


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 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 in the morning and Westminster Central Hall 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.