Friday, 26 September 2008

Hospitality plus

The credit crunch is clearly begining to have its effects and this was reflected in two discussions I had with Church members involved in business at Bishops Stortford and Harpenden.

How do you operate ethically and fairly at any time is an issue - but even more acute in the pressures of a recession.

I will be exploring this further in a Consultation on Ethical Business to be held in Manchester over the weekend of October 4th/5th - but I was very much helped by the people who met me both at the Chair's Manse and in the splendidly refurbished hall at High Street Church in Harpenden.

At both places our discussion was aided by a warming meal.

After a good day at the Bedfordshire Essex and Hertfordshire Synod in Luton - where there was much laughter as well as serious conversation - I participated in services in Harpenden and Harlow on the Sunday.

Jenny Dyer welcomed me to the informal worship at High Street and I then did a quick sprint into the Sanctary where Chris Greening had been conducting two baptisms. I was able in my sermon to speak about the important step their parents had made in bringing Ella and Nathaniel in thanksgiving to God at the beginning of their young lives.

In the evening Andrew Hollings conducted an Area Service at St. Andrew's Harlow where three of the staff spoke about some exciting new developments in mission. I was pleased to meet up with Peter Mountsteven of the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society (a shared passion!) and Christine Ripley, the aunt of Michelle, a fellow local preacher and an accepted candidate for the Diaconal Order from my own Circuit in Salford. What a small world it is....

On Tuesday we were at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester ...but as I am about to depart for London I willl leave discussion of that for a later post.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

fresh eco ways of being school

I've had a great few days visiting the Beds, Essex and Herts District. Anne was a very gracious hostess and with her husband Andrew cared for me and then later David, when he came for the weekend, There is lots of new housing development going on within the District and the South east generally. One of the visits was to Hatfiekld where the Circuit is actively engaged with developing Fresh Expressions of mission and of being church on a new housing area.

The minister, Nina Johnson,has been working in the community for a year and has just moved onto the estate in a house with her family which has an additional 'upper room' built over the garage and she is going to use this as for community use and a sacred space. She has already built up excellent relationships with people in the community and the new;y built school

Howe Dell is the first eco school in Hertforshire with wind turbines, solar panels,light sensors in every room, equipment and carpets made from recycled material. The children allwear plimsoles in the school building and put on their shoes to go outside. The best for me was when the four children Stephen, Georgia, Josh and Henry......

showed us the toilets. The water for the flush comes from rainwater collected on the roof. The flushed water goes into the pond (pictured above) and then that feeds into the tap water!!

Our four guides were tremendous and Nina is welcomed with open arms by the school and the community people I met.

I did lots of other things in the District and met a variety of people and as photos arrive will post some of them on the blog - but just off to catch a train to London.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Postcards from Cornwall

What a wonderful time I've had in Cornwall. I spent a few days visiting the District around the Induction of their new Chair of District, the Rev Steve Wild. This was held at Truro Methodist church and it was full of people from across the district, family, friends and an excellent reprentation of civic and political leaders from across the Duchy. Steve and Laura are returning to a district they have s lived in previously and they were received with real joy. Since they moved into their new manse they have been being filmed as part of the BBC series 'Island Parish' wich is now focusing on the Methodist minister on the Isles of Scilly, the Rev David Easton and the arrival of his new Chair will be part of the programme!

I suggested to the congregation that the next few years of ministry under Steve would be a roller coaster ride of excitement, encouragement and vision. This would describe my time with Steve as we did a whistle stop tour ofthe whole of Cornwall on the Friday calling in at Truru School, (meeting Ron Crewes as chair of Governors, just recovering from being in and out of hospital) visiting Pamela Luke, an ex Vice President of Conference and then calling in unannounced at the Polzeath Methodist church. Here is a fresh expression of Church which is now renamed Tubestation. A few years ago the congregation were encouraged to enagage with the local coastal community and especially to the large surfing community. There is anow a fully refurbished set of premises with a state of the art coffee lounge, skateboarding, non stop videos, live mucs, places of prayer and sacred space....and much more.

At the Synod we had an excellent preentation by Howard Mellor on 'Evangelism as parable' and as I listened to some of the new initiatives within the District I was greatly encouraged that there are many parables beng enacted. On the Sunday morning at the circuit service at Launceston we were part of a packed congregation with a variety of ages, stimulated by a new approach to worship with younger people and families. The church served a Sunday roast dinner for 150 people - it was great!!

Then in the evening we shared in a circuit service in Truro Church where about 200 people gathered in worship which with rousing singing of many kinds and traditions were encouraged to continue followoing Christ wherever He leads us.

