Tuesday, 11 May 2010

More from Plymouth and Exeter

I travelled to the Plymouth and Exeter District on Tuesday May 4th. My first stop was Queens College, Taunton. Here I was shown around the very impressive school site, with great views. I had lunch with some of the staff and students and had a chance to swap stories about The Gambia, with which the College has links. A group had visited The Methodist Church The Gambia recently and I chatted with some of those who had been on the visit. They'd met and had their photos taken with Bishop Norman Grigg (who was still District Chair when I last saw him there!)

From Queens College we drove into Taunton, to Temple Methodist Church, first for tea and conversation with local supernumeraries and their spouses (a good chance to meet up with several old friends) and then for an open meeting with a question and answer session. It was good to see Temple Church again. A few years ago, when the Conference was in Torquay, I was the connexional team person responsible for organising an ordination service there. This visit brought back good memories.

Wednesday began with a visit to Shebbear College, another of our Methodist Schools. I was shown Lake Chapel - very significant in Bible Christian tradition and regularly used for worship by the college and the local congregation. It was interesting to see an old photo of a Bible Christian annual Conference with its ministers, at least two of whom were women.

As well as having a chance to talk with staff and students, I was provided with a good lunch, made a purchase at the Fair Trade shop and spent time with chaplain David Hull, whom I've known for a number of years and first met at the Guy Chester Centre.

On the way to our next venue, District Chair Pete Pillinger took me to the beautiful village of Clovelly - with its steep cobble streets and amazing views. We tried the local ice cream -excellent! We went into the Methodist chapel and I tried out the pulpit for size. I also left one of the Conference candles on the communion table. Richard Vautrey and I take these candles everywhere we go, as signs of our connectedness as a connexion.

From Clovelly to MHA's Norah Bellot Court, at Barnstaple. Here I'd been invited to speak in an afternoon service led by the Revd Mike Parsons. Residents were joined for the service by several local supernumeraries and their spouses - again, a good chance to meet several old friends (some of whom I've known for many, many years).

On Thursday May 6th, Election Day, it seemed very strange not to be going out first thing in the morning to vote (I had already voted by post). Pete Pillinger took me, via the District Office, to St Thomas' Methodist Church in Exeter for a lively morning session with presbyters, deacons and lay employees, followed by lunch. Again, I met a number of old friends (why have so many gone to Plymouth and Exeter??) It was a particular delight to meet up again with Andrew Brazier, whom I'd received into full connexion at Wolverhampton and ordained at Worcester Cathedral.

After lunch we drove to Seaton Methodist Church, for afternoon tea and conversation with quite a large group of supernumeraries and spouses. I had a quick go on the organ and tried to get a good picture of the illuminated crosses at the front of the church, which are most effective. Among the group I met was the Revd Merfyn Temple - quite a hero of my younger days - who signed and then sold me a copy of his latest book, 'Zambia stole my heart'.

From Seaton we drove to Sidmouth for a seaside fish and chip tea (most enjoyable). Here I managed to take a photo of Pete Pillinger taking a photo of me taking a photo of him. Then it was back to Pete's manse to prepare ourselves for a long night watching the election results.

On Friday we got up a bit later and went for lunch in Exeter Cathedral cafe. This was followed by a local radio interview and then the last of my four meetings with supernumeraries and spouses, at The Mint in Exeter. This was very well attended. Again, I met several people from various bits of my history - as I did at the later open meeting (also at The Mint).

It was at this point that Richard joined us. His blog covers the next few hours except for my quick visit (on the way to Plymouth) to Buckfast Methodist Chapel, in the grounds of Buckfast Abbey. This is quite an amazing and picturesque place to find a Methodist Chapel. Apparently it was built while the Abbey was still a ruin. Its congregation is Methodist and Church of England. And its setting is very ecumenical.

For me, Sunday morning service was back at The Mint. The congregation included Nigel and Lorna Collinson and several feriends and colleagues from my days at the Division of Education and Youth. The minister at The Mint is a good friend from Wesley House days, Andrew Sails. We both agreed to keep confidential any stories of what the other was like in those bygone days. But it was great to meet up with Andrew again and to get a feel for the many things going on at The Mint. We shared a Christian Aid lunch and then I drove back to London, collecting Richard on the way.

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