Sunday, 30 March 2008

ECG a heart warming experience

Just got back from ECG (the new 'convention' event taking place in the week after Easter in the way that Easter People did for 20 years). Fantastic. A great feel and everyone I met agreed. The 1200 folk there was enough to provide the crowd needed to make a celebration, but few enough to allow that 'intimacy' of a group being bonded together in something special.

Paul Smith preached a stonker of a sermon, as did 28 year old Gavin Calver. The partnership with Youth For Christ seemed to work well and young adults were visible in leading almost everything. This was one of the aims of ECG, that it identify, recource and enable emerging generations of young leaders. The bible studies were highly thought of, delivered with power and passion by Clive Calver. The weather wasn't up to much, but it didn't seem to dampen many spirits.

So all credit to the organisers, going out on a limb, and delivering a great event. Especially the Methodists among them, Ashley Cooper, Steve Lindridge, William Porter, and their long suffering spouses, Moira, Elaine and Karen. Thank you all.

Were you there? What did you think?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Update on asylum issues

Earlier this month I went to an Independent Asylum Commission Briefing for the Churches' Refugee Network. Today they published their interim findings. These can be found online at:

The Independent Asylum Commission was convened at the start of 2007. During that year it heard evidence in public and in private, and received briefings from a wide range of groups and individuals.

The Commission has had no Government funding - all its costs are met from voluntary support and other groups.

Asylum and Refugee issues are key areas of work and mission for many churches and the work of the Commission is important as it considers three key areas of:

How we decide who needs sanctuary

How we treat people seeking sanctuary and

What happens when we refuse people sanctuary

Real food for thought.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Eastern europe

After a few days back home and on holiday I am able to digest a great few days visiting Methodism in eastern/central europe. I got to Serbia and spent a couple of days with the faithful few folk making up the Methodists there.

There was the 'family feel' here as in Hungary, whereby a small community, dwarfed by other Christian traditions, lives in a culture religiously and culturally challenging to it. This gives a warmth to their fellowship, and they all seem to know each other. They are currently beginning to find ways of 'opening up' and one little church was running the local 'kindergarten' in the village.

The last morning in Serbia was spent visiting the ecumenical humanitarian organisation (EHO). To be honest I hadn't come across much 'ecumenism' on this visit and so was interested to see what such a project looked like. It was formed by 5 contracting denominations, including a Greek Catholic tradition, Reformed and Lutherans as well as Methodism. British Methodism contributes to the project via the Fund for World Mission.

What a good work it does. It provides pastoral support for cancer victims, and a major project for the small but growing numbers of HIV/AIDS victims. And it does major work among Roma communities who, are being sent back to these areas from which they fled years ago in the War years. However they return to very little: no proper housing, paperwork, employment. EHO are a major player in helping them in this dire situation.

So I returned ready for a handful of days off (the first since Christmas) but, as always, deeply moved and impressed by Christians living in this needy and wonderful world.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Christ is risen. Alleluiah!

This is the Good News -
The grave is empty,
Christ is risen

This is the Good News -
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never put it out.

This is the Good News -
Once we were no people,
Now we are God's people.

Christ is our peace
the indestructible peace
we can share with each other.

Saturday, 22 March 2008


A silhouette of a depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is seen at Wesley Church on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The really good news gospel - Easter message from the President

Donald English used to say that death and resurrection is not simply what happened to Jesus but is the deep movement God implants in all creation. The Christian God is a God of death and resurrection.

Like many I have been challenged by poignant examples of death - its reality and hard consequences - and blessed by wonderful examples of resurrection - and the hope and joy it brings. I will never forget a conversation with a Sierra Leonian man, bearing the scars of the rebel war in the 1990’s so powerfully depicted in the recent film Blood Diamond. He thanked me fervently for bringing the gospel to his land - he talked to me as if I was one of those first Methodist missionaries to West Africa! He explained with deep emotion how he had received Christ quite recently, in the war years, and this coming to faith had enabled him to begin to forgive those who mutilated him - and, as I learned a little later, killed his wife. I was moved to tears. In all his pain and lasting disability he knew that Jesus was alive, and there was hope in his life. He knew in a deep way that the gospel of Christ truly is good news.