It was a real privilege for me to share with Steve and Laura in their lovely home and to get to know their daughters Phoebe (who is living at home, beautiful and single!) and Lois (who lives in St Ives and spoken for) with their youngest daughter, Timna, away at college.
One lasting memory was the morning Steve appeared in his cassock and preaching bands - for the first time ever. His mum had bought them and she couldn't be with them for this special moment and so partly in honour of mum but also in making a new beinginning - and if our God can perform such miracles then we know that there will be many exciting and enriching days ahead for the Methodist community in Cornwall.

Dudley Anniversary

It was good to be at Central Church in Dudley on Sunday to share in their celebration of 30 years as a united congregation.
In 1978 four Methodist churches came together to create an attractive new church which (apart from a flat roof!) has well stood the test of time.

The Church was beautifully decorated for its Flower Festival and there was a good congregation and Junior Church; they are fortunate to have a superb organist (and several more I was told) and a mixed choir in good voice.

I was given a warm welcome, not least by my hosts Janette and David Robinson, their father Dennis and son Matthew.

I was also able to meet their Church Secretary, Joyce Holmes, at her home. She has been recovering from a heart attack but was clearly undaunted by her experience - she enthusiastically told me about her time working at Wesley House in Gibraltar, which formerly served the forces stationed there.

In the congregation was one of the members of the local Council and also the mother of Ian Austin, the Dudley North MP - who I will look out for when I attend the Labour Party Conference next week!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Network lives!

On Saturday I travelled across the Pennines to Sheffield with three of the Womens's Network stalwarts from my own Circuit - Lynette Brocklehurst, Barbara Huddleston and Cynthia Wilson.

We were off to the induction of Judith Simms as the new National President of Women's Network at Wesley Hall Church in Crookes, not far from Broomhill where I had lived and worshipped as a student several years ago now!

The Church was well filled with people from all over the country and the service was skilfully constructed to include elements of drama and reflection as well as a good mix of hymns and songs.
Judith was presented with a cross crafted by Sheffield Forgemasters and a preaching scarf beautifully designed and made by her mother Iris Sherwood - it was very much a family occasion as her father played the organ and her husband (John is the minister at Wesley Hall) and two sons were there as well (pictured above).

Judith spoke in her address of those who were pioneers and settlors; both need to be valued as Network moves into a new phase of its life. She reminde us of the work which Network had pioneered both on domestic violence and sex trafficking - an important resource for the Church as a whole.
There was pleasure that Margaret Sawyer had been appointed by the Connexion to provide support in the process of transition and warm thanks were expressed to the outgoing President Pam Turner.

A very happy and positive occasion - I was pleased to see Network in such good heart. I know how much the women of Network do all around the country - especially to keep us focussed on the needs of the wider world and in raising funds for the World Church. They are very often the backbone of the local Church.
I look forward to them continuing in new ways to be at the heart of Methodism, helping to ginger up the whole Church - as I can tell Judith will be gingering them up this year!

Wesley's Chapel - picturebook

Tucking in to the fabulous international lunch prepared by the members of Wesley's Chapel in City Road, London, are people from a whole mixture of nationalities, Boys Brigade supporters, lawyers and the High Commissioner of Tonga and his family.... a wonderful celebration of the World Church in microcosm!

Friday, 12 September 2008

London to Brighton!

David and I had a great time on the first Sunday of our new connexional year. We shared in the morning worship at Wesley's Chapel with over 300 people from many parts of the world. It was wonderful to meet so many people who have now made this their home church as well as others who were visiting from abroad or elsewhere in Britain. There was an International Lunch afterwards and the tables were groaning with so many different kinds of food from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Pacific and even a few quiches from Britain..... In the evening we shared in a healing service at Westminster Central hall with over 80 people in the beautiful chapel. Here again there was a good mix of ages, cultures, visitors and regular members. Both these churches are excellent examples of the Church engaging with the local community and seeking to be relevant to their local situations. There was a real sense of excitment and vibrancy. David took lots of photos so i hope he will post some of them in the next couple of days.

We travelled down to Brighton on the Monday to spend 24 hours at the TUC Conference. We met a number of thekey officals of the TUC who willingly gave of their time to share with us and all were open to continuing dialogue and partnership where we could work together on specific issues. Again and again, especially when we met with Dave Prentice the TUC president, we were reminded of our common heritage and how the Trade Union movement owes so much of their origins to Methodism. I wonder how many of our members are still involved at the different local, regional and national levels?

