Sunday, 28 March 2010

Launch of MHA London 'Forget me Not' Appeal, March 28th

The place - Park Lane Methodist Church, Wembley.

The choir - the London Transport Choir.

The occasion - the launch of MHA's new London 'Forget me Not' Appeal, which seeks to raise £600,000 to raise funds for three local Care Homes, Kenbrook, Lawnfield House and Riverview Lodge.

Additional musical highlights were provided with an unexpected but note perfect vocal solo from MHA Director of Chaplaincy, Keith Albans, and a short, note imperfect, piano solo in the style of Les Dawson from me.

MHA Head of Fundraising Les Sudron provided the continuity, lots of humour, and information about the aims of the Appeal and the important work of MHA today.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The York and Hull District, March 20th to 25th

While the York and Hull District was not on our official 'rota' for this year's visits, I was delighted to spend a few days there. This was where I went to University (many moons ago). And this was where I went into circuit when I left Wesley House in 1974.

On Saturday March 20th I was invited to share in an ecumenical service in York Minster to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, of San Salvador. The Archbishop of York was the preacher. The service was well attended and it was very moving to hear recordings of the Archbishop speaking to (and being cheered by) his people just a few days before he was shot. It was a chilling reminder that for some Christians standing up for the truth can be very dangerous.

I returned to York Minster on the Sunday, where I was the preacher at the morning Sung Eucharist. Central Methodist Church had generously decided to have no service that morning, so I had the chance to meet some old friends. The Minster choir is very impressive and their music enhanced the worship in a building which I have loved for years (since my first visit in 1966). I think my favourite part is the Five Sisters Window (above, left), but I also have a great affection for the Rose Window in the South transept (right). To be honest, I have so many favourite parts of York Minster that it's best simply to say I love the whole building.

After lunch at the Deanery, Liz and I travelled with District Chair Stephen Burgess to Hull, where I preached at a Hull West United Circuit service at Clowes Memorial Church. For me this had a particular significance, as Clowes Memorial was where I preached my first ever sermon when I went 'on note' as a Local Preacher during my first year as a Law student at Hull University. Though there may have been people there tonight who had also been there on January 21st 1966 no-one was letting on. I made sure not to use the same sermon, just in case!

On Monday 22nd March I shared with a good proportion of the District's ministers and lay employees in a Continuing Development in Ministry Day at the Gateway Centre in Acomb, York. I led two sessions and we had a lively exchange of questions and discussion. It was also another chance to meet again friends with whom I'd worked in the past.

Monday evening saw another journey to Hull, this time to Deringham Bank Methodist Church. I'd been invited to an Open Meeting of the Men's Fellowship, where the usual attendees were joined by a number of other people, including women. After the meeting, as well as enjoying the refreshments, I had a tour of the refurbished building and a 'go' on the organ. The warm and generous welcome I received reminded me of one of the reasons I so enjoyed Hull when I was at University all those years ago.
So on Tuesday March 23rd I went on a morning visit to the University. As we parked the car I noticed someone standing watching Stephen Burgess's perfect parking technique. When I got out of the car the person spoke to me and it turned out to be Colin Moss, with whom I was a student in the mid 1960s. We'd both changed a little over the years, but it was great to meet again after so long. Stephen and I were then shown round the University Campus - which has expanded in all directions since my time - before visiting the Law School and meeting its Director and Assistant Director. Our visit ended with a conversation with the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Calie Pistorius.

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.
Wednesday evening saw a final visit to York Minster, first for evensong (again the choir was great) and then for one in a series of Ebor Lectures. This was given by Tony Benn, whose grasp of his material and ability to communicate it is pretty amazing. A question and answer session was followed by Dinner in the Dean Court Hotel (at which I was invited to say grace).

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.
The day's theme was particularly relevant in the light of current news headlines concerning how the Church has dealt with issues of abuse in the past.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Resourcing Mission Office and TMCP

Today I visited the Resourcing Mission Office and the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes office. They are both in the Methodist Central Buildings on Oldham Street in Manchester.

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 Manchester.