More recently, when in Uganda with MRDF, I met Christian folk who have so little, who live with the reality and proximity of death and suffering in a way I do not, yet who remind me more than most of the life and hope of Christian faith. Death and resurrection belong together.

Or I think of some friends who have died in recent times. They knew their prognosis. They lived with the stark consequences of their impending death, for themselves and especially their loved ones. And at just the time when hope might be most lacking in these dear people and those who love them, they talk of the nearness of Christ, the wonderful love and forgiveness of God, the comfort of their faith, their trust in Jesus, the salvation he freely gave and their hope of heaven. In the most traumatic situations of life, it is often those going through them who embody and make clear that the Christian gospel truly is good news.

Death and resurrection is also evident in the life of our churches. I was at Walworth Methodist Church some weeks ago. A church with a venerable past, ‘Clubland’ had a great ministry among local youths and others in that London neighbourhood. But there came a time when almost all signs of life disappeared, and a long three days of darkness ensued. But resurrection has come and new life bursts out everywhere. Methodist Christians, young and old, many (originally) from various parts of West Africa and beyond, share life and worship that exudes the good news gospel. “Our world lives with death and resurrection in many ways and in many places. An ‘average’ news broadcast gives cause to both weep and rejoice. In places of death and darkness we must continue to weep with those who weep and ‘look for the morning’ as people of resurrection faith and hope. With those who rejoice in life and hope we must celebrate and point to God, the giver of it all.

Our Easter faith is not death or resurrection, it is death and resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is not a reversal of death. It is much more than that. The risen Jesus is known by the scars of crucifixion. He is the Living One Who Died. But now he is alive forever. And, marvellously, he stands today with this needy world in the reality of death and the promise of new life. This ministry he shares with us, his Easter People Church, a people bearing the marks of both death and new life. A people who know and live out the profound truth that death and resurrection life both lie deep in the purposes of God, in whom all things will be well. Alleluia!

This is Martyn's Easter message posted by Ruby

Monday, 17 March 2008

Down by the Danube

Home thoughts from abroad? Well, I am in Budapest.

The diaconal convocation was, as usual, a great affair, aided by the powerful and persuasive input by Steve Hollinhurst on Implicit, New age and contemporary forms of spirituality. He sets out cogently the challenges and opportunities before us if we are to communicate Christianity in an authentic and accessible way to increasing proportions of our populations. I was grateful to be able to preach and lead communion to conclude the convocation.

Then it was off to the airport, Manchester to Zurich Friday evening. I was meeting with the executive of the Central and Southern Methodist Conferences meeting in Zurich. I went to attend the executive of the Central and Southern Conferences of European Methodism. This includes representatives of Methodist Churches in
Austria, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, and several others.

From there we (Colin Ride as Europe Secretary is with me) flew to Budapest, where I am now. Yesterday we preached three times in different Methodist churches around Miskolc circuit. One of these was a Gipsy congregation (their description of themselves, not mine) which was just fantastic, and will certainly figure in a future Methodist Recorder piece.

Then today we have looked round other aspects of the Methodist Church in Hungary, including a home for the elderly.

Tomorrow Colin and I head south to the Methodist Church in Serbia. If I can get on the net from there, I will blog again...


(posted by Toby on behalf of the President)

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Action packed weekend in East Anglia

Just through the door after a weekend in East Anglia. I hadn't realised I knew so many people there and it was great to renew old acquaintances and make new ones. On Saturday I led a session at Thetford Methodist Church and then met with a group in Sudbury who had visited or had connections with the Church of Northern India Diocese of Durgapur which I had visited last year. Then hot foot to Ipswich for the anniversary dinner at Museum Street Methodist Church where I was the after dinner speaker. The 147th anniversary. Today I preached at the morning service and after lunch went to look around the MHA home, Norwood and met with a number of residents. Then this evening I led a Circuit Agape service where we shared food and fellowship and testimony as people shared with the whole group and with those on their small tables. Who said Cafe style church was a new idea - just back to the days of the New Testament Church.
Thank you to all of the people who helped to make it a great weekend and offered such wonderful hospitality. Home tired but enriched and off to bed.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Asylum issues and living in a Spiritual age

On Thursday I attended a briefing on asylum issues for Church representatives. It was led by Revd Doctor Nick Sagovsky, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey. Plenty of food for thought as we await the final report of the Independent Asylum Commission of which Nick is a member. There is a report about to be published by our Public Issues team which works across the Baptist, Methodist and URC churches. It was good to know how seriously the various Churches are taking these matters. We all need to be ensuring that we keep these issues on the agandas both locally and nationally.

