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.


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


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.


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...?