Monday, 28 April 2008

In the Mayor's Parlour

This morning before going in to work I was privileged to be invited with others from the local community to meet with Councillor Dann, the Mayor of Hillingdon, in the Mayor's parlour in Uxbridge. Councillor Dann had invited small groups of people who are involved in local voluntary groups such as Help the Aged, Cancer Research fundraising, community outreach, art and charity groups etc to meet her and see the different memorabilia in the parlour. Suffice to say that I suffered from another bout of bling envy!!

I was there as part of a group who organise the British Tanzanian society, raising funds and awareness for people in need in Tanzania. I met Elizabeth and Ron Fennell some time ago at Westminster Central Hall and they were responsible for hospitality to the Masai warriors who were in the UK to run the London Marathon in aid of their home village. I had a little involvement in their programme, although sadly was in Cameroon when the warriors were here, and was invited to join this group this morning. The Mayor had been impressed by a concert Elizabeth and Ron had arranged with visiting blind musicians which was held at Central Hall to raise money and this invitation was in recognition of this.
It was a great opportunity to hear of the work of the different voluntary groups and the work of the Mayor and I was very impressed by these people working in the Borough where I live. So many people give of their time freely for the benefit of others and our communities are the richer for it.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Sharing in Ruislip

This weekend has been quite light on the VP front, apart from the odd phone call, e mail etc and on Saturday night Garry and I went to hear Kate Rusby at the Cadogan Hall. Excellent. We really enjoyed it. Then this morning I had been asked by our minister, David Bidnell, if I would share something of the year so far. It was lovely to be among folk who know me and I probably spoke for longer than I had intended but they were very gracious (all this in a service with the Church AGM and communion!). It was good to use the new technology there too which behaved well under Terry's excellent management. It was interesting to reflect on how different it felt from rushing into and out of places where you are an unknown quantity. Still not much time to reflect as we raced off to have lunch with Garry's mum. That's the thing about these occasional days off. They're so busy. Still, back to work tomorrow (after a short detour) and the Channel Islands on Thursday. Hope the sun keeps shining.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

'doon sooth'

Back from Shetland, back 'doon sooth' as Sheltlanders refer to anywhere else in Great Britain other than their own islands - even Scotland. And, as Ruby mentions, what a great time we had.

The three services on Sunday were all quite different. The morning at Walls was a lively affair with a little worship band and hearty singing. The afternoon service was in a chapel as remote as any I have every preached in. We wended our way into the moors and when we arrived I could not see any other building in any direction - and you could see for miles. The regular congregation of a small handful meets monthly, but a huge crowd of about 20 turned out for this service. The evening service was in Scalloway (Scalwae!) and a district affair. The church was full and as always these people were serious about their faith. They travel for miles to get to worship and their loyalty and devotion to God and each other is highly impressive.

On monday I was taken north to the islands of Yell and Unst, via ferry. I went to Haroldswick Methodist Church, the most northerly chapel in the British Isles. And very nice too. The foundation stone was laid by Donald English in 1990 and it was opened in 1993.

On the way back to Yell we set off on the ferry, got half way across the water then turned back in order to pick up two cars that had arrived late! Shetland is like that. Drivers wave to each other as they pass, and everyone acknowledges each other.

Back on Yell we visited another little chapel, were made very welcome, and served the neverending supply of traybakes and tea. This place is not for dieters!

Tuesday morning I left Shetland, via Edinburgh then Birmingham arriving back at College later afternoon. Just in time to catch up with a pile of mail and emails. So I have hit the ground running.

Today Helen and I are having a 'packing up day'. We are summoning up the courage to venture into the loft to begin to chuck out and keep various things, ready for our house move which, we hope, might be able to take place in June. That would be good, so please pray the processes involved go smoothly and we can get one transition taking place over summer earlier than late July and early august.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

North to Shetland

This weekend brought a visit to the most northerly District in the British Isles. Shetland. What beauty, what faith, what love and concern we found there. We arrived on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately the President's suitcase didn't arrive until very late on Sunday night! It's arrival at all must surely have been as a result of the fervent prayers at the Prayer meeting at Burra church on Friday night.

By Saturday lunchtime, after meetings with the staff, there was no sign of the case (which went on a trip to another island altogether!) and so a shopping trip for "essentials" took place. Here you can see the President being advised on his purchases by the Chair of the Shetland District, Jeremy Dare. This meant that Martyn too could be a fresh expression of the President aws he led a session on Fresh Expressions of Church on Saturday afternoon and preached at a gathering in the evening.

