On Saturday March 20th I was invited to share in an ecumenical service in York Minster to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, of San Salvador. The Archbishop of York was the preacher. The service was well attended and it was very moving to hear recordings of the Archbishop speaking to (and being cheered by) his people just a few days before he was shot. It was a chilling reminder that for some Christians standing up for the truth can be very dangerous.
I returned to York Minster on the Sunday, where I was the preacher at the morning Sung Eucharist. Central Methodist Church had generously decided to have no service that morning, so I had the chance to meet some old friends. The Minster choir is very impressive and their music enhanced the worship in a building which I have loved for years (since my first visit in 1966). I think my favourite part is the Five Sisters Window (above, left), but I also have a great affection for the Rose Window in the South transept (right). To be honest, I have so many favourite parts of York Minster that it's best simply to say I love the whole building.
After lunch at the Deanery, Liz and I travelled with District Chair Stephen Burgess to Hull, where I preached at a Hull West United Circuit service at Clowes Memorial Church. For me this had a particular significance, as Clowes Memorial was where I preached my first ever sermon when I went 'on note' as a Local Preacher during my first year as a Law student at Hull University. Though there may have been people there tonight who had also been there on January 21st 1966 no-one was letting on. I made sure not to use the same sermon, just in case!
On Monday 22nd March I shared with a good proportion of the District's ministers and lay employees in a Continuing Development in Ministry Day at the Gateway Centre in Acomb, York. I led two sessions and we had a lively exchange of questions and discussion. It was also another chance to meet again friends with whom I'd worked in the past.
Monday evening saw another journey to Hull, this time to Deringham Bank Methodist Church. I'd been invited to an Open Meeting of the Men's Fellowship, where the usual attendees were joined by a number of other people, including women. After the meeting, as well as enjoying the refreshments, I had a tour of the refurbished building and a 'go' on the organ. The warm and generous welcome I received reminded me of one of the reasons I so enjoyed Hull when I was at University all those years ago.
So on Tuesday March 23rd I went on a morning visit to the University. As we parked the car I noticed someone standing watching Stephen Burgess's perfect parking technique. When I got out of the car the person spoke to me and it turned out to be Colin Moss, with whom I was a student in the mid 1960s. We'd both changed a little over the years, but it was great to meet again after so long. Stephen and I were then shown round the University Campus - which has expanded in all directions since my time - before visiting the Law School and meeting its Director and Assistant Director. Our visit ended with a conversation with the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Calie Pistorius.
Wednesday morning meant an early start, to visit Carecent at Central Methodist Church. Carecent started 25 years ago when I was minister at Central, and provides meals, drinks, clothes and friendship to people who are homeless. The volunteers who staff it come from many different churches (and none). Apparently there are currently about 200 people who use what's on offer at Carecent from time to time. One of the most noticeable changes since my time was the number of younger people using Carecent. I spoke to two young men, both of whom had become homeless at the age of 15. Two older men asked me to pray with them. Others very openly told me something of their story. I think 25 years ago when we set up Carecent we might have imagined we were providing something which would not be needed for too long. The opposite has proven to be the case.
Wednesday evening saw a final visit to York Minster, first for evensong (again the choir was great) and then for one in a series of Ebor Lectures. This was given by Tony Benn, whose grasp of his material and ability to communicate it is pretty amazing. A question and answer session was followed by Dinner in the Dean Court Hotel (at which I was invited to say grace).
Our visit to the York and Hull District ended on Thursday March 25th with a research day at Holy Rood House in Sowerby on issues related to clergy sexual abuse. The day was actually spent in Thorpe House (pictured), home of the dog on which James Herriott based 'Tricky woo' in his novels.
The day's theme was particularly relevant in the light of current news headlines concerning how the Church has dealt with issues of abuse in the past.