Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas Greetings

William Nulty, Alysha Lawlor, Laura Mobbs & Action for Children Secretary Rosemary Pickles
Emily Margaret and Simon Atkin - above
Robert Huddleston and longest-serving Monton member, Clifford Bell - below

It has been good to be back home in preparation for Christmas.
At my home church, Monton, we have supported NCH for many years and the second Sunday in December is our Gift Service. This year Alysha Lawlor came to tell us about the charity's change of name - it is now ACTION FOR CHILDREN - and of the vital work they do among vulnerable children and their families. Most of it is in this country but I had been able to visit the YES project in Belize during my trip to Central America earlier in the year; this is funded by Action for Children and helps and trains teenage girls suffering abuse.
It was also the baptism of Emily Margaret, seen above with her proud father! A great family occasion - grandparents Margaret and Ray Drury are hard-working members in the Circuit.
This evening a group of us will be singing carols around the local hospital and we will be remembering many who are ill or near to death - and many too who have lost their homes and livelihoods across the world this Christmas.
Stephen and I pray with you for the coming again of the Prince of Peace; aware as always that today 'his angels here are human'; aware too that the Light has already come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it (St. John 1).

Monday, 8 December 2008

Presidents and Vice Presidents at Swanwick

Pauline Webb
Richard Vautrey, Colin Morris

Stephen Poxon, Leon Murray

Pat Parkins, Margaret Parker

Peter Howdle

Judy Jarvis, Brian Beck

Ivan Weekes, John Bell, Ruby Beech

Christina Le Moignan, Stella Bristow, Ann Leck

Rev Amos and Mrs Cresswell

David Walton, Eluned Williams

David Gamble, Kenneth Greet

Ian White, Myrtle Poxon
(back) John Taylor

Bill Davies, David Ensor

Jan Sutch Pickard, Ivan Weekes

Susana Varela, Pat Parkins (organisers)

Martyn Atkins, Richard Jones (above)
Stephen Poxon, Myrtle Poxon (below)

This was an historic occasion. As far as we are aware it was the first time that former Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Conference had been brought together for a 24 hour period of study and conversation.
The gathering was stimulated by this year's President to give an opportunity to share some our senior colleagues' insights on the present state of the Church and vision for its future.
It was all set within the context of prayer and worship. The senior Vice-President present was Pauline Webb (1965 -pictured top) who led our opening devotions. The senior President was Colin Morris (1980 - pictured with Richard Vautrey, the Vice-President-designate) although in years it was Kenneth Greet, the former Secretary of the Conference, who has recently celebrated his 90th birthday (pictured with David Gamble, the President-designate).
We were stimulated by Bible studies led by Neil Richardson and Tom Stuckey and by the prayers of John Taylor and Ann Leck.
It was also an opportunity to meet the new strategic leaders of the Church - Martyn Atkins, the General Secretary (pictured with a colourfully-attired Richard Jones), Christine Elliott, John Ellis and Mark Wakelin - and understand some of the recent and ongoing changes in the organisation.
We expressed our gratitude to Mark Wakelin, Pat Parkins and Susana Varela for their careful planning of the event before a final Service of Holy Communion.
I came away more aware of the great wealth of the spiritual heritage we share, but also with a renewed sense that God still has a purpose for the Methodist movement within the Church universal - and a determination that we use those particular gifts we have inherited with greater energy and purpose in a changing world.
'To serve the present age
Our calling to fulfil,
O let it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will'

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The World Church in Wolverhampton

As David has shared we had a really good time in the Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury District, There were many highlights but there are two to mention here. The first was a gathering over lunch of those ministers within the District who had come from sister Conferences around the world to share ministry with us here in Britain. It was an opportunity for me to listen to their experiences and hope we might improve our induction for those who come among us in the future.

On the Friday John Howard, the Chair, took me along with the two Rhwandan visitors Anastase and Julienne, to the John Fletcher Anglican/Methodist Junior School at Madeley. We had a wonderful time speaking to some of the children and staff as well as going into each class room to say hello and allow Anastase and Julienne to bring greetings. The good thing was that this was re-establishing a link with one of our schools which has not been very strong over the past years. Our Methodist Day Schools around the connexion are a rich resource and something we need to celebrate and make it the best we can. So I'm hoping, as are the school, that this visit will bring stronger relationships between the local church and circuit.

On the Sunday I was in Telford and shared in worship at a recently built church in Wellington which is thriving and active within the community throughout the week. Then in the afternoon at the Dawley Christian Centre for an ecumenical Advent Service. There was much to encourage in both places and throughout the District. I was especially impressed by the continuing work across the District with young people and the recent visit to Rhwanda (as reported by David) has been part of this crucial ministry. I hope that more Districts find ways to help our young people (and others) experience the challenges and joys of the wider World Church.

