Monday, 27 July 2009

The General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches

On the day after the Buckingham Palace Garden Party, I took an early flight to Lyon for the 13th General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches. This is a gathering of representatives of the Protestant and Orthodox Churches of Europe.

Much of the time was spent in plenary sessions, rather like our own Conference. I found it interesting and at times a bit challenging to be a representative again, having had a week of being in 'Wesley's Chair' in Wolverhampton. You get quite a different view of a conference according to where you sit and the part you are playing in what is going on. Quite a lot of our time was spent on constitutional and procedural matters which, considering I have been the editor of CPD for some years, should perhaps have interested me more than it sometimes did.

Including the British delegation (pictured above, with a colleague from Norway) there were around 20 Methodists present, from various European countries. We held a lunchtime gathering to compare notes and discuss matters of common concern. The European Methodist Council is due to meet in Manchester in September, so there will be an opportunity to meet up with some of these representatives again in a few weeks' time.

Highlights of the Assembly for me included some of the worship (especially the music), including early morning prayers in the French Protestant tradition and late evening worship led by Taize
community members. Other highlights included French food, good company and much laughter, and some extraordinary and at times very moving contributions from visitors to the Assembly (in particular from Palestine and from Latin America).

I came away having become more aware of many things we have in common with Christians of other traditions. I also became more aware of some of the differences, including our contexts and the configuration of other churches and faith communities in any particular country. I am sure it is important to strengthen our links, not least with other Methodist churches, and to explore ways of working more closely together.

Buckingham Palace, 14th July

I realise this is rather old news, and that Richard has already written about his and Anne's visit to the Garden Party on 21st July, but it's still worth me sharing something about our experience on 14th July. We went as a party of Poxons, Waltons and Gambles - and a fine looking group we were! We met for lunch at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall and then made our way round to the Palace, where we discovered we were not the only people to have been invited.

The whole afternoon was very pleasant and the weather was on our side. The Grenadier Guards Band played tunes from Les Miserables and also a very impressive variation on Bach's D minor toccata. Whilst we did not meet any members of the Royal Family, we did meet Fiona Holmes, one of the Youth Conference representatives to our Wolverhampton Conference, who was on stewarding duty at the Palace with the Girls Brigade. We also met the Archbishop of Canterbury and I had a brief and unexpected reunion with Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter. He and I were students at Cambridge (he at Ridley Hall and I at Wesley House) in the early 1970s.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Englesea Brook and Mow Cop

Swine flu continues to dominate the headlines and I started the day with another interview on the subject, this time with Radio Leeds, but as it was the Sunday morning show the subject was whether it was safe to use the common communion cup or whether individual glasses should be used instead. I suggested that we needed to get swine flu in perspective and that we don’t normally worry about the many other infections people carry throughout the year. A dose of common sense and good basic hygiene is probably the most useful thing right now.

I had never visited Englesea Brook or Mow Cop before but I have a natural affinity towards the Primitive Methodist movement, which I think still has a lot to teach us today, and so was pleased that it was possible to visit both places so early in my year of office. I had been invited to lead worship at the monthly heritage service held in the chapel in Englesea Brook. Whilst the chapel no longer has a regular congregation of its own, the monthly services are attracting quite a number of visitors, as it did today.

The chapel was built in 1828. The elevated pulpit takes centre stage and it feels quite unusual to preach from in such a small building, however it does allow an eye-line to the gallery which was added in 1832 to give a further 60 seats to the building.

There is currently a display about the early Methodist missionary movement in the Englesea Brook museum so I took as my theme for the service “From missionaries to mission partners”. Kevin Watson, the project director, reflected on the way Victorian missionaries had their attitudes challenged through their experience overseas, not least the all too prevalent racism of the age. One of the strong features of the museum and its work is to link the Primitive Methodist history with contemporary issues, and this comes across strongly in the significant work the museum is doing with school children.

As with a number of Methodist heritage sites, Englesea Brook is a hidden gem and well worth making the effort to visit. It is not far from junction 16 of the M6 so next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam on that delightful motorway, you’d be well advised to take a detour via this beautiful Cheshire village.

With the help of John Bell, one of my illustrious predecessors, we then crossed the M6 to visit Mow Cop, the site of large open-air camp meetings since 1807. The rain that had followed us throughout the day meant that we had the hill to ourselves and were able to look across the Cheshire plain as well as in to Staffordshire. There was though no sound of loud hymn singing or Ranters’ prayers today.