I then went straight to the Diaconal Order Convocation at Swanwick. What an amazing group of people our Deacons are and it was good to have the opportunity to share with them in one of the sessions and over meals and discussions into the night. I was able to be present for one of the sessions run by Rev Steve Hollinghurst on "Mission in our Spiritual Age" and that was very informative about how people think about God and spirituality and describe spiritual experiences in a whole range of ways. This led into thinking how we can share our faith with those who use quite different language to explain their beliefs. Martyn presided and preached at the final worship which included an Act of rededication. As I left there were a number of things which stay with me and people who are being held in my prayers. Thank you to all of those there for their work and their welcome. Now Martyn has gone hot foot to Europe and I will be up at the crack of dawn to the East Anglia District. Busy but upheld by the prayers and good wishes of those we meet.

off again

Had a great day with the Deacons. Ruby joined the Convocation last evening and was brilliant: profound, comical, winsome. Today we shared the last input session - very good - and the final act of worship at which I was privileged to preach. (Paul in Athens - Acts 17) Our deacons are just great!

Then off to get ready for a trip to europe. I am writing this from the airport lounge in Terminal 1 at Manchester. Zurich, Budapest, Belgrade and bits of Serbia. The itinerary looks really exciting. Tempered a little by the fact Helen is off work (an incredibly rare event) with a chest infection, so mixed feelings as I wait for the call to board...

Will blog from europe if the means permit.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Interfaith seder style dinner in the House of Lords

I am now the proud owner of a new plate! (See left) The plates were specially made for a "Seder in Parliament" held last night in the House of Lords which was preceded by a reception held in the State Rooms of the Speaker's House in the House of Commons.
The event had been drawn together by a wide range of people including Mark Winer, the Senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue and Robert Wright, the Speaker's Chaplain and a Canon of Westminster Abbey. The members of the West London Synagogue were hosting the dinner, led by Lord Mitchell.
There seemed to be well over 100 people sitting down to share in the Dinner, a mixture of Bishops and Imams and Rabbis and people from the Hindu community as well as MPs and Lords and lay people from different backgrounds. There was the odd Methodist or two - I spotted Baroness Richardson and managed to say hello at the Reception but we didn't see each other again after that.
We used a special Interfaith Haggadah - the traditional liturgy that Jews use at their Passover Seder. This version was dedicated to the parents of Michele and Clive Warshaw who financially supported its production and also to "a better understanding between people of different faiths and to encourage people to realise that Jewish practice and tradition is not so different from their own". And in the foreword Rabbi Winer explains something of the Haggadah and his hopes for interfaith dialogue. "The Haggadah relates the story of the liberation of our ancestors from slavery in Egypt. We follow them from their dark days of slavery to their joyful first steps in the Sinai desert, as the waters of the Red Sea close behind them."...."As the story is told we sing and chant and encourage each other to ask many questions, for this telling is a way to pass the story on from generation to generation. If, during the course of the evening, we truly feel, even a little, that we havge been slaves and have known liberation, then our Seder will have been a success"....."For an Interfaith Seder, we thought it would be appropriate to find thoughts about freedom from other traditions and leaders, therefore you will find wise thoughts from different religions; musings on libery and speeches of freedom woven into our text. We cheerfully admit that what we have chosen is entirely subjective and we hope that this enterprise will act as a spur to help you think about what freedom means to you."..."May we, the many different peoples who make up this island, never lose our thirst for freedom nor our desire to welcome the stranger into our midst."
It was a great evening. Thought provoking but also lots of fun as the members of the West London Synagogue on each table helped us to find our place in the liturgy and eat and drink at the right time as well as joining in bits of the singing in Hebrew. This felt like a truly interfaith event where the traditions of one group were being opened up for the benefit of others.
Lots to think about - and yet another inch on the waistline as I go today to a briefing on asylum issues and then to join the Diaconate at their convocation before a weekend in East Anglia.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

from here to there - and back again

Had a great last few days. Saturday was spent at an 'Inspire Leadership' conference in Lancaster,where 3-400 mainly Methodist folk gathered. In spite ofhaving to put up with not one but two sessions of me, I think the day was a great success, and it was again notable how many ordinary folk are urging those things which we discern make for the potential renewal of the Church as an agent of God's renewing work in our world.

