Sunday, 28 March 2010
Saturday, 27 March 2010
Wednesday morning meant an early start, to visit Carecent at Central Methodist Church. Carecent started 25 years ago when I was minister at Central, and provides meals, drinks, clothes and friendship to people who are homeless. The volunteers who staff it come from many different churches (and none). Apparently there are currently about 200 people who use what's on offer at Carecent from time to time. One of the most noticeable changes since my time was the number of younger people using Carecent. I spoke to two young men, both of whom had become homeless at the age of 15. Two older men asked me to pray with them. Others very openly told me something of their story. I think 25 years ago when we set up Carecent we might have imagined we were providing something which would not be needed for too long. The opposite has proven to be the case.
Our visit to the York and Hull District ended on Thursday March 25th with a research day at Holy Rood House in Sowerby on issues related to clergy sexual abuse. The day was actually spent in Thorpe House (pictured), home of the dog on which James Herriott based 'Tricky woo' in his novels.
Thursday, 25 March 2010
As early as 1775 the Wesleyan Conference passed a resolution required consent before any new chapel was built and shortly afterwards a building committee was established. At the time Methodists were enthusiastic builders of chapels but all too often found themselves getting in to serious debt and so in 1817 a Fund for the relief of distressed chapels was instituted, followed by the establishment of the Chapel Loans Fund in 1827. It was around this time that Chapel Committees became associated with
I’ve repeatedly seen during the last year how a good building can enhance the mission of a local church, rather as so often happens becoming a burden to it, and it was good to talk with the staff in the Resourcing Mission Office who work to make so many projects across the country a reality. They respond on a daily basis to questions great and small from around the Connexion and I thanked them for the work they do on behalf of so many.
On the floor above are the offices of the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. TMCP Chief Executive, Anne Hughes-Holmes, told me about their work and introduced me to the rest of the team. TMCP provides practical support to managing trustees, acting as custodian trustee of all property held on Model Trusts of the Methodist Church Act. The property includes all land and buildings used for local church purposes, all circuit and district manses and most Connexional properties, together with funds which support the mission of the church in these places. It is also the custodian of over 8000 separate trusts which include permanent endowments and other gifts to the churches. It is important work carrying great responsibility and I was impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the staff.
Friday, 19 March 2010
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
My first visit on Wednesday 10th March was to Woodhouse Close, an ecumenical church on an estate in Bishop Auckland. The visit was great. This is a Methodist/Church of England church, and has been so for around 40 years. It is at the heart of its community, both geographically and in terms of the many things that go on there. It is THE Church in this community. I was able to meet representatives of various community groups and activities that are based or have links here, visit the pre-school playgroup, lunch with some of the leadership team, and even have a quick 'go' on the organ.
From Woodhouse Close, District Chair Ruth Gee took me to Durham, to the Wesley Study Centre. I joined staff and students for worship, then led a session where we had a lively discussion. This was followed by a reception in the Senior Common Room where I met college officers, along with staff from Cranmer Hall, Ushaw College and the University's Department of Theology. Durham is a very beautiful city and the Wesley Study Centre is located very near its heart. There is clearly an excellent relationship with the other colleges and with the University's theology department. Such a relationship brings exciting possibilities.
The day ended at the Methodist Church in Crook, with a lecture by Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham. This was part of an ecumenical initiative called 'The Big Read'. Tom Wright has written a study guide to Luke's gospel and lots of ecumenical groups are using it to explore Luke during Lent. The Bishop is giving 3 lectures on the theme (each in 4 venues) and these are being attended by hundreds of people. Having sat through this evening's lecture, I can see why. I have read some of Tom Wright's books but this was my first chance to see him in action - and it was a very good evening indeed. It's great to see and feel the 'buzz' when people come together to explore the Bible. (Picture above left shows Chair Ruth Gee, me, Bishop Tom and Superintendent Ann Shepherdson.)
