Friday, 27 February 2009

Fresh Expressions in Alston

There are many examples of Fresh Expressions, as I finished off in my last blog....and another very distinct one I came across in Cumbria was in the Alston Moor circuit.
Here is the smallest circuit in Methodism with around 45 members and the only one which owns no church buildings!! There are still 5 Methodist communities who meet in various places within their localities...the largest congregation in Alston shares the local Roman Catholic Church on a Sunday morning. It has also allowed them to explore new ways of being church and they shared with me their very successful town nativity play in the open air which was a great success...they are also now using the local primary school to offer worship which attracts people who want something more family friendly.....

Richard and I stopped at yet another farm shop for lunch on our way to Sedburghj and David has already shared about this fascinating visit. I was at their church on the Sunday and had a wonderful time both in worship and meeting many of the poeple over a lunch, raising funds for a mission project. I continue to be amazed at the sheer dedication of so many people in our churches who live out their faith in such tangible ways. My visit ended at Cockermouth where I shared in a great circuit service and met people from my past and countless people who know people who knew.......

and this is one of the gifts of our church that we not only seem to know people but it comes with a great sense of love and care........thank you for the love and care shown to Davbid and I as we travel around this year

Travelling around Cumbria

What a great time we had in Cumbria and David has already shared some of the events we shared in
I arrived earlier in the week and my first engagement was with the minister, spouses, supernumeraries and widows in Keswick. there was a really good turn out and it was good to see some familiar's interesting how Chairs are using the visit of Presidents and Vice-Presidents in more recent years ...there is such a variety in the way we are used and it has been good to have such gatherings like this in some Districts as it is a quick way to guage the temperature of those in ministry.

There was a common theme for this Cumbria! Richard Teal, the new District chair, is a great lover of locally produced food so we found our way to a number of farm shops during my stay. We had a lovely lunch at one such farm on the way to Workington with the superintendent minister to meet with the principal officer for Workington Regeneration...this gave us a good overview of plans to bring renewal to this depressed area of this west coast town...but with the recession beginning to bite it is even more needed now...

We then drove to Silloth where we met with some of the crew of the local lifeboat along with the chaplain.....before I knew it I was all dressed up and having photos taken for the local paper and being invited to be with three other crew members as they launched the was an incredible experience and a real privilege that they were willing to share this with me.Just when I was enjoying the open seas I was suddenly asked to drive the lifeboat....endangering everyone...but thankfully we did manage to arrive back safe and sound.

I am filled with admiration at the dedication of the men and women I met and many others around our islands who are willing to risk their lives to save others

The following day we went to Ambleside to visit the new Parish Centre which is jointly owned by the Methodist and Anglican Church and is both a cantre for outreach and a home for the Methodist community. They boast the most beautiful view for any congregation as they worship in the whole of Methodism!!...and the congregation has grown considerably since they moved to their new premises.

We went to spend some time with the chaplains at the Ambleside site of the new University of Cumbria and then went for mid-day prayers with the Rydal Hall communjity and met many people from around the world who have come to spend a year or so living and working in this retreat house...and we shared lunch with them.
Then onto Barrow where we spent a fascinating few hours visiting BAE systems and were shown around the site where nucleur submarines are being built. Here the local deacon, Tom Luke,(on the right of the photo along with the superintendent and circuit steward) is offering an important chaplaincy and they way we were welcomed showed a deep respect for all he is doing.

our final visit that day was to Hartington Street Church where a group of people from the church decided they needed to engage in outreach to their community where there is so much need. They now hold their 'Tea Club' every two weeks and about 30 people regularly attend as it offers a lovely hot meal, a place to meet and usually a guest speaker at the end....and I discovered this weas me in the middle of the meal. Most of the poeple who attend used to have some contact with the church or are in need in some was a fresh expression of mission at its best

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

From Kirkby Stephen to Grange-over-Sands

The Revd James and Mrs Kathleen Skinner and Kirkby Stephen Chapel (above)
Washing up after a good lunch (below)

At Westerley (below)

If food has seemed to be a theme of our visit to Cumbria then I make no apologies!
At Kirkby Stephen we were served two of my favourites for lunch - shepherds pie followed by trifle - and at Grange the table of home-made cakes was a sight to behold!
But there was spiritual food too. The Rev James Skinner presided at a service of Holy Communion at Kirkby Stephen where folk from eight chapels had gathered and prayers were led by the District Chair.
In the evening, the Ulverston Circuit came together for a reflective service conducted by the Rev. Joe Daley (pictured above). It was a pleasure to meet a number of people with Manchester links, in particular Irene McKay (known to many as Irene Cooper) and Margaret Berry, the widow of the Rev. John Berry, who was an inspirational teacher of what was then known as divinity - but for him in its widest interpretation - when I was at school.
In the afternoon I had been delighted to be asked to lead the service at Westerley in Grange, the residential home run by the Leaders of Worship and Preachers' Trust (formerley LPMA).
I was warmly welcomed by the residents and staff as well as a number of friends from the Circuit.