I spent Monday in London at a business meeting. Necessary and highly important, but enough said!

Tuesday I went back to my almer mater, Hartley Victoria College, Manchester. The Methodist students there - just one group of several denominational groups - had arranged worship cafe style, and clearly put a lot of effort and work into it. I am not sure whether my somewhat serious late lenten/Passiontide message fitted what had been hoped for, but that is what I delivered. After the service the Methodist group, enabled by the ever gracious John Harrod the Principal, had lunch and a conversation together. I probably benefited from that more than they did.

Since then I have been at SRC -the Strategic and Resources Committee, in Leicestershire. A group dealing with many significant issues in the light of our Church, and a group for whom I have the highest regard and respect.

I write this from the lounge at the Hayes, in Swanwick. Even as this entry has been written more and more deacons are arriving fro their annual Convocation, which is why I am here. I anticipate a great time as I love being with our Deacons. So, blog over, its back to work...

Dinner Date with a Dean

This evening I ate dinner with an exceptional group of people. The dinner was hosted by Harold W. Attridge, Dean of Yale Divinity School /Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. Dean Attridge is an advocate of strong church and theological engagement with issues of social significance. He was one of the four initial sponsors of the recent controversial “Yale statement” aimed at improving Christian-Muslim relations.
About 30 people from different walks of life joined in conversations about the world and faith. There was particular interest in the news which had been released at the end of last week that Tony Blair is to be the Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale for the next academic year. We engaged in discussion about a number of topics including inter faith issues and links with the media. One of the other guests was Michael Wakelin, Head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC and a fellow Methodist. We are pictured here with Harry Attridge. It was a real privilege to be part of this August gathering and I will follow the developments at Yale with increased interest. My thanks to Kathleen LaCamera for making the introduction.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Westminster Community

This morning I was back at Westminster Central Hall. This time to preach at the community service where we gave thanks for all those organisations and individuals who work in the area for the good of the community. A number of those people attended the service and some of them were interviewed or did readings as part of it. I found it inspiring to know that these people are giving so much to this community which I am a part of during the week.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

15,000 women marched through New York City in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. 100 years on, the pertinence of this event is honored through IWD's 2008 global theme 'Shaping Progress'.
Saturday is International Women's Day. The UK Parliament have given today over to discussing the way women's lives have historically been shaped by things outside of their control, the progress made and the progress yet to be made. How might you contribute to "shaping progress" on this important issue, either in your own community or wider in the world where women continue to suffer from prejudice and inappropriate discrimination?
For the first time in my VP year I was approached by a man on Monday who asked whether I felt guilty that I had been put in a leadership position over men. I said no, that I had felt a call which had been tested by the Church and I was very comfortable with the situation. When he pursued his point I reminded him of St Paul's words that "in Christ there is no male or female". He politely shook my hand and left but it made me realise that there is still work to do.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Informal conversations

Each year there is an annual informal meeting of leaders from the Methodist Church and the Church of England to discuss items of common concern. This is particularly important in the light of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant. This morning Martyn and I went to Lambeth Palace with David Deeks, Peter Sulston and Ken Howcroft to meet the people from the Church of England who are our nearest counterparts! We talked with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishop of Peterborough, the General Secretary and the Ecumenical Officer on subjects as wide ranging as Fresh Expressions, Theology of Equalities and Christian links in Europe as well as having updates on the work of the Joint Implementation Commission for the Covenant. It was good to share examples of how the Churches were sharing in mission in different ways and recognise the need to share this more widely. I felt it was a helpful meeting and hope our partners in the Covenant feel the same.

