Friday, 30 April 2010

Central Finance Board - 50th Birthday!

On Thursday 29th April I had been invited to give the address at a Thanksgiving Service in Wesley's Chapel to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church (known within Methodism as the CFB). The service was led by the Revd Jennifer Potter.

The service was very well attended (and shared the spot with Wesley's Chapel's regular Thursday lunchtime service). Over the years CFB has become very well respected for its professionalism, wisdom and ethical way of dealing with the Church's resources. We gave thanks for all those who serve and offer their expertise and experience, both paid staff and volunteers, in CFB and other parts of the Church's life.

The service was followed by an excellent lunch, to which all were invited. Many thanks to Bill Seddon and his colleagues at CFB - for the occasion and the lunch, but much more for what they do so well, on our behalf.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

More from Nottingham and Derby

Richard's BLOG has already told you about the exciting goings-on during the Saturday of our visit.

For me, Sunday began early with two local radio interviews (with BBCs Nottingham and Derby) at the studios of BBC Nottingham. It was interesting later in the day to meet qjuite a lot of people who had heard the broadcasts - so local radio is still alive and well. I quite enjoy these early morning visits to radio stations - they bring back memories of my time in York, when I helped produce the BBC Radio York Sunday Breakfast Show.

Morning service was at Bradmore Methodist Church, a church with a long history and a building that was beautifully renovated just a few years ago. It is also a building that is used a great deal by the wider community. After the service (and the post-service coffee) several of us went for an excellent Sunday lunch.
After lunch, District Chair Wes Blakey took me to the Ashfield Circuit. Our first stop was Skegby Methodist Church and Anchor Centre - a very striking modern building. The previous church building had been a bit inaccessible and invisible so members of the church had hoped for a number of years that they'd be able to take over the site occupied by a local pub. This is what happened, and the new church is visible, accessible and used by the community. We met some of the members, heard its story, and took several photos, inclusing the stained glass anchor.

From there we went to The Hill Methodist Church for a Circuit service in celebration of the church's centenary. There was a good sized congregation. I shared the leadership of the service with the circuit ministers and the church's worship band.

On Monday morning we travelled to the Nottingham North Circuit and spent time with some of the people involved in the Butlers Hill Community Allotment. This was a most fascinating visit. The allotment attracts church members and many other people to come and spend time together, work on the allotment, and enjoy its fruits. Last year, potatoes were distributed to people living locally. Young and older people get to spend time together, enjoying each other's company and working to produce inexpensive and very tasty food. Recently, a well was found on the allotment and while we were there water was drawn from it for use on the rather dry lawn.

For lunch we went to Bilsthorpe Methodist Church. The church premises are in a former Co-op building and, from the outside, it is not at all obvious that it is a church. Inside there is a very attractive worship centre. But there is also a cafe, which opens one morning per week and offers good, economic food and drinks. I had a very tasty cheese and ham panini.

From Bilsthorpe, Wes and I went to Bridge Street Methodist Church in Mansfield for a short meeting and coffee break with the Circuit ministers. Then we drove to Nottingham Road Methodist Church, where part of the building is used for a winter shelter for homeless people. At the moment the church is also providing temporary accommodation for a project called Framework, working with those who are homeless. One of their current projects is transforming a piece of waste ground at the back of the church into a garden for use by those who attend. (That's where our photo was taken.) When Framework goes back to its own premises the garden will be their gift to the church - to whom they say they are most grateful for the support and accommodation that have been made available to them.

Finally we drove to Chesterfield Road Methodist Church to meet some of those who attend the after school club. I was invited by two boys to have a go at a video game whbich was a kind of tank battle. Even though I know they were being kind to me and let me win, I felt very guilty to have 'killed' them.

