Friday, 25 June 2010

Ministerial Session of the Methodist Conference, Portsmouth

After a year of travelling we have returned to Conference. Wolverhampton to Portsmouth is 150 miles, but we’ve covered thousands of miles to get here and had a wonderful time making the journey.

Whilst I stayed at the All Partners Consultation in London, David travelled to Portsmouth for the opening ministerial session. I joined him today after the closed session to listen to the presentation by Revd Dr Naim Ateek, the president and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology centre in Jerusalem. It was good to meet him again after our visit to Israel in February.

Dr Ateek said that despite all the difficulties and injustice many Palestinian Christians face, their hope remains strong because they believe in a good and gracious God and are confident that this goodness will one day triumph. He spoke about how memories of the Holocaust can make it difficult for many outside Israel to question the current situation, and how many use the Bible to justify their actions. However he encouraged us to see that from the story of Jonah onwards, where God shows concern for the people of Nineveh, it was clear that God loved all people everywhere. The Bible moved from a tribal and exclusive view of the land to an inclusive and universal view, which was demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

He encouraged Christians to come on morally responsible pilgrimages to Israel/Palestine and he reminded us of the importance of the Kairos Document, which articulated the voice of many in the Palestinian Christian community.

He concluded by reminding us that the Greek word for righteousness can also be translated as justice, and so to remember Jesus’ words to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and seek justice” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled”.

After lunch the annual service of thanksgiving and remembrance was held. It was a moving opportunity to remember the many ministers who had died during the year, and to share this time with many of their relatives who had come to be part of the service.

After a short break the focus turned to some of the reports in the main agenda that would be discussed in more detail next week, including a proposal to create personal files for ministers and the planned changes to pensions. The afternoon’s business ended with time spent in discussion groups exploring what God was doing amongst us.

The final act of the day was to share in a service of Holy Communion. I was invited to preach which gave me an opportunity to reflect just a little on some experiences during the year and in particular focusing on the many good examples of joint working between lay and ordained people, giving thanks to David for being such a great companion as we travelled in partnership this year. I also raised the question as to whether it was now time to include lay employees alongside their circuit ministerial colleagues in the Minutes of Conference.

This is my final posting on this blog as Vice-President. Tomorrow we will join the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Paula Riches in a civic reception at lunchtime before the opening of the Representative Session. I will then pass on the cross to Eunice and I know that she and her husband John have exciting plans for the blog in the future. I’m looking forward to following their travels and wish both Eunice and Alison all God’s blessings in the year ahead.

Both David and I have felt tremendously privileged to share our thoughts and experiences with you as we have visited so many exciting places and met so many inspiring people this year. Thank you for your kind comments and for taking the time to read it.

God bless.


Monday, 21 June 2010

All Partners Consultation

This year we are celebrating 100 years since the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910. It was the culmination of 19th century Protestant mission activities around the world. Over a thousand people representing Churches from around the world gathered together to reflect on what had been achieved, and how they could work together in the future to further develop their work. Four years before the First World War it was a time of great optimism and hope, and it did genuinely herald a start of more long term ecumenical working of Churches together. People were excited about what was happening, as well as what could be achieved in the future.

As part of our response to this centenary the Methodist Church in Britain has invited church leaders from about 50 countries around the world. They come from every continent and are a wonderful sign of the extent of our world church partnerships.

The consultation began with a service at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. We were welcomed by the Superintendent minister, Revd Martin Turner, and the Great Hall resounded to the sound of “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.”

The theme of the service was the gifts that we offer one another and all those attending were invited to take a gift from the British Church - a candle, a bookmark, a rose or some bread. I was joined by Revd Dr George Mulrain, President of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, in reflecting on stories of the Church’s mission around the world, using the many experiences we’ve had over the last year.

Following the service we headed for Canary Wharf, which was to be the venue for the 4 day Consultation. This morning the session began with a call from Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Britain, to “come over and help us” reflecting the call Paul heard from the Macedonian. He said that reflecting on our past and our present would enable us to prayerfully consider our future together. We were a gift to one another.

This quickly became clear as we shared in conversation with one another throughout the day. On my table I heard stories of the difficulties of being a Christian in Burma, about how the Church in South India was growing despite many members suffering persecution, and of the vibrancy of the Methodist Church in Brazil.