The splendid chapel at Mow Cop has been restored through the dedicated work of a small group of volunteers and now also displays a number of the traditional banners from the Englesea Brook collection.

An important item of the agenda at Conference this year was to take steps to establish a Heritage Committee which will help support places like Englesea Brook and other sites of importance to Methodists throughout the world. As a Church we haven’t always placed enough emphasis on valuing our heritage, which may be understandable with the many competing interests for our time and resources. However there is much we can and should learn from our past which will undoubtedly help us to understand ourselves better now as well as helping us to move forward with confidence in to an uncertain future.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Yesterday Anne and I had tea with the Queen…along with around 8,000 other people. We had been invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party. There are 3 of these a year with a further one at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. It seemed that a whole range of people had been invited young and old, a few in uniforms, many with chains of office and quite a number of bishops, including the Archbishop of York.

The invitation said that gates opened at 3pm but when we arrived there was a very long queue of people dressed in their best snaking down the road alongside the palace. We explained to a few passing American tourists what was happening and they were very interested how it was possible to get an invitation. I told them that I was representing the Methodist Church, and one woman said she was a Methodist too so she hopes to get an invite in future years.

We walked straight through the Palace and in to the garden at the back. The garden feels more like a park, with trees and shrubs and a small lake at the bottom of the garden that has a woodland feel to it. It is very much a spring garden with little in the way of summer flowers other than a rose garden in one corner and some flowering shrubs around a tennis court, again tucked well away from the palace itself. The crowd of guests gathered on the central lawn, either side of which were two long tea tents, one for the majority of guests, serving the obligatory cucumber sandwiches (without crusts of course) and another split between the foreign embassy guests and the royal party itself. Two military bands, sat either side of the lawned area taking it in turn to play.

At 4pm the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Princes Anne arrived as the band struck up the National Anthem. The Queen and Prince Philip then walked through the garden towards the tea tent down two lanes that had been gently but firmly created with the help of a number of Yeoman of the Guard and Gentlemen at Arms, stopping to talk to people as they walked slowly along them. Unfortunately on the stroke of 4pm the heavens opened and umbrellas went up in force.

It had stopped raining when Prince Philip approached me and noticed the silver cross around my neck. He asked me whether I was a missionary, and I explained that I was the Vice President of the Methodist Conference and I would pass the cross on to my successor next year. He asked me where the President was, which clearly demonstrated the point I made in my address to Conference about the handicap we give to the lay representative of the Methodist Church by calling them Vice-President. I said David had been to the garden party last week but Prince Philip replied that he couldn’t remember seeing him.

At 5.45pm the royal party left and the crowds of guests slowly moved back through the palace and out in to the courtyard, again to the fascination of the viewing tourists. As we walked out we met a Methodist minister and his wife from the Isle of Wight who had also been invited. We’d all had a good day and had felt privileged to be invited.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Responding to swine flu

This week I’ve been back in to the usual routine of working as a GP in Leeds and for the BMA in London. Many have asked me whether I was going to have time off work whilst I was Vice-President and they’ve been surprised when I’ve said that I would be carrying on working as normal throughout the year. For me at least, one of the fundamentally important aspects of the position of Vice-President of the Methodist Conference is that it can be fulfilled by a lay person who also continues with their lay ministry. It is not either or but should be both.

My routine week includes Monday, Tuesday and Friday in the practice in Leeds and Wednesday and Thursday working in London where I’m deputy chair of the BMA’s general practitioner committee. I also work for Leeds Local Medical Committee which represents all GPs in the area and this means regular meetings with health care managers in the city.

The priority in all 3 jobs this week has been, of course, how we respond to the growing epidemic of swine flu. Unlike many parts of the country where there has been a large and rapidly increasing number of cases, West Yorkshire had not been particularly hit by the epidemic so far. However on Tuesday it finally arrived with startling effect. It was the day the news headlines focused on the death of a healthy six year old girl in London and a GP in Luton, and so when parents received letters home from the local primary school informing them that there had been 2 confirmed cases in the school they were understandably anxious. However it was clear the virus had arrived in our community as both children and adults alike were suddenly developing flu-like symptoms. Our phone lines lit up with patients seeking advice or support and we haven’t stopped since, taking 50 flu related calls on Friday alone.