On Thursday 11th March we drove to Thornaby Methodist Church in the Stockton Circuit. Like Woodhouse Close, this is a church very much at the heart of its community, with all sorts of exciting things going on. These include the Noah's Ark Family Centre, a soft play area for children. Grant funding has recently been obtained to develop a sensory garden at the rear of the church. All kinds of groups meet here and there is an excellent cafe (try the poached eggs on toast!) with a steady stream of customers. It was good to meet - and be enthused by - minister Roberto Viana and his wife Suzie, who originate from Brazil (where I did my pre-presidential visit last year).
From Thornaby we went to Redcar, to the Corus site. Along with Methodist Chaplain Gordon Wallace, superintendent minister Chris Eddy and local minister Malcolm Newman we met the HR Director, union representatives and other staff of the plant. The recently announced mothballing of the blast furnace means the loss of 1700 jobs. But the impact on the local community is much greater, as many other people's livelihoods are related to what goes on at Corus. This feels like yet another blow to a community that has, in the not too distant past, been affected by the loss of other major heavy industries. Local unions and management are working together to try to secure a better future, but no-one should underestimate the devastation caused to the community by the decision to mothball the blast furnace.
We were shown round parts of the site and Chris, Malcolm and I had at least a moment's light relief when we saw what we looked like in our orange protective clothing!
Friday morning was spent at Middleton Grange Shopping Centre in Hartlepool, where workplace chaplain the Revd Rosa Leto had arranged for the District's chaplains from various institutions to gather so we could explore together both the opportunities and the challenges of chaplaincy work. Suzanne Chaney, the Centre's Tenant Liaison and Marketing Manager, shared the morning with us and took us on a tour of the Centre.
During this year I have been increasingly impressed by the work of chaplains, both lay and ordained (so much so that I recently devoted a Methodist Recorder article to the subject). Here is the Church alongside people in their daily life and work. Many people are open to and appreciate what chaplains have to offer. And their work makes sense to those responsible for the places where chaplains operate. It was moving to hear Suzanne Chaney's words of appreciation for what Rosa Leto is, does and represents.
From Hartlepool I accompanied Ruth Gee to Yarm Methodist Church, to attend a service of thanksgiving for the life of one of our supernumerary ministers, the Revd Clifford Jagger, who died earlier this month aged 95. In his address, the Revd Peter Sutcliffe, with his gentle humour, gave us a real glimpse into the life of someone who had served his Lord for many years - Clifford's years of 'travel' as a Methodist Minister began in 1940!
Incidentally, Yarm Methodist Church was described by John Wesley in 1764 as of all the preaching houses 'by far the most elegant in England'. It is said he liked such octagonal buildings because 'there are no corners for the Devil to hide in'!
Richard, the Vice-President, arrived in the District in time for an evening meal with the District Vision and Strategy Team (described in Richard's blog) and for Saturday's District Day on Discipleship (also in that earlier blog).
When Richard went to jail on Sunday morning (see his blog for a reminder of why!), I went to Ferryhill Methodist Church in the West Durham Circuit to preach at a service conducted by their minister, the Revd Michael Pullan. Michael and I were probationers together in the York and Hull District in the mid 1970s and it was great to see him again. This is Ferryhill's centenary year and it was good to share in their celebrations.
Richard has already written of the evening service at Richmond. Before arriving at the church we drove up beautiful Swaledale. Quite a contrast to where I live, in North London. I arrived home at half past midnight and there was not a sheep in sight in Muswell Hill.
Sunday, 14 March 2010
After a good meal we shared some of our experiences and heard from members of this District leadership team about their hopes for the future.
On Saturday we spent the day at
The theme for the day was Discipleship and we both shared reflections on various aspects of discipleship we had witnessed on our travels and then led workshops which allowed us to explore some of the theme in greater depth.
