Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Rev Dr Calvin Samuel's Welcome to Wesley Study Centre

Being at the Wesley Study Centre on any occasion is always a great joy. In my normal day job I work as a part-time diaconal tutor at WSC. I believe passionately in theological education for lay and ordained and I'm proud of the contribution the WSC makes in the North East of England. This evening was a particularly special and important occasion, as the community of the Wesley Study Centre and St John's College, Durham welcomed Rev Dr Calvin Samuel as the new Director of WSC alongside his wife Ramona and family.

Rev Dr David Wilkinson, Principal of St John's College, Durham led the service of welcome and is pictured alongside Mr Michael Bird, Vice-President of St John's College who during the service signed the memorandum of association between St John's College and the Methodist Council.

Rev Dr Mark Wakelin, The Methodist Church, Secretary for Internal Relationships preached the sermon and Rev Ruth Gee presided at Holy Communion.

Some of those attending the service.... Rev Dr Jocelyn Bryan and her daughter Rachel, Mrs Susan Howdle (ex Vice-President) and Rev Eden Fletcher (Superintendent of Newcastle Central Circuit and a member of WSC Management Committee.

More guests at the service and Professor Peter Howdle (Chair of Management Committee)

Rev Martin Turner (Superintendent, Westminster Central Hall)and his wife Biddy,
Rev Dr Angela Shier Jones and Susan Howdle.

Poverty and Need ~ and the Church's response

After an amazing time in Eunice's home District, I went straight to London to join the TUC Rally in our own Westminster Central Hall. It was good to be invited to be part of a gathering sharing concerns for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society - especially after rejoicing in Newcastle with the projects which we support in so many ways.

From there it was off to Bolton and Rochdale, starting with the work of the Wigan Mission.

Just the food part of the work for the homeless and others in need at The Brick - it was the Bricklayers Arms! So much hard work being done by caring and thoughtful people.

We sat in their prayer room and shared stories with many people - and as always we were fed. There was more sharing (and another meal) in the evening. We rejoiced in the opportunity to meet with a number of people engaged in community work around the District; to hear yet more stories and to encourage one another. It was particularly fun to discover that allotments can be a place of healing and fellowship in the North West of the UK as well as in Cameroon! Expensive new developments alongside work in smaller groups with young people and others - and all in various partnerships - gave us more stories to remember and pray about.

Another day, another Quiet Day, remembering that those who serve and care also have needs which God delights to meet. There is always space to share what we need to question or what we have learnt - but only for those who choose.

And then sharing in worship with friends from long ago and friends newly made, in a circuit which is working on old and listed buildings in order to be able to better serve tody's community. Grateful thanks for welcome and hospitality and God bless and keep you all.

Monday, 25 October 2010

I want to be part of a Church.

Several people have asked for the words I wrote for the end of the Vice-Presidents address to the Methodist Conference in Portsmouth. I wrote it after praying in the conservatory one morning; perhaps you might wish to reflect on what you would have written?

I want to be part of a church that is fully immersed in the story of God

A church that celebrates and works in partnership with the Worldwide Methodist Family.

A church that explores and nurtures the faith of young and old.

A church that celebrates its rich story of contact with 750,000 people, 250,000 members, 10,000 local preachers, 2,000 ministers, several hundred lay employees and 5,700 properties.

I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled.

A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible.

A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch.

A church that can live well with difference and diversity.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence.

A church that knows how to party and celebrate life.

A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection.

A church that doesn't pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.

I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes.

A church that welcomes those who seek asylum.

A church that longs and yearns for justice.

A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation.

A church where all who are lost can be found.

A church where people can discover friendship.

A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God.

A church that engages faith in its communities.

A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.

A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.

I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity,

transforming love and engaging faith.

This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.

My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.

ArtServe Conference

ArtServe is the successor organisation to the Methodist Church Music Society (MCMS) it was born in 2008 and initially ran alongside MCMS. Eventually, MCMS activities and assets were transferred to ArtServe and MCMS formally ceased to exist as a separate organisation on 31st August 2010. I joined them for their annual conference at High Leigh conference centre which celebrated and gave thanks for 75 years of MCMS in addition to rejoicing in the formation of ArtServe.