I’ve been working with others both nationally and locally for the last 2-3 years on plans for a flu pandemic. Pandemics come with a fairly regular pattern and we’ve been expecting one for a few years. The pattern is often for an early spike during the summer and then a major impact during the autumn and winter so we may only be at the early stages of this current pandemic. In any planning it is important to prepare for the worst case scenario which unfortunately means that when the media learn about the plans they can give an alarmist spin to them which is not that helpful when we want to reassure the population that plans are in fact in place.

There are though for Christians many ethical aspects to a flu pandemic that we should consider. In Britain we have a well developed health service, and enough money and forethought to buy large amounts of anti-viral medication and vaccine. This though means there is less or even none for those with less well developed plans or limited resources. Yet again the rich developed world will be able to protect its population at the expense of the poorer developing world.

At the moment the swine flu virus seems fairly innocuous, causing mild symptoms for the majority, but if it is caught by millions of people in Britain there is bound to be a large number of people for whom the illness will be a lot more severe, and sadly for some have fatal consequences. That happens every year with seasonal flu but is not deemed newsworthy. May be that is because seasonal flu has the biggest impact on elderly people or those with other serious health problems, whilst pandemic flu tends to affect the young with no previous immunity to flu.

The current media reporting has only become alarmist when otherwise healthy people have died from swine flu. Other deaths are couched with the phrase that they had other underlying health problems. Of course this explains why they have had a more serious illness as their immune system is already compromised, but the implication can be that people already with illness and disability are somehow less worthy than those without. As Christians we need to challenge this assumption for all are equally precious in God’s sight.

This also leads us to other ethical questions. For instance if our hospitals struggle to accommodate all those who would normally get specialist care, how do we prioritise those who should be admitted to hospital and who should be denied such care? Should we treat the young at the expense of the old, should we treat those at risk with other illnesses in preference to the previously healthy? These are difficult questions that we are not used to facing in a country where, no matter how much we might complain about it, we have a health service that can and does treat everyone and turns no one away.

We also need to step up to the mark with our pastoral support. Many people with flu will need support not just in getting medication from anti-viral distribution centres, but also with basic help and simple every day tasks. They also need to know that they are not alone and that their local church is there to help as best as it is able. There is no better time to love your neighbour than during a flu pandemic.

Monday, 13 July 2009

From Wolverhampton to London

When the Conference came to an end last Thursday, Liz and I spent the afternoon in Wolverhampton seeing all (or at least some of) the sights we hadn't had the chance to see during the Conference week. We then set off for Stoneleigh, the Royal Agricultural Society's showground, where we were to spend the night before attending the last day of the last Royal Show.

This was an amazing event, with lots to see and loads of people to meet.

Also some more unlikely new friends !

The first Circuit I served in (Tadcaster) was in North Yorkshire and the visit to Stoneleigh took me back to a part of my experience that seems a long time ago now, having lived in London since 1987. There were some beautiful beasts on show.

On the Thursday evening we walked down the cattle line as the cattle were settling for the night. I found this a deeply moving experience - especially to see the care taken by the handlers.

Friday itself was a beautiful day weather-wise and Graham Jones, the Methodist Church's National Rural Officer helped us make the most of our visit. We joined the RAS President for lunch and then, at the end of the day attended the closing ceremony. The final official thing to happen in the Royal Show was a prayer, led by the Revd Dr Gordon Gatward, Director of the Arthur Rank Centre.

We returned to London on Friday evening and I made the most of Saturday as a day for not doing very much.

Sunday morning saw Liz and me at Muswell Hill Methodist Church, where I am an assistant organist (but not on this occasion, as I presided at communion).

In the evening I preached at a New River Circuit Service at Finsbury Park where, among other things, we said farewell to the Revd David James, who has been in the Circuit 13 years, initially as Superintendent.

Chapel Allerton Methodist Church

Today was my first official engagement following Conference and it was a “home game” at Chapel Allerton Methodist Church in the Leeds North East circuit. I received a really warm welcome although it felt a little odd wearing the Vice-Presidential cross in a pulpit I’m very familiar with. I shared some of the events and decisions of Conference as well as adapting some of the prayers we used last Sunday for use today. I brought one of the Conference candles David and I will be taking to churches we visit this year and I also added to the post-card board the church are keeping of my travels for the year, pinning a postcard of Wolverhampton alongside those already there from Macedonia and Bulgaria.

