Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas

After all the list writing, present buying, food preparation, television schedule reviewing and carol singing in Advent, Christmas has finally arrived.

On Wednesday I joined members of Chapel Allerton Methodist Church as we walked around the cold and snow covered streets near the church carol singing. This is an annual event and for me at least is the moment I feel that Christmas is finally upon us.

Yesterday I finished work at the surgery earlier enough to attend another traditional event in our church, a tea-time Christingle service which as always attracted a large number of parents and children. It is wonderful to see the church full with so much youthful hope and expectation.

And so to today, Christmas Day, a yearly reminder if we need it, of Immanuel, God is with us. How great is that!

We’ll now be spending a few days with family and friends and no doubt eating far too much than is good for us. And then next week the four of us travel to Uganda to visit an MRDF sponsored project and meet the local Methodist Church. It will be a New Year to remember.

Can I wish you all a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Home for Christmas

Unless something totally unpredictable happens over the next few days, I am assuming this will be my last post on the Blog until the New Year. This has been my first weekend at home for several months, and it's been great.

On Saturday I made my first visit of this season to Old Deer Park (next to Kew Gardens) to watch London Welsh play rugby. They won, 30-24. Most years I buy a season ticket but I haven't done so this year as I'm rarely in London on Saturdays. I have to admit that in my absence (but, hopefully, not due to it) the team seems to be doing rather better than usual!

Then on Sunday I was the tenor section in Muswell Hill Methodist choir for their carol service. This year's service was particularly interesting as we concentrated simply on Matthew's version of the nativity story, with additional material from Trevor Dennis's excellent 'The Christmas Stories'.

I'm now looking forward to presiding at the midnight communion on Christmas Eve (with our minister, Andy Dart, preaching) and then playing the organ for the Christmas morning service. This will be followed by Christmas at home with our family and friends. Hence the title of this posting on the Blog, 'home for Christmas'. But if this had been a sermon rather than a Blog I might have explored how the title relates to John 1.

I wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and look forward to an exciting new year. My travels start on January 4th - Ghana!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

375 years of Methodism!

On Sunday December 13th I revisited the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District, this time going to the Cannock Chase Circuit for two anniversaries.
The morning service was at Brereton Methodist Church, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. The occasion was marked with a floral decoration on the communion table; a special anniversary hymn (written by Brereton's organist, Ted Harley); an unveiling/dedication of a new window between the porch and the sanctuary, which makes an amazing difference to the feel of the building; and the sharing of the 200th anniversary cake in the 'Free School' after the service. I was asked to cut the cake, while the children blew out the 20 candles - one for each decade.

After lunch at Briar Hill MHA we went to our second service of the day.

Brereton Methodist Church building is not large, so the main 200th anniversary celebration was held at St Augustine's Parish Church, Rugeley, where we were made very welcome. We were joined by people from around the Circuit, from other churches and from the wider community. I knew I had arrived at the right place when I saw the District Chair's limo (a Morris 1000) parked at the door of the Parish Church.

The evening service was at Cannock Wood (a lovely little chapel), which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. So it was a day of celebrations - 375 years of Methodism. I think it brings my anniversary total so far this year up to 2257 years of Methodism.

This was also my final Sunday away from home in 2009. Next Sunday I hope to be (one of, but maybe all of) the tenors in Muswell Hill Methodist Church's carol service choir.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A December Week

Tomorrow sees my final visit for this calendar year, when I travel to the Cannock Chase Circuit for two anniversaries. Brereton celebrates 200 years and Cannock Wood 175. This will bring my total years of Methodism celebrated to date to 2007! For the rest of this year I shall be at home in London for Christmas with friends and family. I'll be celebrating midnight communion at Muswell Hill - and I even get to play the organ there on Christmas Day!

In the past week there have been some interesting events. On Monday, along with several other Methodist representatives (and quite a lot from other churches and Christian organisations), I responded to an invitation from the Prime Minister to join him at No 10 for a reception 'to celebrate Christmas and the contribution of Christians'. This was an enjoyable, relaxed, event with excellent music from 'All the King's Men'.