ArtServe exists to support all of the creative arts - music, drama, dance, storytelling etc. The conference had a vibrant programme of worship and workshops, I was invited to lead worship and gave the keynote address using as my theme 'Transforming Love:Engaging Faith using Creativity' reflecting on how we might be creative in our worship spaces with labyrinths and prayer journeys and how we might use art to share the story of God with vulnerable people.

Here is the centrepiece of our worship in the hall where our main sessions were held during which many people contributed by using their creative talents.

We were treated to an amazing concert by the Saint Michael's Singers from Coventry Cathedral in Hoddesdon Parish Church accompanied by Paul Leddington Wright, an Artserve member, well known for his work with BBC TV Songs of Praise. He is a freelance composer, arranger and organist, and well known for leading choral workshops. He was organist and director of music at Coventry Cathedral from 1984-1995.

Drama in worship from the workshop led by Jo Richards.
A great variety of workshops were available over the weekend including -
Congregational music in worship -Paul Leddington Wright.
Drama- Derek Davidson
Movement and Dance - Jo Richards
Storytelling-Ken Luxon

Visual Journaling- Rachael Singleton
Advent Music- Margaret Rizza Pointers for ArtServe-Rev Dr Ivor Jones

Morning worship was led by Rev Nick Young, Rev Graham Tidmarsh presided and Rev Dr John Taylor, former President of Conference preached on the theme 'Touching the Mountain' reflecting on the transcendence of God with beautiful PowerPoint images followed by a meditation.

The impromptu Orchestra led by Paul Leddington Wright provided the music for worship alongside the organ for the final worship service of Holy Communion.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Newcastle District Visit

It was a delight to have Alison visit the Newcastle District (my home District) and what better way to begin than with a rather massive cooked breakfast before crossing the causeway to visit Holy Island for a District Quiet Day. Rev Leo Osborn organised and hosted a wonderful weekend for us both.

We were joined by 90 people from around the District on a gorgeous autumnal day enjoying each others company and God's creation.

Walking around Holy Island the views are breathtakingly beautiful. Locally the island is rarely referred to by its Anglo-Saxon name of 'Lindisfarne'. Following on from the murderous and bloodthirsty attack on the monastery by the Vikings in 793AD, it obtained its local name from the observations made by the Durham monks: 'Lindisfarne - baptised in the blood of so many good men - truly a 'Holy Island'. Its more appropriate title is 'The Holy Island of Lindisfarne'.

Alison provided two reflection sessions on the theme of 'Listening to God' in St Mary's Church after which folks either joined me on a prayer walk or spent time reflecting.

No visit to Holy Island would be complete for me without calling in to see my friends Mark and Mary Fleeson in the Lindisfarne Scriptorium. Alison and I are using Mary's wonderful artwork throughout our year in office, all of which is resourced be her praying with scripture based around the Celtic tradition.

Sunday morning I went off to preach at a Circuit Service in Westoe Methodist Church in South Shields whilst Alison preached at Fulwell Methodist Church.

It was great to able to share in worship with Alison at a Circuit Service in Brunswick Methodist Church where I work alongside Rev Eden Fletcher and Chris Carroll, Lay Pastoral Worker. The Newcastle City Temple of the Salvation Army joined us as they do every Sunday evening and we heard from Rev Rob Hawkins about the work of the Holy Biscuit Art Gallery in Shieldfield, a re-furbished Methodist Church which is now engaging with the Arts community, Rev Peter Rand told us about St Andrews, Benton plans for a Lay Witness weekend and Diego Melo our Circuit Youth Worker enthusiastically spoke of the Hot Chocolate Project reaching out to young people in the East End of the City.

At the Newcastle Central and East Circuit Service Alison and I were delighted to launch Traidcraft's Big Brew Project a national initiative encouraging schools, churches, workplaces and any other organisation, to host a Fairtrade tea party event anytime during Fairtrade Fortnight 2011. Whether you simply put the kettle on and invite people along or you use it as an opportunity to put on a large event ranging from a cafĂ© to a carnival, Traidcraft's Big Brew has something for everyone. Big Brew aims: To raise awareness of the difference we can all make to the lives of tea producers by: * buying Traidcraft Fairtrade tea * campaigning with Traidcraft for more Fairtrade products * supporting Traidcraft’s vital development work through donations.

Alison and I are joined by Rev Eden Fletcher, Superintendent of the Newcastle Central and East Circuit and Rev Leo Osborn, Chair of the Newcastle District and President designate.