On Tuesday we went to Derby. Our first stop was the main offices of MHA, where we shown round by Keith Albans. We saw the building, met quite a lot of the staff, and then had a chance for a long conversation with Chief Executive Roger Davies on current work and future prospects. During the year I've visited a number of MHA schemes, have cut the turf for a new inter-faith scheme in Leeds, and am a Patron of the London 'Forget-me-not Appeal'. What MHS does is top quality and groundbreaking.

Next stop was The Queens Hall, Derby, for a short service and then lunch with members of the Chinese language congregation that meets and worships there regularly. We were made very welcome and, not surpisingly perhaps, the food was excellent. We are part of a worldwide Methodist family of around 70 million people. Increasingly, being Methodist in Britain provides opportunities to meet and worship with members of the Methodist family from all around the world - much to our mutual enrichment and benefit.

The final stop was in Belper, at the 'Drop-In Centre' to meet some of those involved in the award winning 'Linking-Lives' Project. We'd heard something of its work at Saturday's synod and it was good to meet those involved in it on a day-to-day basis. At the heart of this work is building friendly relationships across the age range, especially between young and older people - where there can often be misunderstanding and a certain amount of fear. This project, funded by the Circuit and District, is a very important contribution to the life of the community.

On my last day in the Nottingham and Derby District, I joined supernumerary ministers and spouses for lunch at Willersley Castle - good company, good food, a beautiful spot, and a fine end to the District visit.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Nottingham and Derby District visit

We spent Saturday at the District Synod, which was held at Chilwell Road Methodist Church in Beeston, which started by welcoming John Hindson who had walked 4 miles to Synod with a bucket of water on his head. He raised nearly £100 for the MRDF funded water projects I had visited earlier this year in Uganda.

This was the last Synod to be chaired by Rev Wes Blakey before he “sits down” later this year and synod members shared in a cake that had been made for him and his jelly babies. The first item at Synod was the Testimony Service for probationer minister Rev Phil Poole who is to be received in to Full Connexion and ordained at the Methodist Conference in June. David preached and told him that to be called by God to be a minister in the Methodist Church is the most wonderful thing that can happen to anybody. You would be called to a seemingly impossible task – just like the disciples who were called to be witnesses to the ends to the earth – but that through the power of the Holy Spirit, God would make the impossible possible.

We heard about some of the many exciting projects taking place within the district, many of which will soon feature in a DVD being prepared to be shared with all churches to try and spread this good news and encourage learning from it. David will visit some of them later this week, including the Living Lives project in the Belper Circuit that is bringing together young people from the street and elderly people, using role play and film amongst other innovative techniques, and a project in Mansfield, providing meals and shelter for homeless people. I also spoke with Kevin who, when as a 16 year old living in a hostel in the centre of Nottingham, was invited in to the Methodist Church in the city centre and is now a lay employee there who proudly showed me the annual report for the City Mission which he had designed and produced.

I spoke to Synod about some of the lessons I’d learnt from my visits and the implications they had for the future of the Methodist Church, developing my theme of “God calls us all” and David spoke about creating safer space, forgiveness and how a church should respond to sex offenders. We ended the day with a world church emphasis as we told some of the many wonderful and challenging stories we’d heard from our travels around the world.

We concluded a good day with an evening meal with Wes and Ann Blakey, together with Deputy Chair Rev Terry Nowell and his wife Irene, and Frances Hopwood, who had organised much of our visit to the District.

On Sunday morning I travelled to Ashbourne Road Methodist/United Reformed Church in Derby. The two churches came together around 12 years ago in to a new building that makes a great use of space. I was welcomed by Deacon Margaret Matta, and together we lead the service with other members of the church taking part. Following the service we shared lunch in the room the church uses to host a monthly lunch outreach that they hope to shortly expand.

Littleover Methodist Church in Derby completed a major redevelopment 18 months ago and they now have a building that is fully used 7 days a week by church and community. With a sports hall, a variety of meeting rooms, a prayer room and dedicated pre-school area they have a building that is very much part of their mission.