We were joined by Steve Hucklesby, a policy advisor within the Connexional team and a member of the Joint Public Issues Team who has played a leading role in the development of the Methodist Churches response to climate change, in part through the report “Hope in God’s Future”. Steve also talked about how our discipleship can lead to engaging in politics as the General Election approaches. A fourth workshop was led by workplace chaplain Rev Rosa Leto on bullying in the workplace. All the workshops produced lively discussion.
On Sunday morning I was taken to Durham Prison. Fortunately I was also allowed to leave again without too much difficulty. I joined Bill Offler, a local preacher in the
At the end of the service at least 10 men asked for bibles to take away with them.
One prisoner told me that as he entered the chapel it felt like a blanket of peace fell upon him. Another told me how a fellow prisoner had repeatedly nagged him to come to the mid-week discussion group about Christian faith and belief but he was afraid of what the other prisoners would think of him if he did. Eventually he relented and over time he found that God really did exist and not only that but that God loved him. Early one morning in his cell when he realised this he broke down and cried. This was a man who had little if any contact with the Church before he came in to prison but now he is convinced his life has changed for the better.
A few minutes walk from Durham Prison is
Brian Thornton, a past Vice-President, has also recently moved to the circuit as a pastoral worker with 3 churches in the
Revds Keith Bamford and Alan Coustick welcomed us to the circuit which is shortly to join with neighbouring Wensleydale Circuit which will then embrace over 500 Methodists in the north of the Yorkshire Dales. We shared in a wonderful service in a packed church which continued the discipleship theme of the weekend. We were also joined by a group of Fijians from nearby Catterick Garrison.
Friday, 12 March 2010
Catterick Garrison is in reality a small town, with a population of around 30,000 and with all the services that you would expect, including 5 schools. The Swaledale Methodist Circuit is exploring possibilities of a pioneer minister to further develop work with service families and those who work within the garrison. It was therefore good to share lunch in the grand surrounds of the officers’ mess with 2 of the circuit ministers together with the chaplaincy team.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Today I returned to High Leigh for the 3rd time in as many months, this time to spend the day at the Lay Employees and Children and Youth Workers Conference. The Conference brings together over 100 lay people from across the Connexion to learn and share together. Mark Wakelin described it well in his introduction when he said that, “Methodism has a habit of chasing behind what God is doing and trying to understand it in that one of the phenomena of our Church in recent years has been the growing number of lay employees and children and youth workers. They are changing the landscape of the Church with new insights, new was of working, renewed passion and energy and a willingness to approach issues without the burden of “we’ve always done it this way””.
This is something I spoke about in my Conference address and both David and I have seen repeatedly over the last few months. It was therefore good to meet again some of people I’d already met during my travels this year and a group from the Darlington District which we’ll be visiting over the next few days.
I’d been invited to lead evening worship and a workshop on the situation in Israel/Palestine and how we should be listening to the voices of Palestinian Christians. It was quite topical with today’s news about US Vice-President Joe Bidden condemning plans to build 1600 new homes for Jewish settlers in
Monday, 8 March 2010
From Nutgrove Primary I went with District Chair, Jim Booth, to meet Col Lerczak at the Circuit Resource Centre in Warrington to discuss her work with survivors of abuse, through the CASAI (Church Action on Sexual Abuse Issues) project. The cross (right) was painted within the project.
Our evening meal was at Hood Manor Methodist Church, at a project called Spindles. Once a fortnight an evening meal is provided for a number of families from the neighbourhood. Our meal was a very tasty lasagne. As well as chatting with others at my table, I got a chance to talk with a young couple both of whom had been members of the same rugby team! They had with them their two children, the youngest only weeks old.
Thursday 4th March started with me going to Court Hey, a local Methodist church, to be filmed for a DVD on 'Creating Safer Space', to be used as an introduction to Safeguarding training. I was a bit nervous to start with but actually it turned out to be quite enjoyable, with an excellent production team - 'Bubbles'. It may not win an Oscar, but I'm sure the DVD will be showing in a church near you in the not too distant future. Do try to see it. It's about a very important aspect of our life together in the church.