In the evening I joined the Chair and a packed vehicle full of people up to the top of the mainland to North Roe where I was privileged to open a sale to raise monies for the North Roe Church. It was a really good community evening held in the Community Hall. I came home with a number of purchases but wouldn't put my name against my guesses for the name of the toy dog, instead asking the young lady selling the names to tell me five names of children on whose behalf I could pay for entries. One of these was the winning entry and the winner, Stuart was thrilled - his mother maybe less so as the dog was bigger than Stuart.

A late night by the time we returned to Lerwick after the 2 hour drive but a good time was had by all and over £1000 raised.
On Sunday morning I preached at Lerwick in the morning and then at Burra in the afternoon before being driven by Jeremy's wife Sheila back to the airport and the journey home. As I was checking in we were given the good news that the missing suitcase had been discovered on Kirkwall and would be arriving later that evening.
Thank you to Jeremy and Sheila and Marianne and Craig for their hospitality and to those in the District for their love and care. My first time in Shetland but I hope it won't be the last.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Methodist Council

For the last two days we have both been at the Methodist Council. This is the governance body of the Methodist Church in Britain which employs the staff and approves the budgets for the Connexional Team and a range of other Connexional bodies. There were just under 400 pages of papers for this meeting with accounts to be approved, papers and presentations on a whole range of things including equalities and diversities, the proposed youth participations scheme, confidentiality in the work of the Church, ecumenical issues, MPH, Women's Network, grant making, world church relationships, review of stationing, use of designated training funds etc etc... Really meaty stuff. The amount of work that goes into preparing all of these reports is enormous and there is real commitment from all of the representatives to making appropriate decisions. Today was the last Methodist Council of this connexional year and much of what we were looking at will be on the agenda of the Methodist Conference in July. Thanks were given to those who finished their stint on the Methodist Council today for all of their work. Not least those members of the Connexional Team who had made proposals for change which leaves them without jobs and those for whom the years running up to retirement have been far from a gradual easing off. The Methodist Church owes a lot to so many people who will no longer be part of these structures. It is right to mark that here too and give thanks.

Monday, 14 April 2008

joy upon joy!

Had a great but very busy couple of weeks.

Thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Bolton and Rochdale district last weekend. Great folk and great events – the evening in Bolton was tremendous with choirs and bands everywhere.

On Monday (last) I unveiled the plaque on the house where Thomas Champness, a Wesleyan Methodist missionary started the newspaper (The Joyful News) and founded the group which became Cliff College. Thanks to the mayor, the civic reps, and all the supporters who braved the rain and hail to witness the event. In these days when my leaving of Cliff, which has been both my home and ministry for the last 12 years, draws nearer it was a moving and cathartic event for me.

Then it was 2 days with a group of young ministers, a fantastic time of sharing and listening – I am writing about this occasion in this week’s Methodist Recorder.

This last weekend was spent in Manchester and Stockport district. Friday was spent having my photograph taken every 5 seconds while looking round the Methodist insurance co. Then a fertile conversation with a group of lay workers, lunch with some of the staff at Manchester Central Hall, and off to a great infants/primary Methodist school in Tameside.

Last night I shared in the 150th anniversary of Langley MC in the Macclesfield circuit. Thank you to you all for a lovely time – and a great display of nostalgic memorability.

Then down to London, where I am now, girding my loins for the Methodist Council tomorrow. Joy heaped upon joy!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Ruby the flexible, the valiant

Well...Ruby's vice-presidential year may well have prepared her for the long hours, the swift movement from one group of individuals to the next, the speeches, the gift ceremonies, and the cheek-aching smiling that has filled her colourful 3 days in the rural areas of NW Cameroon. But we have also subjected her to dancing and pompom waving as the communities showed their appreciation of her visit; to torrential rain and slippery slopes as she clambered up to see people's compounds and down to see people's vegetable gardens; to cross rickety bridges while people on all sides took her photograph and to pitch black roads leading to the only open watering hole after a 12 hour day in the field. And she has met it all with good grace and energy, interviewing community members and being bear-hugged to their chests, looking at their carrots with genuine interest and really making them feel appreciated and alongside them. They are all waiting for her return trip! (written by Kirsty Smith, MRDF Director)