Local minister Revd Ian Worrall told me how it is a church that is committed to prayer and when they started plans for the refurbishment they felt God encouraging them to raise their expectations about what they could achieve and so they took a significant step of faith and they were not disappointed. The etched window symbolises how God’s hand was in what they did.

As well as raising the funds themselves for the major building work they continue to tithe 10% of their income, giving it away to various funds and projects, including in Uganda and Bulgaria, the work of Methodists in both countries I’d reflected on throughout the weekend.

Littleover played host for a District Local Preachers’ re-dedication service. The service was led by District Local Preachers Secretary John Whitehead and Revd Lesley Taylor.

We were well supported throughout the service by one of Littleover’s 3 worship groups. I preached and shared with the local preachers present in a brief act of re-dedication.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Cliff College

Visiting Cliff College at any time of the year can be inspiring, but on a bright and sunny day it is easy to imagine what influenced the founders of the College to site it in the glorious Derbyshire Peak District. I was welcomed to Cliff College by the principal, Rev Dr Chris Blake and I spent the day talking with staff and students.

The college offers a wide range of courses, both residential and distance learning and caters for students with limited secondary school education right through to those studying for a PhD. They are also developing increasingly strong links with the Methodist Church in Nigeria. It was good to hear the stories of how some of the students came to Cliff, some who had come with parents to the annual Festival when they were younger, others who came from families with no connection with the Church at all. They all though realised how much they had grown and developed during their time at the college

After lunch with members of staff I sat briefly in a teaching session for those here for a week as part of their children and youth worker course. They were a mixture of lay employees and volunteers from churches across the country, sharing their experiences and learning together.

Before leaving I talked with members of the teaching staff about the emphasis they place on adult discipleship and how important it was for all church communities to take time to help people to learn and grow in faith. This is something I’m convinced we all need to take more seriously and the excellent work Cliff College and our other training centres and networks are doing can help and equip us in this vitally important task.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Edgmond - 150 years

Yesterday (April 18th) saw me retracing my steps to the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District where last year's Conference was held. The reason for the visit was to preach at an afternoon service to celebrate the 150th anniversary at Edgmond, in the Telford Circuit. It's a lovely small chapel, with its own churchyard. The well-attended service was led by the Revd Alan Fisher.


In November last year Cumbria was hit by devastating floods that dominated the national news. Cockermouth saw rescue boats floating down the main streets, 20 bridges across the rivers Derwent and Cocker were significantly damaged or collapsed completely, and policeman Bill Barker was drowned as he was swept from a collapsing bridge in Workington.

The media attention may have now gone, but the evidence of the major impact on people’s lives is still all too evident. I visited the area on Saturday accompanied by Rev Richard Teal, Chair of the Cumbria District, to hear the stories of those who were affected by the floods, to learn how the local churches responded, and to assure them of the ongoing prayers of Methodists throughout the Connexion.

Lorton Street Methodist Church in Cockermouth continues to be open every day for coffee and support.

We were met there by local minister Revd Sue Edwards, supernumery minister Revd Keith Rushton and his wife Heather, together with Rev Nicola Reynolds, superintendent minister in neighbouring circuit but also the lead for Churches Together in Cumbria on the disaster planning group. As elsewhere in Cumbria, the Churches work extremely well together, and the flood has brought them even closer.

Funds have been provided to enable a small kitchen area to be installed in the entrance of the church that has now become more of a free cafĂ©. It has not only been a current help but it is also so they are “ready for next time”. We met Gloria who has been coming to the church every day since her home was flooded. She had gone out for lunch when the floods suddenly hit the town and has not been able to go back to her house since. She has now had to move elsewhere.