In the afternoon I lead a café-style service at the same church were I took the opportunity to share stories about Methodists in the Balkans. I included a DVD clip a friend had filmed for us during the Conference service last week of Jonathan reading Mark 6.1-13 and Matthew leading parts of the intercessions, both of which fitted with the theme of the service today.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Thursday at Conference

It’s the final day of Conference already. It has certainly gone very quick, with hardly time to catch my breath, and certainly no time for the jogging I’d hoped to fit in. Today was the last breakfast briefing for a while but what was clear was that even though we had got ahead of ourselves yesterday, there was still a lot to fit in to a short space of time, particularly as we wanted to leave time for a Conference service at the end of business.

I took Wesley’s Chair for the final time. I can’t say I was that disappointed about that as it is not the most comfortable chair to sit in, and neither do I like its overbearing size compared with the other functional chairs used by others on the stage. However, I can just imagine the reaction if I was to suggest we get something more suitable to replace it!

We still had a number of notices of motion to deal with including one about racism and membership of the BNP which had been repeatedly amended during the week. It was finally passed with some impassioned speeches. We were also able to briefly discuss the remaining reports on our agenda including the final report from Methodist Publishing House, to which a former employee gave a moving speech.

Unfortunately the recent practice of leaving the resolution to adopt the Connexional Team budget until the end of Conference meant we also had to conclude with a difficult debate about the use of the Training Assessment Fund. The proposal to remove the designation of the fund to allow the remaining money to be used within the general purposes of the Church was opposed by a notice of motion calling for the Fund to be re-designated for the purposes of training and education via the Regional Training Forums. The notice of motion gained the support of Conference who clearly wanted to see the money used solely for training purposes. However as members of the Connexional Team pointed out this decision could mean the funding currently allocated to other areas of priority work may need to be reviewed. These are not easy decisions to make, but leaving them to the end of Conference in this way is not the best way of making them.

David took the Chair for the final and traditional items of business. The calling of the stations is always a moving moment as are many other key moments in the closing acts of Conference.

We concluded with our service, although a little later than planned. We were supposed to be out of the hall by 1.30 so it was always going to be cutting it a bit fine. As with the Sunday worship, this service was put together with the significant help of Micky Youngson and Peter Bates to whom we owe a great debt as both services were good to be involved with. I had the privilege of preaching and David presided. To share holy communion with all those I’d spent the week with at Conference was very special.

And within half an hour of the final “Amen” the stage set was being demolished and Mr Wesley’s chair was being wheeled away, back in to storage for another year.

Normally when I leave Conference that’s it, perhaps with the exception of a brief report to the Circuit meeting or the District Synod, but this time I realised as we left Wolverhampton that I’ve still got 50 weeks to go before I get this Conference out of my system.

Wednesday at Conference

We started the day with the announcement of the election for next years President and Vice-President. Alison Tomlin and Eunice Attwood will follow David and me. It seems strange in a way to be just starting our year of office to know that someone else is already starting to prepare to take over.

The morning business focused on the proposals not to roll out the annual development review pilots in their current form. It was agreed that lessons should be learnt from the pilots and changes made to the process before a revised scheme is introduced in 2011.

The Methodist Youth Conference report brought a series of resolutions that had come out of the last Youth Conference. The Youth Conference itself is changing and we will visit the first Youth Assembly later in the year. Their business started with a short but well produced video inviting us to consider how the church will involve young people over the next 10 years. This linked very strongly with the developing youth participation strategy being rolled out at the moment.

As always they brought to Conference 6 challenging motions for debate, including a focus on training for local preachers to enhance their abilities to lead worship for young people, making local preacher training resources more accessible, the desire to see dual church membership, particularly for students, as well as a request for greater clarity about the Methodist Church position on human sexuality.

It was noticeable that many of the issues raised have been raised before in recent years, which suggests that we ought to get better at re-telling our history and reminding the whole Church of the wealth of resources we have already developed at previous Conferences. We are also however often accused of discussing things at length but not taking action. One member said very powerfully they were tired of hearing the same issues raised year after year, “it’s time to do it, it’s time to act” she said.