On Tuesday I was at Methodist Church House for this year's Fresh Expressions Summit. This has become an annual event hosted by the President, bringing together members of the Fresh Expressions Team, Fresh Expressions practitioners and members of the Connexional Team to review progress and discuss current issues and challenges. I found this a very helpful occasion, with some good stories to hear.

Then on Thursday I went up to Liverpool for a carol concert celebrating 140 years of Action for Children. The concert was in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral - an amazing venue.
(The picture, right, shows the Cathedral's Crib scene.)

The concert was compered by Will Morrey, Action for Children's Faith Communities Adviser. Four local school choirs sang carols. We had a drama from a group of young people, 'ARTiculation buddies'. And I spoke for a few minutes in appreciation of the work of Action for Children over the past 140 years. This is something I was more than happy to do. Action for Children's work is hugely important and very often groundbreaking, whether it be in the provision of services or in its campaigning (like the current campaign on neglect).

Friday morning saw me travelling back to London in time to join other members of the Governance Support Cluster in the Connexional Team for their Christmas lunch.
A good week!

Monday, 7 December 2009

More Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District highlights

My visit to the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District began on Thursday December 3rd with lunch with District Chair John Howard. We drove to Shrewsbury to meet up with the district rural and agricultural chaplain, the Revd Eleanor Reddington, who took us to visit two farms - one with pigs (see above) and the other a dairy farm. This took me back to life in the Tadcaster circuit. Farming can be a pretty hard life, with all kinds of challenges. Livestock has to be cared for 365 days a year (and cows milked 2 or 3 times daily). This demands a very high level of commitment. One farmer said it's not a job, 'it's a way of life'.
After tea, we went to Belle Vue Methodist Church to meet leaders of the Shropshire Circuits who have formally agreed to unite in 2010. It was fascinating to hear their story and to share their hopes and anxieties (but mainly hopes!) This is an exciting new chapter.

Friday was a very full but energising day. We started at Fallings Park Methodist Church, with a get-together of ministers, spouses, lay-workers and ministers' widows from around the District. Together, we explored a wide range of issues - some relating to my 'Creating Safer Space' theme but many more besides.

From there we went to Darlington Street Methodist Church for lunch and a chance to meet people involved in the Fair Trade Shop, Wolverhampton Interfaith Council and the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd, who work with homeless people. The picture shows me receiving sandwiches from the Little Brothers.

From Darlington Street we strolled up the road to St Peter's House, to meet members of the Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministry Team. Their work includes involvement with the street pastors scheme, and running Bible studies at Yates' Wine Lodge and McDonalds. An impressive piece of work, to which both the local Circuit and District contribute in various ways.

Our evening was spent in the Tipton Circuit, discussing very exciting ventures linked with Lea Brook Methodist Church. 'The Centrepoint Project' works with young people through drama and creative arts and has recently received a £50,000 grant through 'The People's Millions' Lottery awards competition.
Saturday's journey to London and our involvement with 'The Wave' is covered in Richard's Blog.

On Sunday morning I shared with the Revd Phil Hoar in leading worship at St John's, Bloxwich. This was their 43rd Anniversary. Two children (Emily and James) were received into the church family by baptism. Worship was lively and a very positive experience to be part of, with hymns well sung and the superb support of a 3 manual pipe organ (on which I had a go later in the day). By the time I'd said cheerio to everyone and found my camera, the church was pretty well empty - hence the picture below. After lunch together, I led an informal service in which I shared some of my experiences from my MRDF visit to India and then to Sri Lanka. Then it was off to the District Advent Service at Codsall, described in Richard's previous Blog.

Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District visit

Early on Sunday morning John Howard and I travelled across the District to take part in the BBC Radio Shropshire morning programme. We were asked about the climate change march the previous day as well as the visit to the District in general.

We then headed to Bayston Hill near Shrewsbury where I was to preach and share in leading worship with Revd Francis Biseker. The church building is well used by the local community, including being home to a thriving art group. There was an art exhibition in the hall, with numerous postcard-size pictures displayed on Christmas trees. The group is lead by supernumerary minister Revd David Jones and had to be expanded as more budding artists wanted to join. Not all the members are from the church but David says there is more theology discussed as they paint or share lunch together than in many fellowship groups he has been part of in the past.

