First stop was Burnley, at the Faith Centre used in a whole range of creative ways by a number of Burnley schools and the wider community. This part of Lancashire has a very high Muslim population and exploring ways in which people of different faiths can live and flourish together is high on the agenda. The Faith Centre makes an impressive contribution.
The evening was spent at Ingol Methodist Church, at a World Church event. We had a presentation on a recent visit to Sierra Leone, where the District has links and is involved in a project. I was also able to share some pictures and reflections on my visits over the past year to the wider Methodist family around the world. Quite a travelogue - but also some wonderful memories of places and people committed to sharing God's love and making the world a better place.
The morning of Thursday 20th was spent at the Central Methodist Church in Preston. The church's main entrance is directly opposite one of the main entrances to a shopping centre, and the church provides a thriving coffee bar. It was quite hard to find a seat while we were there!
We then went to the rear entrance to the Church, where the premises have been converted to form the Fox Street Community, providing accommodation for 20 ex-homeless people, along with various forms of support to enable them to move on into settled accommodation. We lunched here with Ken Wales (chair of the Methodist Church's Strategy and Resources Committee, but here on his home territory) and the CEO of the Fox Street Community Charity, Nigel. On our tour of the premises, Nigel managed to pursuade two ex-residents to join us for a 'photo opportunity'.
From there we went to Fulwood Methodist Church, where the building has just been opened after having been refurbished to serve wider community needs. Members of the church community have been involved in creating a fascinating piece of work on what was one of the external walls of the earlier building.
From Fulwood to Ashton, where again the premises have recently had a major makeover. Here already the buildings are used by many different community groups all week long. The church's own programme has included a meeting for people to come and discuss important matters of faith and life in a safe, accepting environment (strong links here with my 'creating safer space' theme). (Picture shows Revd David Wood at one of the entrances to the church)
So, there are very intersting things going on in Preston (which, by the way, is where I was received into full connexion at Conference in 1976).
Friday 21st was my birthday - and throughout the day I kept receiving kind celebratory emails. Many thanks to all senders! Most of the day was spent in the North Fylde Circuit (where we kept coming across people waving and selling orange and white flags. I thought it was a nice touch to help me celebrate my birthday, but it turned out to have something to do with Blackpool's hopes of promotion to the Premier Division the following day.) First we went to Poulton le Fylde, and had coffee at 'Coffee Plus', the church's busy coffee shop. I had visited this church and preached here in the early 1970s (though I met no-one who remembered the occasion). It has recently been refitted as a church for the 21st century, and is a good place to visit. They even marked my big day in a very 21st century way.
Next stop was Thornton, where a major refurbishment is taking place. We were joined on this visit by the Mayor, and there is clearly a lot of community interest in what the new premises will provide and enable. I asked the builder if they'd come across any unexpected difficulties as they worked on the site. He told me they had found what they feared was asbestos. But, on further investigation it had turned out to be horse manure. What a relief!(?)