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

Abbots Langley, March 18th

On Thursday evening I drove to Abbots Langley (in south west Hertfordshire) to deliver the fourth in a series of five Lent Lectures on the theme of 'The Challenge of Lent'. The lectures are ecumenical, organised by Churches Together in Abbots Langley, and each takes place at a different church. We were meeting at St Lawrence Parish Church. The evening started with a light supper of soup, cheese rolls and fruit. Then came the taking of the now traditional photograph for the blog, followed by the lecture and a time for questions. It was a good evening to be part of.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lambeth Palace, March 16th

Lambeth Palace on a bright spring afternoon makes a pretty impressive venue for a meeting. As you arrive and leave you can't help but be aware of the Palace of Westminster on the other side of the Thames.

Each year a meeting is held betweeen the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. This year's meeting took place in Lambeth Palace. We were made most welcome and had the chance to discuss many things relating to both our churches and to the wider Anglican and Methodist communions around the world.
(Pictured are:
Canon Jonathan Goodall, Vice-President Richard Vautrey, the Bishop of Guildford, The Archbishop of York, Mr William Fittall, the President of the Conference, Canon Dr Paul Avis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Secretary of the Conference Martyn Atkins, Assistant Secretary Ken Howcroft.)

More from the Darlington District

I set off for the Darlington District on Tuesday 9th March, stopping en route at the Lay Employees, Children and Youth Workers' Conference (described and pictured on Richard's earlier blog).

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

Darlington District

After a day back in my surgery in Leeds I returned to the Darlington District to join David and District Chair Rev Ruth Gee for an evening meal with the District Vision and Strategy Team. We met at Broadgate Methodist Church in the heart of the city, a church that is open for meals, tea and cake, or simply a place to come for a chat 6 days a week. Over 80 volunteers from a wide range of local churches support the 3 employed catering staff in this ecumenical outreach.

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 Elm Ridge Methodist Church, a large church in Darlington which used to be a private home until it became a Methodist church in the 1930s. Housing has gradually built up around it and now it is the centre for a thriving church community.

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 Durham and Dearness Valley Circuit and a prison chaplain. Durham has over 900 prisoners, many of whom are on remand or only there for a short time before being transferred to other prisons. The chaplain meets all new prisoners on arrival. As well as one-to-one meetings, the chaplains lead study groups during the week. Two services are held in the chapel every Sunday morning and today just short of 40 men attended the earlier Roman Catholic service and a similar number attended the service that Bill led and I preached at.

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 Elvet Methodist Church where we met Bill’s wife Anne Offler, a children and families worker in the circuit. I’d met Anne earlier in the week at the Lay Employees conference and she was able to tell me of some of the exciting work she is involved with in the two circuits she is employed in, including a very successful Christmas event for Year 2 children that had been positively welcomed by a number of schools in the area.

Brian Thornton, a past Vice-President, has also recently moved to the circuit as a pastoral worker with 3 churches in the Dearness Valley area. It was a delight to meet him again and share lunch with him. He has only been in post for a little over 6 months but already many within the community regard him as their local minister. We both reflected on how important the idea of a “pastor for every church” was.

Before ending our visit to the District at Richmond Methodist Church for a District Celebration service, we drove around the beautiful Swaledale Circuit within the Yorkshire Dales.

It not only includes a number of small rural churches but also a Methodist Primary School at Gunnerside.

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

Yesterday I visited Catterick Garrison and the chaplains who work alongside the soldiers and families there. I spent the day with Methodist Chaplain Padre Richard Smith who told me about his role as an army chaplain as well as showing me around the base.
Richard is part of the ecumenical chaplaincy team at St Aidan’s Garrison Church. Soldiers, their families and members of the local community all use the church and hall and there are a large range of activities taking place there every week.

However most of Richard’s time is spent directly with soldiers in training at the garrison. Basic training takes 6 months and during that time teenagers and young men will experience a rollercoaster of emotion. They are introduced to the chaplain right at the outset of training and very quickly an important bond is developed. The chaplain is always on hand to offer help and advice, someone who will listen to worries and concerns and who can act as bridge between ordinary soldiers and officers. There can be few places were young men are so willing to talk to a Christian minister and where the Churches presence is so valued.