Supernumerary minister Revd Maurice Wright and his wife Janet are also members of the church. Maurice is well known for his work for the Methodist Peace Fellowship and had also joined The Wave the day before. It was good to share lunch with them both at their home.

We then went to St Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury for the first of two District Advent Services, the second was to be held at Trinity Methodist Church in Codsall later that evening. Revd Phil Hoar had written the liturgy for the services and at both venues the worship was enhanced with a choir and musicians from the neighbouring circuits. Deacon Sue Huband had created a meditation which Phil Shuttleworth skilfully interpreted at both venues, dressed as a classical mime artist. I preached at the afternoon service after which we travelled to Codsall where I joined David who was to preach at the evening service.

As I was taken back to Wolverhampton railway station I reflected that it was just 5 months ago that I was last here when we gathered for the Conference. I’m now almost half way through my year of office and the time has flown by. It’s been a fantastic privilege and thoroughly enjoyable. As I commented to someone today, I’d recommend being Vice-President of the Methodist Conference to anyone.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Wave Climate Change March

Today David and I joined 50,000 others marching through central London as part of The Wave Climate Change March. We started the day at Westminster Central Hall where we took part in an ecumenical service. The Hall was packed with 2000 people with another 1000 people gathered in the overflow room. David and Christine Elliot, Secretary of External Relationships in the Connexional Team took part in the service as did Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Joel Edwards the former director the Evangelical Alliance and Steve Clifford his successor.

Christine interviewed Umme Kulsum from Bangladesh and Philippe Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso about how climate change was a current reality for their countries.

Rowan Williams encouraged us to share the good news of God’s creation and suggested that trying to make people more anxious about the future of our world was counter-productive but moving forward in hope and in the knowledge of God’s grace was the message we should be taking on to the streets.

After the service we walked up to Grosvenor Square to the start of the rally opposite the American embassy. The march was to take us through some of the most affluent parts of London, from Mayfair to Piccadilly past Trafalgar Square along Whitehall and then we started to surround Westminster by crossing Lambeth Bridge and then back across Westminster Bridge. The march started at 1pm and whilst the main Mexican style waves around Westminster took place at 3pm, marchers were still entering Parliament Square at 4pm.

It was an amazing sign of ordinary peoples’ commitment to this vitally important issue and politicians were listening. David joined a group who were invited to meet Environment minister Ed Milliband who had joined the march and I joined the Director of Christian Aid, Daleep Murkaji in visiting Gordon Brown at No 10 Downing Street. As we sat around the cabinet table the Prime Minister stressed how important marches of this size were, and how much of a mandate it gave him to push even more strongly to get a binding and meaningful agreement at the Copenhagen summit. I told him about the clear message we had been given at the Methodist Conference by representatives from the Pacific island of Samoa about how we could no longer delay in taking action to address the climate change crisis. And in passing, the Prime Minister sends his greeting to the Methodist Church.

This weekend is part of our visit to the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District and we joined District Chair Revd John Howard and his wife Mary, along with other members of the District, on a coach heading back to Wolverhampton. As we crawled slowly through the traffic in West London as we tried to leave London it was clear that whatever agreement is reached in Copenhagen, we have a lot of work still to do to reduce our reliance on using the car.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

East Anglia (Not only but also.....)

Like Richard, the Vice-President, I travelled to the East Anglia District for the weekend and a couple of days leading up to it. On Saturday I helped celebrate Richard's birthday at an evening meal out. With Richard I lunched on Sunday and visited Stuart Luckcock.

My visit to the District started on Thursday November 26th, when I joined staff and students at Wesley House for an evening meal, followed by a session on ther work of the Joint Implementation Commission, led by Ely Diocesan Ecumenical Officer, Will Adam. The session was followed by evening prayers in the chapel. I also had a quick look at the House photo taken during my first year there, in 1972. Where did all the hair go?

Friday provided an opportunity to visit the new town of Cambourne, where the various Christian denominations are working together and have agreed to worship and work in one building. The new church building (pictured) is due to open in a couple of weeks time. I found this visit very exciting, and it was clear the church already plays a very significant part in this young community. An ecumenical church school is a key part of the picture and provides major links with many people in this predominantly young community.

