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


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: 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 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.