Friday, 11 April 2008

More tales from Cameroon

I am absolutely exhilerated. It could be the singing, the dancing, the food, the Coca Cola, the 95 speeches, the dignatories, the International Nation Builders choir, the representatives of our two partner organisations CDVTA and PTRC (Presbyterian Rural Training Centre), the inspiration of Kirsty and Isabelle and their work with MRDF, the many gifts - all of this at a special event this evening held in our honour and the honour of all those people who make donations to MRDF. What a night!
And what a couple of days. Yesterday I visited many elderly people's clubs and gardens. Had lunch at the Palace of one Fon (Chief) and sat as an honoured guest at the gathering with dignatories including government officials, traditional and religious leaders and hundreds of elderly people at the even bigger palace of another Fon, heard and made speeches and travelled back along the dusty, bumpy roads to the safety of the Baptist Convention centre. Where the electricity was on and the water was also running - what luxury.
Today we have not been so fortunate with the water - although there was some pretty heavy rain this afternoon and it does make you wish you had carried some shower gel! Still today Kirsty and I went out in the field to the Ndop area with PRTC whilst Isabelle stayed in Bamenda to check on the records of CDVTA (well that was her story anyway). First of all we visited the Unity Women's Mixed Farming Group who come together to support each other in their efforts to farm the local land. In the house where they met (which never has water or electricity), I was able to ask them about village life, husbands, children, festivities and wakes whilst Kirsty went to visit the group farm. They had bought this land with a loan from PRTC. It was a very interesting time and the women thought it was very funny that I had a husband called Gari - the name of a foodstuff made from Kesava plants which they sold at the market. Agnes, their chair, features on an MRDF poster part of the 2007 Harvest pack. What fun the women and lots of local children had when Kirsty presented Agnes with a copy of it.
Our second visit was to the Meghanty women's group in Babungo, where we heard again of the differences made to people's lives by the training they had received in crop management and bookkeeping skills. We were leaving here when we bumped into Emmanuel - an honorary member of this women's group who has done a lot of training with PRTC and now has a well stocked farm which includes bees and medicinal plants as well as the usual cabbages and beans etc. Our next visit was to see a lady called Elizabeth in Ndop who we expected to meet on her own. She had been visited by MRDF before and supporters may remember her from their literature. However as we entered the place where Elizabeth lived we found thirty or so Farmers' representatives from the area as well. After singing and prayers and introductory speeches, Kirsty took Elizabeth outside to interview her whilst I ended up chairing a farmers' meeting. What a varied life I lead!
Then back tonight for the festivities. Fantastic. Tonight we have electricity but no water still so am able to send this blog but you can be grateful you are not close enough to pick up our scent. An early start tomorrow as we set off to travel to Douala for our overnight flight home. There is much more to tell but that will have to wait for now. No doubt there will be some stuff in the Methodist Recorder and the MRDF literature and maybe even another Blog entry. Remember us in your prayers as we travel home tired but rejoicing.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Day 1 of field trip in Cameroon

These last two days have been spent on a field visit around the Momo district in the North West province of Cameroon. This posting takes you up to this morning - access to the internet and to mobile phone was absent during these two days so this will all be coming in instalments!

We were picked up yesterday morning by Barnabus, our driver from the Presbyterian Church, at 7.45 and moved out into the rural countryside on track roads through settlements and past markets until at 10.30 we reached an area called Fum within the great sprawling village of Oshie, Although called a village it does not indicate that this is a gathered community – far from it! We left the car at the side of the road and began the climb up the hills to visit one of the "club" gardens. CDVTA (Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance), the MRDF partner we were visiting, particularly works with elderly people in these areas. A walk to share a drink with a neighbour is likely to be a two hour journey on foot so elderly people get particularly isolated. CDVTA have set up clubs for the old people to gather, usually once a week to share stories and concerns and food, with singing and a whole range of activities. One popular development is the club gardens where the elderly people share a garden which they tend and where they grow vegetables. Going to the garden provides some purpose for the day and offers further opportunities to meet people. I only wish I was as fit now as many of these people are in their 70's, 80's and beyond. Where they have club members who can no longer attend because of age and/or bad health, other club members are encouraged to visit them as well as the field officers of CDVTA. The CDVTA staff and volunteers do things such as trimming the nails of the people who can't get out when they do their home visits and these things are really important. Goat plans and bee hives are other bits of important work.

During the day we visited a number of club gardens on the hillsides and visited Fum and Bachaza club meetings where I got to join in the singing and dancing as well as visiting the garden where a number of elderly women were hard at work. We also linked in to a number of home visits. (Kirsty and Isabelle did more of these while I was singing and dancing!) I was honoured to visit the home of a woman who belonged to the Bachaza club who told us of the importance of the club to her, even though she was less able to visit now that she was blind. She blessed us with a traditional blessing, blowing into our hands which we had to hold to our hearts. I truly felt blessed to have met her. One of the garden visits was to a medicinal garden where one club member from Bemban showed us a number of herbs and plants and spoke to us of their medicinal powers. Peter was in his eighties and very sprightly indeed so you felt that the herbs were definitely helping. We next visited another man called Peter who lived up a real scramble on the hill. He was over 100 years old and sadly had not been able to leave his compound for 23 years. He told us how he felt that God had forgotten him and was ready to die. Two of his sons had already died and the other one had moved to Nigeria many years ago and he had not heard from him – fearing that he too had died. However he did say how good it was to belong to the club, whilst suggesting that people could visit him more often! It was very moving when he said that he had heard we were to visit the area and that if we had not gone to see him he would have felt his life was totally over and useless.