From Cambourne we drove to the Leys School in Cambridge, where I had been invited to do the address at the end of week service. The school chapel is very impressive when filled for worship. It's well designed interior lighting also makes it an impressive and beautiful place when empty. Before the service we were given a brief conducted tour of the school by three senior students.
From the Leys, we went to meet one of the District's supernumerary ministers, David Salmon, and his wife and daughters.
Then we were off for our final engagement of the day, a 'meal out' at Old Newton Methodist Chapel. This was a great evening - good food, conversation and entertainment. I had been asked to do an after-dinner speech and had been told this was more about being a 'raconteur' than a 'preacher'. So I did my best.

On Saturday morning we visited Cromwell House MHA for morning coffee with some of the residents, including two local preachers both of whom shared my sister's name of Ruth. We held a shiort service in the lounge.

In the afternoon, we drove to Hunstanton Methodist Church for the rededication of their refurbished premises. This has been a very interesting scheme, which included turning the seating in the church round 180 degrees. The rededication service was led by the Superintendent Minister of the Hunstanton Circuit, the Revd Kim Nally.
And so on to my final full day in the District. Sunday Morning worship was at North Walsham, where, as well as celebrating Advent Sunday, we dedicated new chairs and I presented a certificate marking 50 years of service to the church as an organist by Godfrey Talford. It was a privilege to do this, particularly wearing one of my other hats, as assistant organist at Muswell Hill.
In the evening I preached in a (St Neots and Huntingdon) circuit service at Huntingdon. Here the worship was lively, the music modern and well led and we heard of some of the exciting new challenges being addressed by the Circuit, as well as hearing from some of the many people involved in the work of its churches. At the end of the service, while saying goodbye to members of the congregation, I met someone whose daughter I had baptised in Church Fenton, North Yorkshire, in December 1980. It's a small world, Methodism!

Monday, 30 November 2009

East Anglia District visit

I started my visit to the East Anglia District on Saturday morning at Thetford Methodist Church where a group of GPs, nurses and others with medical backgrounds from the District came together to discuss the ethical issues related to our ageing society. We had a stimulating discussion about how we should respond to the challenges and dilemmas of an increasing number of people with dementia, how our society often fails to place enough priority on the needs of its oldest members or respect their wisdom and experience, and how the Church should respond.

I then travelled with District Chair, Rev Graham Thompson, to Soham in the Ely and Newmarket Circuit, where the church hall along with the kitchen and other rooms had been extensively refurbished. We had been invited to take part in a service of dedication and re-opening of the building. A large number of people from around the circuit had come to support them and it was clear that the effort put in to the redevelopment had also re-invigorated the congregation.

The service was led by local minister Rev Edwin Myers. Someone had let on that it was my birthday and it was a wonderful surprise to be presented with a birthday cake by superintendent minister Rev Barbara Garwood.

On Sunday we returned to the Thetford, Diss and Mildenhall Circuit, this time being welcomed at Stanton Methodist Church where I lead the morning service. It marked the start of their 125th anniversary celebrations and they have a programme of events planned for the year. They’ve clearly had 125 years of practice, but the singing was excellent as we celebrated not just their anniversary but the start of Advent. It was lovely to be presented with a picture of the church after the service and to meet members of the church, some of whom had been baptised here over 80 years ago.

Following the service we returned to Norwich were David and I had been generously hosted by Graham and Alison Thompson. Not only did they act as hosts but also as guides and chauffeurs throughout our stay in the District, for which we were very thankful. We shared lunch with representatives from the District and we were joined by General Secretary and past president Rev Martyn Atkins and his wife Helen. Martyn had been preaching nearby and was en-route to an evening service in Dunstable, 2 ½ hours away in the neighbouring district. We should appreciate more the time offered to the Church by many of our Connexional team members.

On Sunday afternoon we had the privilege of visiting Rev Stuart Luckcock at Eckling Grange in Dereham. Stuart is 101 years old and the oldest minister in the Methodist Church in Britain. We heard about his many years of faithful service, including his time as a mission partner in South India. He remains remarkably alert and was not afraid to challenge the President on the fact that David had more lines in the Minutes of Conference than he did.