Revd Joao Carlos Lopez, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Brazil, told me about how much they valued the learning and experience of people from the British Church and they in return could offer us fire and enthusiasm! We also talked about the relative importance of our resources, and how money can be easily spent but that the personal experience of a partner Church can enrich an individual and a church for a lifetime.

I talked with Revd Marcus Torchon about the situation in Haiti and the newly elected Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Chile, Revd Mario Martinez Tapia, about how they were also recovering from the powerful earthquake that struck central Chile earlier this year. Over a dozen of their churches as well as other buildings were destroyed.

In an afternoon session Dr Daleep Mukarji, the former director of Christian Aid, spoke passionately about the need for mission to be integrated and holistic as we show our concern for the whole person in their society and environment. We were called and sent to proclaim good news to the poor but he also questioned whether we were truly ready for the Kingdom of God to be a reality on earth, as it is in heaven.

Revd Diane Clutterbuck reported back on the responses of partners around the world to the questions asked by the organisers prior to the Consultation, and Revd Barbara Glasson concluded the day with a bible study based on the story of Bartimaeus.

This can only be a short summary of a rich and fruitful consultation with our world partners. However a dedicated blog spot has been set up which will record the full details of the Consultation and it can be accessed via the main Methodist Church web page.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Gosport Centenary, June 20th

My final Sunday of this Presidential year took me to Gosport Methodist Church, for the opening service of their centenary celebrations. We were joined by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoressof Gosport, in a service led by the church's minister, the Revd Vincent Canning. The service began with a special anniversary hymn written for the occasion.

The centenary is being celebrated in style - there's been a strawberry tea, and there is to be a concert and a barbecue. Special services have been arranged in the coming weeks, including a visit from the Revd the Lord Griffiths of Pembrey and Bury Port on July 11th.

Driving down to Gosport from London was good practice for later this week, when I'll be taking pretty well the same route to Portsmouth, for the Conference. What is more, I shall be back in this Circuit next Sunday, but at Holy Trinity Parish Church in Fareham, for an ordination service.

Nigeria Health Care Project celebration service

On Saturday I joined trustees of the Nigeria Health Care Project at Wesley’s Chapel in London for a service to celebrate the work of the project which has just raised a total of £1 million since it began in 1992. We were joined by many supporters from around the country as well as visitors from Nigeria, including the Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, His Eminence Dr Sunday Ola Makinde.

The London Nigeria Fellowship Choir ensured the service had a strong Nigerian feel and even our preacher, the Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, The Revd The Lord Griffiths was seen dancing next to the Prelate. The whole congregation had an opportunity to do so as we brought forward our offertory, dancing down the aisle of Wesley’s Chapel.

Peter Grubb, the project co-ordinator, told us about the work of the project and what had been achieved over the last 18 years. When Anne and I were mission partners in Nigeria in 1992, the hospital we were working at was the first to receive support from the newly established group. They are now able to support 19 different projects across Nigeria, including hospitals, rural clinics, 3 centres for mentally ill homeless people, 2 motherless babies homes and the leprosy centre at Uzuakoli.

The Prelate, in his address, reminded us that Peter is now known as Sir Peter Grubb, having been given, along with Margaret Webb who had been another key member of the NHCP, the Knight of John Wesley award, the highest merit award the Methodist Church in Nigeria can give. This is in recognition of the immense amount of work Peter and Margaret along with others in the project, have done over the years and which has benefited so many in rural Nigeria.

It was wonderful that Ros Colwill could join us in the service. I wrote about Ros in my last Methodist Recorder article, and I commented during the service on how much of an inspiration she has been to many people around the world. She suffered a stroke following a serious illness, but that has not reduced her commitment to serve in Nigeria, and she is now in the process of establishing a centre for spiritual reflection. This is ground breaking work in Nigeria, and again the site she has chosen to establish this work is in a rural area. Those working with her are making bricks as and when they can secure funding, which is proving difficult to do in the current financial climate. When they have enough bricks they’ll start building the centre they need. It is faith in action, but we would expect nothing less of Ros.