This reflected the welcome we received all around the District and we were particularly grateful for the warm hospitality offered us by Susan and Richard Teal.

Going for Growth in Cumbria!

What a great day in Penrith!
The Cumbria District, under its new Chair Richard Teal, had invited Stephen and me to share in the leading of a day on 'Going for Growth'.
Despite the late January weather (though for once less snowy in the northwest of England than in London!) nearly 300 people gathered for a day of worship, fellowship and inspiration. The children had great fun in their own activities led by Y-Kids, a Christian youth ministry team from Liverpool.
The worship was led in three different but complementary styles by members from Kirkby Lonsdale, Cockermouth and Penrith Circuits and there was a real sense of the District growing in confidence in its mission and life together. They are already planning for future events.
The previous day Thomas Gorst and his wife had invited us to their farm near Sedbergh - and a tea not to be bettered anywhere! There the President also attempted his Dr Doolittle impersonation in talking to the cows - for the benefit of the photographer from the local Westmorland Gazette.
More seriously we were able to meet with a group of local farmers - many of them Methodists - and gain an insight into the changing nature of farming in the local area. We learnt about the need to nourish the soil and about the move to organic farming. We felt privileged to be able to 'listen in' to their conversation.
In the evening we met at the Chair's house with a number of the lay employees from around the District - again the food was superb and the conversation flowed until late in the evening!

Challenging times

The Church's response to the current financial crisis was the theme of a very practical discussion after a Circuit Service in Leeds East.
I was pleased to be there at the invitation of the Rev. Fran Rhys. I was able to hear of the Credit Union being run by one of the local Catholic Churches and also of Meeting Point, a cafe project run by the Circuit which had been recently refurbished after a fire. People are concerned about increasing job losses in the area and for young people with mortgage commitments.
I had tea with the Circuit staff and they shared openly about the challenges faced by the community and the churches - but by the end of our meeting both they and I felt heartened by the stories of what was being done by individuals and groups of christians to support those in need in what are difficult circumstances for many just now.
Earlier that week there had been an ecumenical conference at Methodist Church House in London on the same subject - our response to the economic crisis. Some very helpful talks can be downloaded from the website for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland -

Newcastle (3)

An historic item - no, not Deacon Eunice Attwood but John Wesley's clock!

Brunswick Church is one of the historic sites of Methodism, a Grade II listed building dating from 1820 and a successor to Wesley's Orphan House buit in the City in the Eighteenth Century.
I was warmly welcomed at the morning service where the music was enhanced by the Salvation Army Band and songsters.

Former President Ian White with his wife Diana (pictured below) were among the congregation.

Lunch was enjoyed with the University Chaplain, Will Hopkins, and a number of interns working among the student population from Jesmond Methodist Church, where Rob Hawkins (pictured below) is the minister.

And then it was off to Blyth for an Area Ecumenical area service - a very good congregation from the Methodist and URC Churches who are working together in this part of Northumbria. Refreshments were provided by the hard working ladies of the congregation (pictured above).
It was good for me to be able to meet up again with the Revd Catherine Minor who came to my home church whilst a stdent at Manchester University.
And then it was time t0 journey back across the Pennines, having spent a full but very encouraging three days in Geordie-land.

Friday, 13 February 2009

lenten course on Premier Radio

One of the things I was doing at the end of last month was writing and then recording some 'mini sermons' to be part of a Lenten series being broadcast on Premier Radio. If you are able please listen in...not to hear me but to hear many stories from around the world

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet. Lent pack cover

Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Intl

MRDF takes to the airwaves

Our Lent study pack, What does the Bible say about changing the world?, has inspired a series of exclusive interviews to be broadcast by Premier Christian Radio.

Premier's Sunday Breakfast programme (8-10am) will feature stories about everyday heroes - ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, with examples taken from the Bible and MRDF's overseas work. Listen live between
22 February and 12 April. You can also download extended programmes, including short sermons by Reverend Stephen Poxon in March and April.

Find out more and order your free pack
Premier Radio - 1305, 1332, 1413 MW, DAB in London or listen online