Local churches were at the heart of the emergency response. A disaster plan had been in place for a number of years and it was put in to action within hours of the seriousness of the situation being realised. Very quickly150 people had volunteered to help from local churches. It was noticed by everyone that the orange jackets of the emergency services were closely followed by the yellow jackets of volunteers from Churches Together. They worked in reception centres, sorted clothes, served meals, provided drinks on the streets and everywhere offered a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

After looking around Cockermouth, and seeing how the many damaged buildings were being repaired, we travelled on to Workington and saw clearly how powerful the force of the river had been with the destruction of the main bridge. Next week a temporary road and bridge will be opened, which will once again allow people to drive between the two parts of the town, instead of having to travel an 18 mile detour. We were told that the separation caused by the loss of the bridges had caused a noticeable increase in the cases of depression seen by local GPs.

Keswick too suffered flood damage, including the Methodist manse, which is still being repaired.

The Churches response to the floods was impressive and will not be forgotten here for many years.

On Sunday morning we travelled to the Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Tebay Circuit where I was to preach at Soulby Methodist Church. We were joined by Revd Richard Teal and his wife Sue. As in the Lake District yesterday, the Eden Valley roads looked beautiful with long lines and groups of daffodils dancing in the spring sunshine. Soulby is a small village near Kirkby Stephen and only has a population of around 200, but today the church was almost full as people from nearby churches came to join us in worship. Following the service we shared lunch with church members and learnt about the many challenges facing this predominantly farming community.

Kings Meaburn Methodist Church, which replaced an earlier chapel, was built in 1932 and was the last Wesleyan Church to be built before Methodist Union. This afternoon we shared in their Church Anniversary. We were joined by others from around the circuit. We were welcomed by church steward Yvonne Booth who told us that for a couple of years she was almost the only member of this small village chapel. She faithfully opened the church every Sunday and a simple act of worship would take place. Gradually others came and now the church regularly sees between 6 and 12 people attending every Sunday. It was a sign of resurrection fit for the Easter season, and it was a privilege to preach there.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Archbishop Elias Chacour, Tuesday 13th April

Today I travelled to Oxford, for lunch with Elias Chacour, the Melkite Archbishop of the Galilee, a three time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. An Israeli citizen, he is a lifelong proponent of interfaith dialogue and peace among Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews. He is also a powerful advocate of nonviolence. At the end of our time together he signed a copy of his acclaimed book 'Blood Brothers' with the words 'God does not kill'!

Having spent a week in Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem in February with Richard Vautrey, today's lunch gave me a good opportunity to learn more of what life is like for Palestinian Christians and of the Archbishop's thoughts on the possible ways ahead in Israel/Palestine.

(My grateful thanks to Nichola Jones for arranging the lunch and Dick and Kath Jones for helping us eat it.)

Monday, 12 April 2010

Methodist Council

This weekend we met together for the last Council of the year, this time at Royal Holloway College in Egham, Surrey. It was to meet over 48 hours (stretched over 3 days) rather than the usual 24 hours because of the amount of work that needed to be done. This was reflected by an agenda of nearly 600 pages and which contained some major items that will undoubtedly provoke debate throughout the Connexion and certainly at Conference.

Our initial discussions were dominated by financial matters. We received the draft annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 August 2009 and the proposed budget for the coming year. The improvement in the financial markets has helped the situation but in order to balance the budget it is proposed that the emphasis of the Connexional Priority Fund be changed, together with the use of the Training Assessment Fund and World Mission Fund reserves. It still means significant savings need to be made. There will be less money available for district, circuit and world church grants. Lay Connexional staff pay will be frozen, although increments will be honoured which mean an increase in the pay bill of 2%. It was also proposed that stipend increases are capped at 2% rather than 2.65% which was recommended by the Connexional Allowances Committee but this was not agreed. Major projects have been reviewed and it is proposed that the Youth Participation Strategy is reduced in scale, and therefore cost, although the Church will still be spending around £3m over the life of the scheme. There are plans to look for additional external funding to support this important programme.

Sunday morning started with an early morning service of Holy Communion in the splendidly ornate chapel in the main building of Royal Holloway College.

