Sunday, 28 February 2010

Newcastle District visit

This weekend we travelled to Doxford Place Methodist Church in Cramlington, in Northumberland, for an event organised by the Newcastle District which focused on medical ethics. It was a well attended morning which provided plenty of opportunity to discuss some very topical issues, particularly with the release of the Director of Public Prosecutions conclusions following the consultation on his draft guidelines that the Crown Prosecution Service would use to decide whether or not to prosecute people who assist others to commit suicide.

Medical ethical questions are constantly making headline news, for instance as I travelled home from London on Friday the front page story in the Evening Standard focused on women over 55 years of age being offered infertility treatment and the inside pages reported the plans of the assisted suicide group Dignitas to promote a “suicide hotel” in Switzerland for those willing to pay £6,200. Our society is debating life and death issues almost on a daily basis and it important that Methodists should not be afraid to engage in these discussions.

It was good to meet up with the Vice-President designate, Deacon Eunice Attwood, and her husband John and we were able to talk about her preparations for office which is now just 4 months away. We did so at the Baltic Centre, part of the impressive rejuvenation of the riverside between Newcastle and Gateshead. The new and the old are brought together well, including a memorial to where John Wesley first preached in Newcastle.

We spent the evening in Cullercoats with Stuart and Claire Earl, friends we first met when we were all at Manchester University. Stuart is now superintendent minister in the North Shields and Whitley Bay Circuit and Claire is a part-time lay worker with a focus on working in 13 local primary schools. This important outreach work is well received by schools and children alike and is built upon with monthly Praise Party services which attract many primary school age children to the church.

The circuit is an excellent example of what can be achieved with lay and ordained people working together in a team, ensuring all can play to their strengths. 4 ministers work alongside 5 full and part-time lay workers and a number of other volunteers. As well as the focus on working with primary and secondary schools, a lay worker acts as circuit evangelist enabler, one works as a family worker and another as a church development and outreach worker. One example of this outreach is the worship that now takes place every Sunday evening in a local pub.

On Sunday morning I preached at the two morning services at Cullercoats Methodist Church and it was wonderful to experience the buzz of activity and energy within this thriving church community. The current church was built in the 1950s after the previous church was destroyed by a bomb in World War II. It was fascinating talking to a member of the church who can still vividly remember the day when as a 16 year old girl she was pushed to the floor by her mother as the bomb exploded close-by.

They are shortly to hold a “Ministries Fayre” at which all church members will be encouraged to celebrate and learn more about the vast range of ministries and roles lay people fulfil both within the church and the wider community and encouraging more people to respond to God’s call to them.

On Sunday afternoon we travelled to Houghton-le-Spring Methodist Church in the south of the District. It was the church that Anne grew up in so it was a good opportunity to meet old friends over a faith tea before the evening service in which I was to preach. The service was led by circuit superintendent Rev Jenny Gill with the support of Rev Gillian McBride and District Chair Rev Leo Osborn along with members of the church.

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