Tuesday, 27 October 2009


David and I have just come back from a few fascinating days in Gibraltar. We visited with Rev John Hellyer, Chair of the South East District as Gibraltar is a circuit within the District. Our visit was timed to celebrate 240 years of Methodism in Gibraltar.

Sergeant Henry Ince, who was stationed with the army on the Rock in 1769, wrote to John Wesley asking permission to establish a Methodist Society in Gibraltar as a group of soldiers were meeting together for worship and fellowship. At the time the army had strong concerns about soldiers being Methodist and a future commanding officer was to prohibit Methodist practice altogether, 2 soldiers being given a sentence of 200 lashes as a result of disobeying this order.

Sergeant Ince is also well known on the island for leading the development of a series of siege tunnels dug deep in to the limestone Rock. At various points ventilation holes give views of Spain in the near distance and these were also used to site guns to protect Gibraltar from Spanish armies.It was therefore appropriate to celebrate the founding of the Methodist Church in Gibraltar in George's Hall, a large limestone cave dug out deep inside the Rock at the end of the Siege Tunnel.

We were joined by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Bishops of Gibraltar, members of the Gibraltar government, the Mayor of Gibraltar and church members and friends, some of whom had travelled down from Spain. Circuit Superintendent Fidel Patron welcomed everyone to the evening reception and introduced Sue Jackson who has just completed a detailed chronicle of the history of the Methodist Church in Gibraltar. Her excellent book is now available and was launched at the reception. David brought greetings from the wider Connexion and commented on the beauty of Gibraltar that we’d been lucky enough to see earlier that day, not least the wonderful sunset we had witnessed before entering the Siege Tunnel that evening.

On Sunday morning we joined with the congregation at the Methodist Church on Main Street. The church is blessed with a large number of members with musical skills, so much so that they have two music groups, one for the morning service and another for the evening. David preached and I brought greetings from the Conference.

One of the important ministries of the church is to run the Carpenter’s Arms, a cafĂ© and alcohol-free bar. It is well used by locals and tourists alike, serving meals and offering a listening ear every day of the week. On Sunday after the service not only is coffee and tea served to the congregation, but at the same time 15-20 homeless men receive a free meal cooked by church volunteers. The men I talked with had come from Poland, Germany, Italy and England. They'd travelled to Gibraltar looking for work as there is almost no unemployment here. Unfortunately most of the men had alcohol problems and found themselves homeless. The numbers of homeless in Gibraltar are small but the church is doing what it can to support those on their doorsteps as directly as they can.

We shared a barbeque lunch with church members on the manse balcony, the same balcony we were to watch yet another spectacular sunset from before the evening service.During the evening service David and I talked about our respective Christian journeys, our experiences up and down the Connexion over the last 4 months and our hopes for the future of the Methodist Church in Britain and throughout the world.

On Monday the new Governor arrived on board HMS Lancaster to start his 3 year term of office. David and Liz and Anne and I had all been invited to meet him at his post swearing-in evening reception. It gave us an opportunity to talk to both the Governor and the First Minister of State about the new way of working between the Gibraltan and British governments as they develop a new and increasingly mature relationship through a newly adopted constitution that moves power from the Foreign Office and Governorship to the Gibraltan state.

Earlier in the day we visited the naval base on Gibraltar where Harbour Master Lt. Cdr Nick Chapman talked to us about the role of the forces on the Rock. The size of the force has reduced dramatically over recent years and could do so further with any future M.O.D. strategic review. The Forces have played an important role in the history of Methodism in Gibraltar and what is not in doubt is the way the role of the churches in Gibraltar are clearly valued and respected by the military here.

David had already been interviewed for local radio and on Monday afternoon was interviewed for the local news programme. We were both then interviewed for the weekly religious affairs TV programme. It gave us a good opportunity to reflect on the many highlights of our visit over the last 4 days and on the witness of the Methodist Church in Gibraltar for the last 240 years.

We were looked after extremely well by Rev Fidel Patron and his wife Sheila throughout our stay and we owe them and all the church members that helped to make our visit so enjoyable a great debt of gratitude.

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