Leslie Griffiths reminded us of the way Methodists from the earliest of days not only preached and sung their faith, but put it in to action. John Wesley famously had an interest in health care, although Leslie said that he was glad not to have been one of his patients. He commented that the NHCP was a practical outworking of the gospel, for what good does it do to say you love God is you don’t show that through love of your neighbour. Finally he encouraged us to start work on raising the next million pounds to ensure this important work continued – and he offered to preach again once we’d done it!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Smart Money event with Action for Children

We were invited by Action for Children to attend a reception for parliamentarians today at Portcullis House, which is opposite the House of Parliament in Westminster. Working with other children’s charities, Family Action and Children England, they were launching a document called “The Smart Money” which promotes the importance and value for money of early intervention in challenging the injustices and hardships that some children and families face.

The event provided an opportunity to talk to a large number of people, including former President of Conference, Rev Will Morrey, Faith Communities Advisor for Action for Children, Pam Chesters, Chair of Trustees and Jane Stacey, Director of UK operations for Barnardo’s.

Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children, highlighted the fact that there are around one million children at risk of intergenerational deprivation and neglect, which means children are at risk of repeating the same poor experiences of their parents with respect to educational failure, poor health, social isolation, drug abuse, crime and financial hardship. The charities were encouraging MPs to seek cross-party agreement on promoting early intervention to help solve the problems of the most deprived children and families, and a commitment to long-term policies and funding. They also accepted that money can be used smarter to get better value in these difficult times.

I spoke with staff and volunteers from Action for Children’s Wheatley children’s centre in Doncaster, which has now been running successfully for 10 years. They exemplified what could be done, and I was particularly pleased to see they were developing projects with local Dads.

New government minister with responsibility for Children and families, Tim Loughton MP, was among a large group of MPs who attended the event. He praised the work of Action for Children, whose resources he had used regularly during his time in opposition, and he was equally impressed by the “Smart Money” document. He stressed the important role that charitable and voluntary sector bodies will play in the future as the new government’s policy is developed.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Visit of Ghana's Lay President, 15th June

When I visited Ghana in January of this year, one of my first visits was to meet Mrs Araba Ata Sam, the Lay President of the Methodist Church Ghana. She made us most welcome at what was the start of a memorable week in Ghana. On Tuesday of this week I was able to welcome the Lay President to Methodist Church House, as part of a visit she is making to Britain. She was given a tour of the building and had the opportunity to meet with three of the Strategic Leaders (Chris Elliott, John Ellis and Mark Wakelin), World Church Relationships staff and other members of the Connexional Team.

Later this week she will be joined by Ghana's Presiding Bishop, who will be attending the All Partners' Consultation taking place prior to our Conference.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Methodist Church in Ireland Annual Conference

David and I were joined by Rev Michaela Youngson and Mrs Nwabuese Nwokolo as representatives of the British Conference to the Methodist Church in Ireland’s Annual Conference. David was also accompanied by his wife Liz. We met at Sydenham Methodist Church in East Belfast, close to the famous Samson and Goliath Harland and Wolff shipyard cranes.

David joined the ministerial session of the Conference on Thursday and the representative session started on Thursday evening with the election and installation of the new President of the Conference, Rev Paul Kingston. Ms Gillian Kingston (no relation to the President) also became the first Lay Leader of the Conference, an office that replaces that of the Vice-President and which she will hold for 3 years, although the President is elected for just for a year.

On Friday the business sessions began and David brought greetings from the British Conference. Business focused on the Church’s mission in the world, with young people and financial issues. The main item of the day was a ground breaking proposal that would allow interchangeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church. It was agreed that full proposals would be brought to the Conference next year for the mutual involvement in the consecration of Bishops and installation and dedication of Presidents. This would then allow the mutual celebration and affirmation of the presbyteral ministry of all those ordained in both Churches.

On Saturday I was invited to lead the opening devotions. Throughout the day the impact of the economic crisis both north and south of the border provided the background for a number of items of business. Churches were encouraged to support those helping the rising number of people coping with debt and we heard how cuts in educational budgets in the Republic of Ireland were having a major impact on Methodist schools there. There were further concerns expressed about delayed political educational reforms in Northern Ireland which was causing uncertainty about the future.

We shared lunch with the President, Lay Leader and her husband, Revd Donald Ker, Ex President and current Secretary of Conference, those who attended the British Conference in Wolverhampton and those who will shortly represent the Irish Methodist Church in Portsmouth.