Celebrating Good News was an event held in Brunswick with 17 groups attending creating a market place area with 8 of the organisations offering 10min talks which were inspirational. We heard from Street Pastors, Scarpa (Project for Runaway young people under 16), Gap (Girls are Proud, working with women caught up in the sex industry), Help and Hope(asylum seekers), Common Ground(asylum seekers) and were sung to by an amazing choir called 'Recovery Rocks' a singing group formed by recovering alcoholics.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Joint meeting of the Methodist Council and URC Mission Council

In the first ever joint meeting of the United Reformed Church Mission Council and the Methodist Council, the Councils voted to work together to challenge the causes of poverty and inequality ingrained in British society.

Council members voted to confirm their commitment to the living wage, to stand alongside those poorest and most vulnerable, and to campaign for benefit and wage policies that allow people to live and work in dignity. This will involve working with other partners, including the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Church Action on Poverty.

In their discussions, the Councils re-committed themselves to working together with children and young people in Britain through the widest variety of means. They also agreed to form a group to take forward recent joint work between the Methodist Church and the URC on church buildings, focusing on the potential to share expertise and resources.

In our separate session as a Methodist Council we discussed a range of issues, including how the Church’s structures might best encourage and facilitate the Church’s mission in local and regional areas. We welcomed the news that the Fijian government has dropped most of the charges against leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji. The members of the Fiji Methodist Church Standing Committee were charged with attending an unauthorized meeting held in April 2009, and all but four of them have had their charges dropped due to ‘insufficient evidence’

It was a joy to for Alison and I to share with Val Morrison and Kirsty Thorpe Co-Moderators of the United Reformed Church in leading our final act of worship together in a service of Holy Communion.

The Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, reflecting on the council, commented: “The joint sessions have shown that the two denominations share much, perhaps more than they ever imagined. On issues such as poverty and the commitment to the young people and children in our congregations we share a common mind. It has been a positive three days and as a result of our time together we have reaffirmed our shared commitment to Jesus and our desire to serve him.”

Alison reflected on the council and added, “This joint meeting signals a real appetite in both Churches for being the best we can be as Christian disciples,in all our discussions we have seen a deeper commitment to working together to make Christ’s love known in the world, to challenge poverty and injustice wherever we find it and to support and share with one another on our different journeys."

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Fun of Teaching and Preaching

From Birmingham to Cumbria, and each time to enjoy being with amazing people!

First of all at The Queen's Foundation, for Eunice and I to spend an afternoon with a wide variety of students as well as members of the staff. We shared in seminars, had meals and tea/coffee together, and rejoiced in an inspiring service in the chapel. It was my priviledge to take communion to George who was not well enough to be in chapel with us, and whose story is simply amazing.

We had a great day but for me the worship was the highlight. The gifts of music; of signing; of different cultures and languages - plus the depth of peoples' faith - made me want to sing. It certainly made preaching a joy.
Kirkby Lonsdale was different again! But still the preaching was a joy. Here there was not quite the same variety of cultures, but yet more gifts of music, participation and faith. And this brief entry is my thanks to the Methodist people for this wonderful experience.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Micah Challenge 10.10.10

Today on 10.10.10 in Dundee Methodist Church we joined millions of people worldwide coming together in services and special events to pray and commit themselves to end poverty. In the year 2000, the leaders of the world's nations set out a vision of a more just world. There are five years left to achieve the goal they set of halving the number of people in poverty by 2015.

10.10.10 is part of Micah 2010 a campaign organised encouraging Christians around the world to pray and promise to remember the poor, and to ask our leaders to do the same. Here is the morning congregation of Dundee Methodist Church holding up their promises.

Promises could include - A commitment to pray, to consider how we live and support others, share our promises with our MP and ask our leaders to maintain their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.

It was a delight to join Rev Mary Patterson as she led the service and celebrated communion.
I preached reflecting on
Micah 6 v8

'What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah Challenge -Global Prayer
O Lord, our great and awesome God, loyal to your promise of love and faithful to all who honour and obey you, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who live in poverty,
we cry out for those who are denied justice and
we weep for all who are suffering.
We confess that we have not always obeyed you.
We have neglected your commands and have ignored your call for justice.
We have been guided by self-interest and lived in spiritual poverty.
Forgive us.
We remember your promises to fill the hungry with good things, to redeem the land by your mighty hand and to restore peace.
Father God, help us always to proclaim your justice and mercy with humility, so that, by the power of your Spirit, we can rid the world of the sin of extreme poverty.
As part of your global church, we stand with millions who praise and worship you.
May our words and deeds declare your perfect goodness, love and righteousness to both the powerful and the powerless
so that your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Conservative Party Conference

Attending the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences has been a fascinating and very informative experience. Our visits were co-ordinated by the Joint Public Issues Team who provide an excellent model of team work and collaboration represented by the Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union.