After a visit to another farm/garden we went to meet a whole lot of older people from the area who had come together near to where we were to stay the night. Hundreds had turned up who would have had to walk for hours to get there. The older people performed a number of traditional dances and there were speeches and prayers. A truly spectacular end to the day. We had been invited to stay at the house of one of the field staff, Alahjah, who is a devout Muslim. It felt a generous act for me to be asked to pray before we ate and he asked that I include his family in the prayers. Blessings galore and evidence of not a few small miracles enabled by donations to MRDF and the work of the local people.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

In the dark in Cameroon

This page is being written on behalf of Ruby, Kirsty and Isabelle who are on an MRDF visit to Cameroon...... Ruby flew to Cameroon yesterday (via Brussels) and has today joined the others in Bamenda following a six hour drive from Buea. There was a splendid welcome with banners and singing and there is much to report. However, as they began to write this blog entry there was a big thunderstorm and the electricity went off! - hence this short update is being dictated by Ruby over the phone and typed by Garry back in the UK.... watch out for more exciting (and informative!) inputs in days to come.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Coughing and spluttering

I am writing this sitting in my dressing gown having spent yesterday in bed. After CLT on Wednesday I went into work and by Thursday wasn't feeling great but put it down to some of the pressures there. A splitting headache meant I cried off from going to the Tony Blair lecture which I had been looking forward to. Just to add to the general fed up feeling I went to the tube station and found that the Jubilee line was not running due to power cuts. I had to find an alternative route along with hundreds of others, pushing our way onto trains that were already full to bursting.
By later in the evening the sneezing was in full flow and I rang David Perkins in the Isle of Man to suggest I waited unti today to join them. He listened to my voice and said "Don't come at all!" I didn't take it personally and he was obviously right as I don't think I would have been able to do very much. I am now taking various cold remedies and being waited on hand and foot by my husband. Every cloud...............
Am hoping to be well enough to set off at the crack of dawn on Monday to Cameroon to visit some MRDF projects. Am praying for the people in the Isle of Man and for a return to health.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Another week goes by

Another busy week, and a busy weekend ahead.

Tuesday and wednesday were spent at CLT (Connexional Leadership Team) at HighLeigh in Herts. I think my car knows its way there by itself! But it is always a good meeting with 'weighty' topics abounding.

Then, yesterday it was down to London to the Tony Blair lecture at Westminster Cathedral. I expected the security, but was unprepared for the protesters!

The lecturer was very impressive, as was the lecture. It wasn't that Tony B was saying anything that hadn't been said before, more that it was him that was saying it. Religions and Faith communities often are and can be a Good Thing, contributing wonderfully to humanity and the fragile planet we live on. Equally they can be divisive, isolationist, etc.

In this increasingly Globalised world peaceful co-existence is vital. Not 'melting pot, all religions are the same' but genuine respectful diversity. Religion can choose to be either 'open' or 'closed' - with his preference on 'open'.

He suggested that as the 'centre of gravity' goes east, and fast, the world is in crucial need of values. A humility before God is required.

He used the occasion to launch the Tony Blair Foundation, committed to pursue the Millennium Goals by helping faith communities to embody these, and together. b) to produce high quality material designed to educate and express what people of faith really believe.

In a final section he asked why, in the face of so much secularism, has religion not disappeared in the way that some suggested it would. Tony B's answer was the beyond all the dogma, ritual, etc is a profound yearning in humans, for spiritual betterment, putting aside self, and helping others.

Faith communities remain the most fertile potent networks in huge parts of the world, and governments and Religious groupings need garner resources to galvanise communities.

One funny incident. When he started there was a lot of noise from the back of the cathedral, which he naturally took to be heckling. It turned out however that it was folk at the back who couldn't hear (the sound system was appauling all night). Said TB 'I'm more used to people shouting that they can hear me rather than they can't!'

I was impressed. He appeared (and I believe) was genuine,in his own convictions and aspirations about his Foundation.

I write this having just arrived in the Bolton and Rochdale district for a weekend visit. So off to a Local Preacher evening, and hopefully more later over the course of the weekend.