A number of memorials (equivalent to our notices of motion) were discussed including one which condemned the recent shooting of Bobby Moffett on Belfast’s Shankill Road which had sparked fears of a return to sectarian murders. Another memorial, whilst recognising Israel’s security concerns, condemned the killing of nine people on an aid-ship bound for Gaza, and the boarding by Israeli forces of the Rachel Corrie which had sailed from Ireland. The discussion on both of these memorials included important comments informed by the direct experience of many from the time of conflict within Northern Ireland.

The Conference elected Revd Ian Henderson, assistant secretary of the Conference, to be President next year.

On Sunday I was invited to preach in the morning service at Finaghy Methodist Church in South Belfast. Revd Billy Davison, local minister and District Superintendent, led the service. Members have developed strong links with the Church in Tanzania, and two Volunteer in Mission teams have visited to help build a manse and a classroom for a school. Another visit is planned shortly. They have also been able to enable Tanzanian church members to visit Northern Ireland. The work of the teams and the partnerships that have developed through this work has clearly enriched the wider life of the church in Finaghy.

David, Liz and Nwabueze attended the Conference Service at Sydenham, while Michaela preached at Dundonald Methodist Church, to a sizable and appreciative congregation. This was the church’s 41st anniversary, and three new members were received during the service.

The agenda on Sunday afternoon began by receiving four new ministers in to Full Connexion. There was also a special service of commissioning of a further five first year probationers as they were sent out by the Conference. In addition moving tributes were paid to two ministers who were given permission to retire.

Each year at the Conference a different area of the work of the Church normally in en-bloc business is given more prominence, and this year we heard of the impressive work taking place at the nearby East Belfast Mission. East Belfast is the 10th most deprived part of the UK, with high levels of deprivation and unemployment. We heard how 60% of the congregation worshipping at EBM are under 40 and how for many years members have played a key role behind the scenes in peace building and reconciliation. They have a staff of 85 and 150 volunteers involved in a wide range of projects, including employment advice, a community café, homeless hostel, furniture warehouse and 9 Re:store clothes shops which generate a significant income to support the rest of their work. They are currently involved in a £23m Skainos Project which will provide a significant multipurpose building, offering space for worship, a new hostel, café and space for partners Age Concern and Belfast Metropolitan College.

At the end of the afternoon time was given to have a conversation on the work of God, with members sharing stories from around the Connexion.

The Conference closed with an evening ordination service at Bloomfield Presbyterian Church. David preached on a text from Paul’s letter to the Romans, encouraging each one of us to use the different gifts given to us through God’s grace. The four ordinands were invited to give their testimonies to a packed church, and the overwhelming response was that “they are worthy”. It was a fitting way to end the 241st Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

On the move with Action for Children, June 8th

This afternoon a brief gathering was held at Highbury to mark Action from Children's move from the building that has played such an important part in their history. In particular, it was here that NCH Sisters were trained - a pioneering move in the training of those working to care for children. There were speeches by Dame Clare Tickell, Action for Children's Chief Executive, and me. Past Vice-President of the Conference Eluned Williams gave us some idea of what life was like for a Sister in training - it was here at Highbury she spent her 21st birthday! We had images of her returning home late on Saturday evenings, taking her high heeled shoes off and hearing the crunch of cockroaches as she trod on them while trying quietly to make her way to her room. Another memory was of how Sisters in training had to clean the small square glass window panes in the chapel. If they did a rush job, missing the corners, they were quickly reminded that these were windows, not portholes!

At the close of the gathering, we stood beneath the Sisterhood memorial window and I led a prayer of thanksgiving for all that has been done through Action for Children, particularly at Highbury. The memorial window is to be moved to Westminster Central Hall, where it will be dedicated at the Annual Reunion on 3rd July.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Haiti – Day 4

La Saline clinic is in one of the poorest parts of Port-au-Prince. It once offered health care services to the local population, but in recent years it has fallen in to decline. With limited supplies of drugs, equipment and skilled staff it now only sees a handful of people each day. In addition the government have opened another larger clinic nearby and so the Church has to consider how best to utilise this valuable resource that complements what is already available.