All Methodists are encouraged to participate and engage in political life and with our democratic processes. Christians are called to use their positions in society to take action to support freedom, justice and peace and respond when they are absent from our community life. Where a social movement or political proposal is clearly contrary to the will of God as revealed in scripture and the traditions of the church, then the Methodist Church will speak out against it. An example of this is our work on 'Countering Political Extremism.'

Our first event at the Conference was to attend a private reception for Church leaders and other guests from a variety of International Aid Agencies prior to the conference service.

I engaged in good conversation with Val Morrison Co-Moderator of the United Reformed Church, Loretta Minghella-Director of Christian Aid and Lieutenant Colonel Marion Drew, Secretary for Communication.

Meeting Rev Canon Dr Daniel Deng Bul Yak of the Episcopal Church of Sudan was a humbling experience as he outlined the challenges that remain in Sudan and asked for our commitment as Church leaders to pray for his beloved country that peace would be sustained and war would not return again.

The Conservative Party Conference Service was held in the Town Hall hosted by - Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Major Samuel Edgar - Divisional Commander of the Salvation Army. and included Stephen O'Brien -Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for International Development.)
Video clips from the conference service.

It was a delight to meet up with Deacon Kerry Smith whose job includes being a chaplain to the ICC Conference Centre. Kerry was on duty providing support around the conference to the delegates and the staff of the centre. Sadly we did not have time to eat cake or chocolate together (our normal activity) as we both had to rush off to other events but it was a good reminder of the many ways in which we offer support as a Methodist church through Work Place Chaplaincy Teams.

I attended one of the many fringe events at the conference. This event was hosted by Save the Children and addressed by Iain Duncan Smith MP outlining his plan for reforming the welfare system.

David Burrows MP addressing the Prayer Breakfast.

A prayer breakfast was held every morning of the party Conference hosted by the Conservative Christian Fellowship. At the Tuesday breakfast (where there was an abundant supply of bacon and sausage sandwiches) as a delegation of Free church leaders we joined 50 guests in praying for MP's and Councillors.

Amongst the guests was Rev'd Bill Anderson Chair of Birmingham District.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Visits ~ Heaven and Earth!

While Eunice was with the Labour Party, I was part of the Connexional Leaders' Forum. That combines conversation about inside and outside church with many interesting people - not all of whom are Methodist! We were at The Hayes, Swanwick and so not the only group. I met some Baptist friends (one of whom I trained with longer ago than either of us care to remember) and a new friend for whom I promised to pray. He will be Baptist President in the not too distant future and it was good to exchange reflections.

Then a different view of heaven - the official visit to the RAF, where we met with some of our Chaplains (helpfully escorted by Gordon Graig) and were offered yet more excellent hospitality. We also were given the priviledge of meeting with officers and others who showed us something of their work and shared something of their thoughts and feelings. I am still trying to work out how those who deal with Air Traffic Control carry all the information the screens show and then make enough sense of it to keep everyone safe.

And then really into the heavens! A flight in a chinook after all the safety checks and being loaned the proper kit. Dylan took care of us and Nobby was our pilot - though the reason for the flight was training for Afghanistan, not entertaining us. Once we had flown south and turned to fly the narrow helicopter lane into London, along a part of the Thames and been returned to base, the crew had to undergo further training on instruments only.

We watched for a while before we had to reluctantly leave for home. Please remember to pray for our troops and our chaplains whatever your view of war - they are seeking to serve with integrity in very difficult circumstances. And they are children of the living God who loves them.

Then to the Manchester area for a Quiet Day and a Bicentenary. The day was held at Green Close where we explored seeking help and inspiration from God, recognising that our help comes in many ways. And the anniversary was at the church where I was a member 30 years ago! After worship and food (of course) we used the Labyrinth which was a gift to me from Southgate Methodist Church - another way of listening to God and finding help and inspiration.