We spent some time in a battlefield. Fortunately it was only an exercise and we were able to talk to those defending the semi-derelict buildings (after we’d climbed through the window!) as well as to the “enemy” attacking them. This was part of a 4 day exercise which had included digging trenches most of the night and long marches with heavy packs and equipment which I struggled to even lift off the ground. The soldiers were tired but despite that pleased to talk to the two of us. Many of them already knew that in a few weeks they would be making preparations to go to Afghanistan.
Richard has already done two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Basra. Chaplains gain so much respect from the soldiers they work with because they know that they are prepared to live alongside them, even in the most inhospitable and dangerous of situations.
The chaplaincy team are also involved in the soldiers education programme. They lead a series of lectures on values and morals, respecting others even in the most challenging of settings, morality in conflict and spiritual survival skills. I sat in the final lecture given to one group of soldiers in training given by Padre David Adams.

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

Lay Employees and Children and Youth Workers Conference

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 East Jerusalem. It led to an interesting discussion about the challenges the situation there raises for all of us.

Monday, 8 March 2010

More from the Liverpool District

My visit to the Liverpool District started on Tuesday March 2nd, at Nutgrove Primary School (in St Helens), a Methodist school. Though I have visited most of our secondary schools over the years, I'd never visited one of our primary schools before, and was delighted by what I saw.

Year 5 had prepared an excellent presentation on John Wesley, which was both informative and very funny. It was also very appropriate, as John Wesley died on March 2nd. The John Wesley at Nutgrove was very much alive, however, and I had my photo taken with him.

Nutgrove School is a very good example of why the Methodist Church has placed great emphasis on the importance of education - both in Britain and around the world.

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.

On my travels I seem to be coming across a number of places where churches provide opportunities for people to meet and share conversation at meals. Not a particularly new idea - I seem to remember a few such instances in the gospels!

On Wednesday 3rd March we drove to St Deiniol's Library (a place I've been wanting to visit for some time) to spend the day with staff and stewards of the Wirral Circuit, looking at how they will work together in their new, much larger, circuit. I was able to meet the whole team and share in some of the small group discussions.

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.

From there we went to 'Somewhere Else' in Bold Street, Liverpool. This was my third visit to what has become quite a well known expression of Methodist life and worship in the city centre. We made bread together (and having now tasted my two loaves, I'm amazed at just how good bread you have made yourself can taste).

We also reflected and prayed together for 45 minutes, using the Parable of the Good Samaritan as a starting point. I've heard so many sermons on the parable encouraging us not to be like the priest or levite but to be like the good Samaritan. At Somewhere Else the discussion was rather different - 'I was mugged once....' The discussion and the prayers had a reality about them that is hard to describe but wonderful to experience.

As I sat in reflection throughout this session, from time to time I studied the cross on the wall facing me (see below).

From Somewhere Else we travelled to Ellesmere Port and walked the town centre with two Street Pastors. The work of Street Pastors in town and city centres at night is become well known. To see the different way in which Street Pastors use the daytime to engage with individuals, shops and organisations in the centre of town was quite an eye-opener.

Street Pastors have been one of the most exciting ways of expressing faith today that I have seen on my travels. It's also a great example of Christians from a wide range of traditions working closely together and gaining hugely from doing so. This was very apparent when we had afternoon tea with a larger group of the Street Pastors.
While here, I was given a copy of Les Isaac's recent book (written with Rosalind Davies) on Street Pastors.

Friday was spent at Penketh Methodist Church. The morning session (with presbyters, deacons and lay employees) was on the theme 'Church Without Walls'). A slightly different group met in the afternoon, including a number of supernumeraries, on 'Living with Difference'. 'Church Without Walls' turned out to have been an inspired choice of topic when we arrived at Penketh church (see picture), which currently is literally 'without walls' as it is part way through a redevelopment scheme.

Richard's blog has already described our Saturday at Southport - though I thought it worth including a picture of Richard in action at 'Dr Luke's Surgery', introducing the theme of medical ethics. This led to a very powerful set of conversations.

On Sunday, after our trip to Radio Merseyside, I preached at Court Hey Methodist Church at a communion service led by the Revds Caroline Ainger and Sally Binymin. This was a very positive end to a much enjoyed District visit.