We talked to Dr Eli Nicoli, a former senior government health advisor, but who is now volunteering to provide advice and expertise to the Methodist Church. He talked of the great need for good primary health care in Haiti, a country that has the highest maternal mortality in the western hemisphere and that is not proactive in co-ordinating public health schemes. Childhood immunisation levels are not high and many suffer from malnutrition and infectious disease. Family planning services are improving but have a long way to go to ensure good maternal health, and back-street abortions are common place, with the consequent major risk to women’s lives.

Methodist clinics in some of the more rural areas are providing a much needed service, but others in towns need review and Dr Nicoli is helping the Church to do this.

Our visit to Haiti was only brief but we were able to get a good idea of the scale of the task ahead. For a country with so little we were overwhelmed by the warmth of our welcome and the generous way we were looked after. We did not leave feeling depressed, but impressed and challenged by a resilient and vibrant people who were doing their best to get on with rebuilding their lives. If only they could have a period of stability and good government, Haiti has great potential for the future.

As we drove through the city once again we passed the ruins of the Catholic Sacre Coeur Church. Amongst the rubble the cross of Christ remained standing – a powerful symbol of the crucified Christ standing alongside the pain of Haiti’s people, but also giving hope of a resurrection that holds the potential to be more glorious than anyone could have hoped for. It is our prayer that Methodist around the world will continue to help and pray for Methodist in Haiti, in order that they can be change agents that leads to the better future all Haitians long for

Haiti – Day 3

Today we travelled with Edzaire Paul, Director of Methodist Schools, and Kerline Felix who also works in the Methodist offices, along the coast south-west from the capital to Petit Goave, close to the epicentre of the earthquake on 12th January. With the mountains on our left and the sea on our right it would have been beautiful if it were not for the increasing number of collapsed and damaged buildings along the roadside.

On any available empty space, whether it is farmland, a football field or a town’s park, camp sites had sprung up on them. The tents and shelters told a story of where the aid had come from, by far the majority from USAID and UNICEF, but lots of other organisations were clearly involved in supplying much needed emergency shelter including Shelter Box, Samaritan’s Purse and Oxfam through the British Disaster Emergency Committee.

We were told that many people are staying in tents rather than sleeping in buildings that are habitable, so great is the fear of a further earthquake.

Just beyond Petit Goave we visited Fond Doux Methodist Church in the neighbouring Circuit accompanied by the Superintendent Revd Maude Hyppolite. This small rural church had been completely destroyed and church members were starting to rebuild it. They had been helped with the initial clearing of the site and digging new foundations by a visiting United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team.

We returned to Petit Goave and went to the Institute for Rural Life which was established in 1962. We were welcomed by Superintendent minister Revd Ralph Denizard and with freshly cut coconuts. It used to be a site for agricultural training with buildings for livestock and teaching blocks. Sadly it had to be closed for financial reasons, although an office running a successful micro-finance project continues. This is the sort of project the Church in Haiti would like to re-establish if at all possible.

The Methodist Church in Petit Goave lost its bell tower but the main structure of the building remains sound, much to the gratitude of the 700 people who worship here every week. However their neighbouring bookshop was destroyed. We were also to hear more heart-wrenching stories, including of a mother who had lost all nine of her children.

At the nearby Methodist clinic, which offers general care to each day but also hosts a visiting eye surgeon once a week, two of the main buildings, including the simple operating room, remain functional, only the out-patient area was destroyed.

Finally we also visited the large Methodist Harry Brakeman College which, as elsewhere, now has a large number of temporary tented classrooms in the school grounds. Today was a public holiday so the school was quiet but we got a good idea what life is now like for the children and teachers as they try to re-establish a normal pattern of education. The school is also currently playing host to the Petit Goave Methodist Church congregation, who meet under a tarpaulin outside until they can gain confidence to return to their own building.

As we returned to Port-au-Prince we stopped at another rural church, Mellier Methodist Church. Here too members were busy building a temporary church and UNICEF had provided a tent for the school. Again they had been helped by two visiting Volunteer in Mission teams. They have already started to plan for a permanent church and a bigger school. They hope too to develop a rural clinic for an area that currently has no health facility.

The Methodist Church in Haiti plays a significant role in education. With over 20,000 children in around 100 schools their 150 churches have clearly seen this as a vital part of their mission, and their commitment to their schools, and in particular re-establishing them after the earthquake, has been very impressive. World Church Funding has helped enabled this to continue during this very difficult time.