Proposals were brought which outlined a review of ministerial committees and further development of the Church’s learning infrastructure and learning programmes and support offered to local preachers. In partnership with a range of partners across the Connexion it is planned to embark on “The Fruitful Field Project: Nurturing the Learning Church” which will map the current learning infrastructure, assess Methodist controlled learning institutions and value for money and setting some key actions such as consolidating resources and initiatives, and establishing new initiatives such as a comprehensive superintendency learning programme.

Two major papers related to safeguarding were presented to Council. One was an updated policy and guidance for good practice and procedures with respect to safeguarding children and young people. The second was a new policy for good practice in the care of adults when they are vulnerable.

In 2007 Conference decided that full-time pre-ordination training would be concentrated at three institutions but did not include Wesley College in Bristol. In 2008 the Strategy and Resources Committee agreed that a review of the College should be carried out and the report of the Review Group was presented to Council. They proposed a number of options, with a recommendation that Methodist International House and the Bristol Baptist College be brought together with the College, together with development of the conference centre, could lead to a viable future for the College. However SRC did not believe the financial plan or projected student numbers were realistic or realisable and brought a recommendation to Council that, with great regret, Wesley College should be closed. Council heard strong arguments in favour of both options and after a long debate agreed with the SRC recommendation. In addition it was resolved to send a pastoral letter to the principal and staff at Wesley College, recognising that this will be a very painful and unwelcome decision for many.

As has become traditional, the Journal of the Conference was signed at this Council meeting by the President, Vice-President and Secretary of Conference.

Another difficult debate centred on the review of the Resourcing Mission Office in Manchester. The recommendation from the review was to revise some of the roles and therefore reduce the number of staff. As the hope was to integrate these new roles within the rest of the Connexional Team it was recommended that most posts should be relocated to Methodist Church House in London, although 3 positions would be passed to Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes (TMCP) which would remain in Manchester. As earlier, there was a long debate, particularly on whether it was necessary to re-locate the new positions. Ultimately the decision was made to agree with the review proposals. A resolution was also passed expressing thanks and gratitude to members of the RMO for their many years of service and the way in which they had engaged professionally with the review.

At the last Council meeting we had received an early draft of the Israel Palestine Working Group report and suggestions where made then about revisions that should be made. A revised report was brought to this meeting and it was agreed that it should be taken to Conference.

We spent some time in groups in order to look at 5 areas in more detail including a discussion about the carbon reduction report, personnel files for ministers, support for Local Preachers and fundraising strategy.

The way forward for work relating to Equalities and Diversity took some time at the Council and eventually some amended resolutions were agreed for report to the Conference (along with a proposed standing order change). The amount of time taken to discussing this demonstrated a desire on the part of Council members to take the important issues covered by Equalities and Diversity seriously and to respond appropriately.

Our final morning covered a variety of themes - exciting plans for the Methodist International Centre; final agreement regarding Southlands College in the Roehampton University; a redrafted paper on ‘Social Media, revised in the light of a previous Council discussion and an open consultation (much of it online); a report from the Epworth Press Interim Reference Group.

We also discussed the Methodist Heritage Committee’s draft report for the Conference and had a chance to see and discuss the new-look, illustrated Methodist Heritage Handbook 2010 – well worth getting a copy! And we considered the work done on ‘Singing the Faith’, the new Methodist Hymn Collection, that will no doubt create a lot of interest and discussion at and around Conference.

Finally we spent some time considering the shape and pattern of future Council meetings. We thanked staff and others whose hard work had made our meeting possible, Gill Dascombe for being our chaplain for the year, and those for whom this had been their last meeting as members of the Council.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Channel Islands, March 30th - April 6th

Liz and I flew out to Jersey on Tuesday March 30th and were immediately into action. Our first visit was to St Ouen, where the sanctuary had been given over to a prayer labyrinth during Holy Week. With Channel Islands' District Chair, the Revd David Coote, we spent some time going round the labyrinth quietly - a very moving experience. This seemed a particularly good way to enable people to reflect on Jesus' journey to the cross and how it relates to our own life's journeys.