Another main focus for the morning business was a helpful reflection led by David Walton on the world of business and ethical practice, with the brief opportunity given to Conference members to discuss the issues raised with their neighbours.

The morning concluded with a brief update on the Anglican-Methodist covenant, and a report making a statement on “our ecumenical calling”, a vision statement for ecumenical work which it is hoped will be used by local churches and circuits.

We concluded the Youth Conference business in the afternoon and then returned to the revised standing orders for property legislation which had by now been reviewed by a reference group. As part of these changes circuit advance funds are to be replaced by circuit model trust funds.

We dealt with the business before us is such a way that it created a reasonable amount of time to do justice to a number of the notices of motion proposed this year. These included the serious issues of supporting the work of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and setting up a Israel/Palestine working group, calling for a meeting with the Home Secretary to challenge the way the President of the Methodist Church in Benin had been refused a visa to come to Britain to attend the Conference, and recognising the valuable contribution made by the older members of our church.

Following the close of business David and I were able to join Stephen and David, the ex-President and ex-Vice-President for a pleasant evening with members attending from the Irish Methodist Conference. I look forward to joining them at their newly restructured conference in Belfast next year.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Tuesday at Conference

Today started at 7 am with a live interview with Radio Leeds following the death of the first 2 people from H1N1 (swine flu) in West Yorkshire. I'll have to get used to balancing my BMA and GP roles with that of this new one I've now taken on.

The main focus for our morning business was the major report on our response to climate change, “Hope in God’s Future”. It was presented by David Clough who had a major hand in writing the report and Steve Hucklesby from the Connexional Team who convened and supported the group. A large group of Conference members came forward to speak, most praising the well constructed and helpful report. It was resolved that the body of the report should be a draft Conference statement, to be sent out to churches, circuits and districts with the aim of bringing a final version to Conference in 2011.

The debate concluded with a resolution brought by members of the world church representatives, encouraging us all to work in partnership to find ways to address climate change. The representative from the Methodist Church in Samoa told us how rising sea levels could have a major impact on pacific islands. He told of how when missionaries first arrived in Samoa they told the indigenous population to “dress up”. Now they look around their beaches and they see partially clothed tourists lying in the sun and they are very tempted to turn to them and say “dress up”. His point was that it is no longer acceptable for the developed world to tell the developing world what to do. We now need to hear what they are saying to us and act on it. It is time for us to “dress up”.

The climate change debate ended at midday, just at the time that a minutes silence was being held in London in memory of the tube and bus bombing on 7th July 2005. Steve Hucklesby had been caught up in one of the incidents and in recognition of his response then, and his work with victims since, he was awarded an MBE this year. It was fitting to recognise that, as well as to be able to pray for colleagues at the BMA in Tavistock Square who also responded so well to the bus bomb that day.

Before lunch we had time to hear from the new President and Vice President of The Gambia, as well as uplifting stories from Russia and Zimbabwe which was part of the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) AGM, which is always held as part of the Conference.

After a lunch hearing about the excellent work of Action for Children we dealt with the challenging business of the Methodist Ministers Pension Scheme. As with many other schemes, the pension scheme has a significant deficit that means that contributions needed to rise. The deficit is related in part to the situation on the Stock Market but also to the fact that beneficiaries are living longer. After a good but difficult discussion, Conference accepted the inevitable need to increase contributions to the Scheme by 7% which would be split between ministers and circuits (or those responsible for paying the stipend).

The remaining reports on the work of the Methodist Council, the Connexional Grants Committee and the Faith and Order committee were dealt with in good time which allowed us to catch up with unfinished business from the morning including approving the creation of another full time post in the world church relationships cluster within the Team.

Following the afternoon break we first dealt with the Stationing Committee paper as well as considering the response to taking forward the stationing review group’s report. We then had an interesting discussion on a resolution brought by the Bristol District asking that permission be given to advertise for a superintendent for one of their newly created large circuits. A large number of other district chairs lined up to speak against the proposal, arguing that large circuits should not be made a special case. The debate ended with the resolution being referred to the Stationing Committee for further consideration.