On Sunday evening we travelled back across the District to a tea and circuit service at Haddenham in the Ely and Newmarket Circuit. A music group led by a local farmer and local preacher led the service alongside other members of the circuit. I was invited to preach. It was then time for me to return to Leeds, leaving David to continue to enjoy the warm hospitality of this friendly District.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

London Days

Living in London has lots of advantages. One is that it is possible to fit a few extra events and occasions into the Presidential diary. So, last week, the day before driving up to Yorkshire for the weekend, Liz and I were able to go to a gig at which our younger son, Joe, was playing bass guitar with one of the two bands he plays in. The band is called Night Code. The venue was the Bull and Gate, Kentish Town (and this may be the first time that particular venue has been mentioned in the President's and Vice-President's blog!)

On Monday evening I went to the British Academy for the 5th birthday celebration for Roehampton University, of which Southlands College is a constituent part.
Then on Tuesday it was to Lambeth Palace for Christian Aid's AGM. I'm pictured, left, with Christian Aid's Daleep Mukarji, for whom this was his last AGM. Daleep and his wife Azra are good friends of ours, and attend Muswell Hill Methodist Church.

On Wednesday I went into Methodist Church House and was joined by Roberta Rominger from the URC and Jonathan Edwards from the Baptist Union, as together we signed a Christmas Card for Phil Woolas MP, the Immigration Minister. We're encouraging people to send him a Christmas card inviting him to do what he can to end the UK's detention of children seeking sanctuary.
Then it was off to URC Church House to meet the staff, discuss all sorts of things, and pray together. The picture (below) shows me with John Marsh, Moderator of the URC General Assembly, Roberta Rominger the URC's General Secretary and Richard Mortimer, Deputy General Secretary.

Monday, 23 November 2009

A Yorkshire weekend - November 21-22

So, while Richard went from Yorkshire to London, Liz and I did the opposite journey and went to Yorkshire for the weekend.
Saturday afternoon saw a service to celebrate the opening of Phase One of the COGS (Centre on Gracious Street) redevelopment at Gracious Street Methodist Church in Knaresborough. What has been built is a most exciting, creative, attractive and eminently useful building - well worth a visit to see what can be done when a church believes it is called to serve the community in which it is placed. The service was lively (with a world premier of a new Brian Hoare hymn!) and well attended, with lots of civic representatives and people from the wider Knaresborough community. There was a 'buzz' about the whole occasion. And, while we celebrated the completion of Phase One, it was also the time to launch Phase Two of the development - so there's lots more work to be done. But what a brilliant start! (Photo shows previous minister David Ely, present minister Gail Hunt, me and the Leeds District Chair, Liz Smith.)

On Sunday I returned to York South Circuit, where I had served as a minister in the 1980s. Morning worship was at Holgate, whose centenary year this is. (Liz and I posed by the banner made to celebrate the centenary)

Evening worship was at Central Methodist Church in the City Centre of York (left), where I had been the minister and where Liz and I were married in 1987.
A wonderful opportunity to meet up with old friends and hear the latest news. Also, to see how churches respond in the 21st century to the challenge of sharing God's love with the community in which they are placed

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Hinde Street Methodist Church

Today I spent the day at Hinde Street Methodist Church in the West London Mission, a church that describes itself as being a conscience at the heart of Marylebone for nearly 200 years. It is also at the centre of a significant amount of social care activity and the Mission employs around 60 staff in this work. I reflected with the congregation that the only other time I’d been to the church was when I attended my first Methodist Conference in 1988 when Hinde Street was one of the venues for an ordination service.

The Church has a tradition of using a 1936 order of Holy Communion every Sunday morning and I joined the congregation to share in this. The main morning worship follows an hour later and today was led by the Superintendent minister Revd Sue Keegan von Allmen. I had been invited to preach.

Once a month different class groups volunteer to prepare lunch after the morning service and today Revd Leao Neto’s group were in charge in the kitchen. It gave a good opportunity to meet with members of the congregation in an informal setting.

Following lunch a group of us met to discuss the questions that arise from the recent debate about assisted suicide and advance directives. The group included health care professionals who reflected on how difficult some decisions could be as well as others who shared their thoughts when they had considered writing an advance directive for themselves. We reflected that the law can leave us in a messy place, but to try and clarify or change the law may makes matters worse rather than better.