To Oswestry and Ellesmere

Most Methodist gatherings end up in the kitchen and at Oswestry it is no different! How much do we owe to those members of our congregtions who are faithful washers-up?
This is a serious question because it points up the importance of hospitality as a sign of God's grace- a theme which the President has been pursuing throughout this year.
So it was good to be made welcome by the people of Oswestry Methodist Church - part of an English District but just on the border with Wales.
Their newly-appointed minister, Sue Altree, led the service and the first candle on the Advent Ring was lit. The Church has extensive premises, and the Hall is used during the week as a Pre-School. Rewiring has recently taken place and further renovation works are planned.
I was being well looked after by Jean and Clive Maddock (pictured below) who were members at my home church but have now moved to Ellesmere.
In the afternoon they drove me a little way out of the town to Main Road Chapel (bottom picture) where I was planned to preach at the afternoon service of Holy Communion.
Theirs is a small but faithful congregation, who manage to serve coffee every fortnight without a connected hot water supply. I was pleased to bring the greetings and prayers of the whole Connexion and privileged to share in the the breaking of bread together in that place.

All friends around The Wrekin

'All friends around the Wrekin' was a Victorian song in my grandfather's collection. As a child I always wondered where The Wrekin was. Now I know!
The President and I spent last weekend on an invigorating tour of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District, hosted by the District Chaair John Howard and his wife Mary and superbly organised by Brenda Shuttleworth, the District Administrator.
Wrekin College in Wellington was the setting for a District day entitled 'Channels of Peace - encounters with the World Church'.
The District has formed a link with the Church in Rwanda and this was an opportunity to meet Anastase and Julienne (pictured with myself and the President) who were on a three week visit to Britain. They spoke powerfully of the after-effects of the genocide in their country and of the work of reconciliation being undertaken by the churches.
Earlier in the year a group of 19 young people from the District had visited Rwanda and they told their stories - for many it had been a life changing experience. They spoke of the warmth of the welcome they had received, the singing and dancing, the wealth of faith and the material poverty of their hosts, the testimonies of those who had lost many members of their families .

There were opportunities to watch DVD's and to hear about the work of the Methodist Relief and Development Fund in Ethiopia from their representative Susanna.
The President talked about how the World Church was encouraging and challenging the Church in this country and I explored some of the effects of the current global financial crisis on the poorest nations in the world.
We were well catered for by the ladies of the Circuit (pictured) and it felt a really mind- and heart-expanding day. At its end I was pleased to meet yet another predecessor of mine, Leon Murray (pictured below), whose daughter Clare had been one of the District Youth team who made such an effective presentation.

The previous evening the President and I had been entertained to a splendid meal hosted by the Black Country Industrial and Urban Mission.
This was a good ecumenical gathering with Anglicans and Quakers and I was able to lead a lively discussion on Ethical Business - there was understandably much comment about the current economic situation and the implications for the way business (not just the banking business) is organised in the future. Being positive, let us hope that the lessons being learnt are not quickly forgotten...

City Centre Mission - Peterborough and all over

(Above - Alison and Lisa at Peterborough
Below - Alison, Mark, Carrie and Phil :City Centre Networkers at Swanwick)

Having survived the Youth Conference I journeyed from Northampton to Peterborough on a wild and woolly evening for a Circuit Service at Westgate Church. This is a joint Methodist/URC Church which has major redevelopment plans as part of a city centre development.
I was welcomed by the Minister Kerry Tankard and the Superintendent Jan Tate; Alison Barnett provided an entertaining drama and Anthea Cox was among the musicians. It was good to catch up with another predecessor of mine, Brian Thornton, who was flying off the following day to see friends from the Methodist Church in Jamaica.
On the Friday of last week I had been invited to speak at the City Centre Network Conference at the Hayes Centre in Swanwick.
This brought together some 60 presbyters, deacons and lay workers who are involved in a whole variety of mission activity in town and city centres up and down the country. It was encouraging to get a feel for some very exciting and innovative work which is being undertaken by our churches - not always in the most comfortable of settings.
But under the active chairmanship of the Rev Phil Mason there is a creative buzz around the Network members - the Conference Centre Manager said he had not heard so much laughter from any other group staying there!
They had already been inspired by the other two speakers - Ann Morisey and the Rev Martyn Atkins - and were brought down to earth by my own talk on some of the legal issues surrounding the new Charities Act and what to look out for when undertaking new building schemes. However, a final Communion Service sent us on our way with lighter step and a renewed sense of what we are about - being living signs of God's Kingdom in the midst of the city.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Methodist Youth in Conference

The last Methodist Youth Conference in its present form was held at the King's Park Centre in Northampton; a good mixture of debate, worship and fun - and no doubt a couple of late nights for many who attended.
Each District had sent two representatives but there were other young people there as well ranging in age from 13 to early twenties.
The debates included a concern about encouraging younger people to consider the ordained ministry as well as others on broader issues. Sarah Malik was elected as the new Youth President and there was a general looking forward to a wider engagement of young people through the new Youth Participation Strategy - this will help Districts appoint a paid part-time young person as a Youth Enabler.
As always it was the conversation over meals and in the breaks which provided some of the most stimulating encounters. I came away with a sense that we are well blessed by a number of young people who are passionate about the Gospel and how it relates to our contempoary culture - and also a conviction that a refreshed Methodist Church has a valuable contribution to make.