Fresh Expressions musings

I've spent the last couple of days in London. On Monday I went to High Wycombe to share in a residential meeting for Methodists involved in Fresh Expressions. Though it is easy to say when the conference is deliberately targetted at enthusiasts, there is a real sense that more and more of us are 'up' for a genuine and radical openness to God about the future shapes of church - church not configured around a wooden version of our tradition, or our likings, but rather church shaped around what we discern as the mission and will of God in this time and place. It is all a bit messy at the moment, and will be for some time. But the number of folk who seem happy to live in a thrilling mess rather than a less thrilling stability seems to be growing!

Then on to London Monday night where I spent yesterday at Methodist Church House with some of the folk who I will be working with in the Connexional Team from September. All very exciting, and not a little daunting. I am trying hard to live in the world of the President, as is proper. But necessarily some time has rightly be given to preparing for the next connexional year. The problem is of course, as it is for many folk, to use a northern saying 'trying to get a quart in a pint pot'. I'm doing my best, but away from home for 6 days now I'm ready for a rest and hope to get one on Thursday, tomorrow.

But first it is today, and a meeting at Lambeth Palace with The Archbishops and others,together with members of our Secretariat. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, 3 March 2008

A weekend in Bristol and an afternoon out - what more could a girl ask?

As Martyn said we spent the weekend in Bristol. At Wesley College I spoke about my journey towards and through the Vice Presidency including bits about being a Christian at work and how my thoughts on inclusivity are based on theological reflection about God - God is inclusive so we should be and also that Paul's list in Galatians 3 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" is unlikely to be an exhaustive list and that we need to continue to watch out for excluding people from the offer of the Good News of God.

I stayed with the Borgas family - Rachel and Martin and Christopher and received wonderful hospitality. (Christopher also took the photograph - thanks CB). I was also able to meet up with a few old friends on Saturday evening and that was good. Paul and Angela, David and Liz and I had all been in the same Circuit some years ago so we had a bit of time to catch up.

On Sunday morning I preached at Keynsham sharing the leading of the service with Rachel (the minister there) and Ward Jones (the District Chair). I am a bit worried about having so many District Chairs listening to me preach - maybe word has got out that I should be monitored - it feels a bit like I am undergoing an Ofsted inspection! We had a great time.

Sunday evening at the Cathedral was also great with the Methodist gathering filling the Cathedral in good voice and a hearty welcome from the Dean and his team to what Martyn referred to as their "little chapel".

Back on the train then and in to work this morning to catch up on the e mails before going across the road to Westminster Central Hall this afternoonfor the annual Daffodil Day service with a cast of thousands! Well a congregation of a couple of thousand anyway. It was good to share the platform with a range of people including Pam Turner, Network President and Steve Wild, Director of Evangelism from Cliff College as well as Steve Murray whose mime reduced me to tears. Kate Semmens sang some wonderful solos and was ably backed up by the Daffodil Day Ladies Choir - who only came together earlier in the day! The young boys of Trinity Boys Choir were great and sang a good range of songs and we heard from children and staffof St Vincent's Family Project. The Circuit staff all contributed in different ways but I certainly mustn't forget to mention Clarence the Frog!! It was good to sit next to the Lord Mayor whose grandfather had been responsible for setting up the garden of rest around Charles Wesley's grave 60 years ago when he was Mayor of Marylebone - but I was a little jealous as her bling was particularly flash! A great day - put the 2nd March in your diary for 2009.
PS if you are interested there is a very flattering article about someone who looks like me on the UMC website

From Lords to London - via Bristol

What a weekend! Friday evening was spent at the House of Lords celebrating 65 years of MHA. About 150 folk - the good and the greater - attended and listened to how it was, how it is, and what are the hopes and plans for the future. It was wonderful to have a number of MHA residents among us. Keith Albans stood in at the last minute to host the event (Pam Ayres was unable to come because of family bereavement) and did a fantastic job. A special book was launched, compiled by Laurence Wareing who was present to mark the event. One of those events that makes one proud to be a Methodist.

Then to Bristol for a district weekend. Saturday was spent at Wesley College where I focused on aspects of mission and renewal (what else?!). An encouraging group of about 80 folk came along and it was, for me at least, a helpful event. Sunday morning was spent at Cirencester where Mothering Sunday shared with a sermon on mission shaped church! Thanks to the lovely folk there for their welcome.

No doubt Ruby will blog about her Sunday morning and the great service in the evening. Now back in London after a day with Methodists involved with Fresh Expressions! What a life!