I am now in Cornwall for a District visit but specifically to share in the Induction of the new Chair, the Rev Steve Wild. It is going to be a very special service and I am sure it will be keep reading and you may get some surprising photos!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Starting up

It is not a surprise that the beginning of the Connexional year sees a quickening of pace all round.
Sunday was the last time I will be in my own Circuit for several weekends now. I was leading the service at Emmanuel in Salford a newly formed Methodist Anglican LEP which is in the midst of a very significant building programme.
There was a good number there including a dog who was described as one of the best behaved members of the congregation - which I can now vouch for!
They still have many challenges ahead of them and I know will be supported by the prayers of the Connexion as they make real their exciting plans to be a witnessing and serving community in the heart of this inner city area.
In the evening I was at my own Church for a service led by one of our Circuit staff and the tireless minister at Emmanuel, Ken Stokes. He is one of the most thoughtful and inspiring preachers I know, not least because his preaching arises naturally and directly from the work he and the congregation are doing among asylum seekers, the elderly and the young.
I know that often our Circuit ministers - presbyters and deacons and lay workers too - find themselves in a rut or frustrated by the limited vision of some of us who are their lay colleagues . It has always seemed to me that Circuit ministry is a task where it is possible to do the least that is necessary and at the other end of the spectrum to be in danger of burn-out.
We owe a great debt and a greater pastoral care to those many ministers who give their all - and more in some cases - to the service of the Church and their community.
Certainly a number of ministers told me how refreshing it was to spend a couple of days in Durham at the launch of the new Faith and Order Network later in the week. With keynote speakers such as Bishop Tom Wright and Professor Frances Young there was much to be refreshed and stimulated by.
We were concentrating on doing theology in multi-cultural Britain and in the public sphere; I was particularly interested in unwrapping what we we mean by having a cultural identity. Bev Thomas, who was born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, spoke of how she lives with two identities - Caribbean and British - and that both of these help to make up who she is, even though at times they are in tension.
At the same time, being in Durham we could not fail to be aware of the centuries-long tradition of prayer and holiness in which we stand ; Norman Wallwork and Anne Topping took me on a pre-breakfast pilgrimage to the tomb of the Venerable Bede who lies in one of the chapels of the great Norman Cathedral.
The Network will involve many more people in reviewing the theological content of what appears in our reports and statements - ranging from our ethical discussion of human embryology to what we mean by Church Membership. But I hope it will also help to build bridges for all of us who want to make sense of how the Bible and Christian tradition relates to our contemporary society and the search for meaning which we all share.
Pete Phillips and Jane Craske (Faith and Order Committee Secretary and Chair) and their helpers deserve our thanks for launching the Network in style.
(Alan Bolton, Karen McBride and Martin Ramsden, members of the Network, are pictured above)
The other main event of the week was the Service to mark the beginning of the Methodist Year for members of the Connexional Team, held simultaneously in Manchester and London. I was delighted to be able to lead the service in Manchester and to meet members of the Resourcing Mission team there and the staff of the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. Thanks to Martin Attfield for organising the service locally and to the President and Chris Elliott for devising it.
It's always good to discover hidden talents, in this case the pianistic skills of Alan Pimlott who leads the Property team and provided the music for the service.

Monday, 1 September 2008

bits and pieces

Since returning from Tonga I have shared in a number of special events. I spent 24 hours with those on the 'Welcome to Britain course'which is held for those ministers and their families who are coming to serve among us in the Methodist Church in Britain. There were people from different parts of Africa as well as the USA. Most of them had just arrived and came straight to Whirlow Grange in Sheffield and despite the jet lag enjoyed being introduced to life here in the UK and the Church in particular.
Please pray for them all and in particvlular for Jospeh & Catherine Gomez and their two children Joshua (7) and Lucy (2) from The Gambia. On the first day Lucy was rushed into hospital and she and her mum were still there at the end of the 4 days.

I was honoured to be asked to dedicate the refurbishment work and share in the Opening of the Fox Street Communioty. This is housed in the basement of the Central Methodist Church in Preston where for over 20 years there has been a ministry among the homeless people of the city. Some unexpected government funding became available to transform this 30 bedded dormitory style centre into a purpose developed modern facility offering single rooms for 20 homeless people. Here was a wonderful example of our Church engaging with society in the inner city.

On Saturday I was opening the Heysham Methodist church's redevelpoped premises. It was a great occasion and the photo tells a story. In my first few weeks of being a Chair of District 8 years ago we hosted the President of Conference, the Rev Inderjit Bhogal. The week of his visit the Methodist Church in the west end of Morecambe was destroyed by fire and he was due to lead a service in the circuit that Sunday morning. We stopped off at the burnt out church and Inderjit took two pieces of the charred wood and carried it to the church service at Heysham. He presented this to them as a symbol of remembrance in the months that lay ahead. Most of the congregation from the destroyed church settled into the church at Heysham which had a very small congregation at the time. 8 years later it is now a large thriving church with a set of larger modern premises and the charred wooden cross stands at the newly created entrance as a reminder that out of death comes resurrection.

I post this on the 1st of September and wish all who read this a happy new connexional year