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
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.

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.


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

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.