Towards the end of the day we concluded the business of the MMS when we heard about the mistakes that had been made preparing the report this year, but also of how the new ways of working had uncovered errors that had been made in accounting correctly for money in the Fund for World Mission. There was no suggestion that money had been used inappropriately but partly because of the complexity of the previous system the accounting was now recognised not to be good enough, and urgent work was to be done to rectify the situation. What was clear was that the amount of giving to the Fund for World Mission had fallen slightly to £5m and there is a need to inspire Methodists to increase their giving in difficult financial times if we are to be able to maintain our grant giving around the world.

The day ended for me with the annual world church fringe event, where we heard many positive stories from every continent. These are stories that all in the Church need to hear. It was an uplifting and enjoyable end to another good day.

Monday at Conference

Monday morning started with a breakfast meeting at 7.15 to decide who would chair each session and plan how we would tackle the various sections. We then had to get to the venue early to we could do a photo shoot with MRDF and the Methodist Recorder.

Birmingham District led the opening prayers and then the first agenda item was the General Secretaries report. The report contains many challenges for the church but only 2 speakers responded. May be it was because it was right at the start of the business part of Conference and people hadn’t warmed up yet but it was a shame because there was much here to get us going and I hope it will be more widely read and used as a resource in local churches.

The Connexional Team report followed which led to a greater response, many focusing on the help desk, although it was acknowledged that it was getting better, as were other parts of the developing team. I took the chair for the first time when the budget was introduced, although the resolution will not be voted on until the end of the Conference. Concerns about the proposal to end the designation of the Training Assessment Fund were expressed. As was pointed out to me later, it was my intervention a few years ago in Conference that had led to the creation of the Fund in the first place. I expect this debate will continue later in the Conference.

We then discussed important issues relating to safeguarding. A notice of motion was proposed inviting work to be done on safeguarding vulnerable adults. An attempt to amend this was defeated and the notice of motion was passed.

At lunch time I went to the MHA lunch at Molineux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and had another photo shoot, this time with a Wolves scarf and an embarrassing woolly hat. The original idea had been to pose wearing a Wolves shirt but once we realised that it was sponsored by “sporting-bet” we decided this wasn’t a wise move for the President or Vice President of the Methodist Conference to do. Was it any wiser for a Leeds fan to pose with a Wolves scarf, I’m sure I’ll hear about that!

We heard about the excellent work being doing by MHA, including innovative schemes in Leeds.

The afternoon agenda went smoothly, working though business relating to the establishment of the new Methodist Heritage Committee, a series of special resolutions and the Law and Polity committee report, which included presenting 21 resolutions. A substantial item relating to redrafting property legislation gained very little response. In part this is because of the size of the report and its specialist nature. Fortunately a committee of reference has been established to scrutinise the report in more detail.

After tea David took the chair again and we had a 2 hour debate on the proposed new hymn book together with a rolling resource of new songs and hymns that would be available on the internet. After working through a long list of alternative motions that would have stopped or significantly curtailed the project, the original proposals brought by the Music Resource Group, were slightly amended but largely adopted. We will now have a new authorised hymn collection both as a book as well as in digital form.

Following the end of Conference I attended the Network meeting which was a Question Time style event. It turned out that almost all the questions were either ones I’d raised during my Saturday address, or would be areas I will tackle in my series of Methodist Recorder articles, women in leadership (why are there no women on the platform of Conference), where are the young men in our churches, the difficulties of breast feeding in public, women in medicine and the need for flexible working, as well as the situation of women in Palestine. It was a well attended meeting and it was heartening to know that some of the things I’ve said and will say are chiming with the questions women in the church are asking.

Sunday at Conference

We started early on Sunday morning with radio interviews. Fortunately my interview with Radio Leeds was at 8.10 so I only had to leave the hotel at 7.45. David drew the short straw with an interview an hour earlier. I had a good and supportive interview, talking about whether health professionals should pray with their patients, something that had been debated at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting a few days previously, as well as what we would be doing at Conference and in the year ahead.

The Conference Sunday morning service was a wonderful experience. My sons Jonathan (13) and Matthew (11) lead David and me in to the hall and they then lit the Conference candle. The candle was a late replacement because we’d already broken one in rehearsal and its replacement was so large it kept falling over. The third candle of the day seemed a lot safer for all concerned. The service brought together a wonderful mix of skills and talents from around the Districts. In particular the contribution from the Coventry Zimbabwean Fellowship who sang in real African style as the offertory was taken was wonderful. Jonathan read the gospel reading and Matthew led part of the intercessory prayer. They both read very well and had heaps of praise placed upon them afterwards.

