Thursday, 17 January 2008

roman holiday

Back from a great time in Rome. It is one of my favourite cities anyway, but this time I went to visit the small but winsome Italian Methodist Church.

I arrived very late last Saturday night, having managed to catch the last plane our of Heathrow after the privilege of attending Rob Frost's memorial service (a great write up Ruby, thanks).
On Sunday I preached at Pont Saint Angelo Methodist Service, a lovely time with a congregation made up of English Speaking Italians, Ghanaians, filipinos, and a few 'ex pats'. After the service we had a tasty lunch and some great conversations.

Sunday evening was a special bonus. Colin Ride - who was accompanying me on behalf of the world church office - and I walked to St Peter's, bathed in light as it grew dark, and went round as mass was going on at the far altar, prayerfully taking in the sights, sounds and atmosphere.

Monday was spent meeting representatives of the Waldensian church with whom the Methodist church entered a formal covenant around 30 years ago. Though separate they are now fully integrated, with interchangeable ministries, joint synods etc. There is clearly a feeling among these small protestant denominations that there is some institutional disadvantages of 'not being Catholic', even in respect of their place and role in Italian society. I listened and tried to learn fast.

Tuesday was spent in Naples, after an early morning train ride. We first went to see a small studio, given to the church in return for a church. Apparently the fine Wesleyan church was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake and so the church gave the land to the local authorities. After some 15 years a block of studios and rooms was built and 2 were given to the church. Their plan is to plant some kind of presence ministry in this poor part of Naples. As if to prove the point we could not get in. The flat had been broken into by 'squatters' who had not only broken the lock on the door, but replaced it with their own lock. So we spent 5 minutes trying every key before realising we could not get into our own building!

Then to a Protestant run Hospital, an impressive affair which chooses to provide extensive maternity facilities, though, they said, there is insufficient funding from the government to sustain the service, so the considerable difference is made up from a variety of sources including donations from the churches.

Lastly to a school, again church run, which runs afterschool provision for young children, including some who are the Italian equivalent of 'excluded'. This was followed by a conversation with 20 or so members from the local churches. I tried my best not to be a plonker!

Yesterday was spent at the vatican. We had a short but significant meeting with Cardinal Kasper, and I was able to urge the continuation of the co commissions which have produced the frutiful 2006 report. He agreed. Further conversations with Don Bolens from the Ecumenical Commission and Bishop John Flack of the Anglican Centre in Rome were also encouraging.

And all this interlaced and undergirded with the kind and lavish hospitality of President Massimo Aquilante. So the diet is not going well!

Back home? Well tonight. Tomorrow it is down to London and the weekend will be spent visiting the Lincoln and Grimsby District. I'm looking forward to that and will let you know how it went in due course.

Lastly, wonderfully but not unusually I have returned to a collection of cards and emails from folk assuring me of their prayers and faithful support. I cannot say how much they mean to me. Thank you. More after the weekend.

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