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.