David preached and spoke to the ordinands who were to be welcomed in to Full Connexion. It was an uplifting act of worship and wonderful to be part of it.

I then left to take part in an ordination service at Coventry Central Hall. I was taking part in the service alongside Inderjit Bhogal who acted as President and Susan Howdle who preached. Gareth Powell was the Secretary, Margaret Jones the Connexional team representative and Pastora Nelly Ritchie from Argentina the world church representative. It was also the ordination service for John McNeil, a probationer minister from Roundhay Methodist Church in the Leeds North East circuit. A number of members from Roundhay came by coach from Leeds to support him. As always the service was uplifting and inspiring, particularly the final signing of “I the Lord of sea and sky (Hear I am Lord)” after the communion was concluded, when I felt the whole congregation commit themselves to respond to GOd's call to them.

Saturday at Conference

Wow! What a day. After a year of waiting, thinking and preparation, Conference has finally arrived and only now have I had enough time to write a little about it.

The business of Conference starts in the same way every year, and usually I’ve been part of it. Not this year, I waited outside in the corridor with David during the first half an hour of introductions, but finally we were ushered in to our respective standing votes. We were now duly elected as President and Vice President and there was to be no going back. My first act was to welcome the ecumenical representatives and then the inter-faith representatives. I spoke about my time in Manchester as a student when I was able to experience the wealth of different denominations on Sunday mornings. Following this David gave his address, focusing on Safer Space, which was very well received. I hope you take the chance to read it as it contains a message we all need to hear.

After a break we started the second session by welcoming the World Church representatives, and it was particular good to be able to welcome Bishop Raf Opoko, who is now the Secretary of Conference of the Methodist Church of Nigeria. He had been the chaplain at Uzuakoli Leprosy Centre when we were in Nigeria and it was good to meet up with him again.

It was then my turn to address the Conference. My theme was "God calls us all". It was hot in the hall but very hot on the stage, but I managed to get through my address with only a few fumbles, including promoting the Leeds North East Circuit to a District. I did apologise to Liz, our District Chair. The address seemed to be appreciated by the warm applause that followed. I hope it will start discussions both in the Conference and around the Connexion, although I know not everyone will agree with what I said.

The day concluded with a reception where David and I were able to meet with the many friends and family members who had come to support us. It was a good end to a great day.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Methodist Conference - Saturday morning

The big day is here. From all across the Connexion (indeed, from all parts of the world) people are arriving in Wolverhampton as the morning progresses. People of various Methodist Churches and traditions. Ecumenical guests. Representatives of other faiths and of the wider community. Conference old hands. People who've never been before. Friends, family. Ordinands and those who have shared their journey. Hundreds of people, each with their own story and their own journey that means this is the place to be today.

So it's a big day. And I can't pretend not to be a bit nervous about what lies ahead. Becoming President of the Conference is an honour, a privilege and an awesome responsibility. But it becomes possible because of the huge amount of support and love with which one is surrounded - and I am very grateful for the many cards, letters, emails, phone calls and personal words of greeting and encouragement.

The day has also started well because my great niece, Bethany, and her husband, Rich, have become parents this morning (just over a month early). Thomas James. Lovely news, though it's still a bit sobering being old enough to be a great great uncle!

As this year unfolds I shall do my best to keep the blog updated, and hopefully there will be pictures from time to time.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Full Circle (2)

Hilary Price - being presented with her long service certificate as organist at my home church in Monton Eccles (above)
Heidi Cottrell and Andrew Upham of the British Methodist Youth Choir who performed at Patricroft and Monton in the Salford Circuit (below)

Launch of the OUTCOME' new book and study guide 'And it can be' at Chelsea Methodist Church

John- Howard Norman standing on the Wesley stone at Westhoughton with supporting cast of the congregation!

Like the President I can hardly believe it is 12 months since we started this journey in Scarborough and I simply want to echo his thanks to all who have supported us in prayer - and messages on this blog! - along the way. It has been a marvellous privilege for me to serve the Church in this way and I have been greatly encouraged and inspired by those I have met
up and down the Connexion. And are we yet alive ? WE ARE!
We pray for David and Richard as they take on the baton in Wolverhampton this Saturday.

Arriving in Liverpool

My last formal District visit was to Liverpool ... here's the photo gallery!