From St Ouen we drove to Philadelphie, for a very different experience - 'Messy Church'. We found the church hall full of people engaged in a variety of 'messy' activities, including making 'stained glass windows' and Easter gardens. There was quite a buzz. And it was good to hear that 'Messy Church, which happens here monthly, is attended by quite a lot of people who find traditional services less accessible.

In the evening I joined the Revd Graeme Halls and went to Maison La Corderie (MHA Jersey) for a communion service for Holy Week, at which I presided and gave an address. (Later in the week I had the chance to visit and meet residents at MHA Jersey's other site, Stuart Court.)

Wednesday morning began with a visit to BBC Radio Jersey, to record an 'as live' interview for Sunday morning. I always find such recordings challenging, as you have to imagine that things that you still haven't done have taken place (if you see what I mean). It was also strange to think that people in Jersey might think I was speaking live on Radio Jersey at the same time as I actually would be speaking live on Radio Guernsey. Later in the day we went to the Jersey Evening Post office for another interview.

From Radio Jersey we went with David and Barbara Coote to visit the Bailiff, Michael Birt QC, at his Chambers. I found this a fascinating visit, at which we were made most welcome. Having visited Jersey a number of times over the years and never quite understood how things operated, the Bailiff was able to help me make sense of the different way in which Jersey is governed. We then went into the States Chamber (a building that I've previously only seen from the exterior).

Maundy Thursday morning started with a visit to meet the Lieutenant Governor, Lieutenant General Andrew Ridgway. Based at Government House, the Lieutenant Governor is the Queen's personal representative in Jersey.

Evening worship for Maundy Thursday was a circuit communion service at Georgetown Methodist Church. Liz and I have visited Georgetown quite a number of times over the past few years and I've even been allowed to exercise my 'assistant organist' skills there from time to time. It was good to see so many people we've met on previous visits. Graeme Halls, the minister of Georgetown, had prepared an order of service which started with lighting candles to represent those present at the Last Supper. At the close of the service the candles were extinguished one by one - as the disciples 'all forsook him and fled'.

On Good Friday morning I shared in a service at St Helier Methodist Centre led by the Revd Billy Slatter. People were given a choice between a more 'messy church' kind of activity downstairs or a reflective service in the church upstairs. Liz and I attended the reflective service. My role was simply to stand at the cross with my arms outstretched as nails were hammered in to it. I found this profoundly moving and difficult - and way outside my normal 'comfort zone'. It was the kind of service from which I needed to leave in quiet, rather than join in conversation and coffee.

Richard Vautrey has already covered our Saturday morning together at Bethlehem in his blog. On Saturday afternoon we flew to Guernsey on a small plane which gives you much more of the flying sensation than does a larger jet. All week we'd been watching the weather forecast in case this journey was not going to be possible - but off we went! During our stay in Guernsey we stayed (and had much fun with) the Male family - Andrew, Esther, Martha, James (who was 14 on Saturday!) and Gregory.

Sunday morning saw an early trip to BBC Guernsey to be interviewed along with Guernsey Superintendent, the Revd David Hart. BBC and ITV share the same building here in Guernsey!

Then it was by boat to Sark for Easter morning communion. Again, we had wondered whether the weather would prevent this journey but the morning was bright and sunny. Having never been to Sark before, this was quite an experience. Transport on the island was either tractor or horse drawn (or, of course, bike or foot). The service in Sark Methodist Church was led by myself and David Hollingsworth.

The morning service was followed by lunch together with members of the congregation - a most impressive lunch of local roast lamb, followed by fruit crumble and custard (a lifetime favourite of mine). We then toured part of the island (which is very beautiful) before catching the charter boat back to Guernsey.

On Easter Evening I shared in a Guernsey Circuit Service at Galaad (pictured, right).

Easter Monday gave Liz and me the chance to explore St Peterport and other parts of the Island before travelling back to London on Tuesday. (The picture below shows St Peterport as night falls.)