Thursday, 22 December 2011

December

London has been the centre of most of my activities since I last blogged! Living so far away from the so called centre of things its helpful to try to combine a whole lot of meetings when I’m in the capital so it was “wall to wall” from morning to night. Highlights included two visits to the House of Lords (I think I could get to like it!!) a site visit to the Olympic Stadium (a lengthy and most inspiring conversation with the Chaplain there and a handshake from Lord Coe!) as well as a visit to Stratford Methodist Church to hear how they are preparing for “the invasion” and learning to see it as a Gospel opportunity, a Carol service at the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in Poplar - an incredibly slow journey (how do people cope with it every day?) but an amazing work and a great service. Proud to be a Methodist there! It was also a real privilege to be at the Fresh Expressions Summit and to hear of the exciting things that are happening all around our Connexion where some folk are connecting with the Gospel and others re-connecting. It was also good (and humbling) to host with Ruth a day for the former Presidents and Vice Presidents and although it got occasionally out of hand (what do you expect with 44 church leaders in the room?) it seems to have been appreciated and Rev Dr Kenneth Greet’s gracious words at the end made it all worthwhile.

Then to Birmingham – the real capital of England – for the centenary service to mark the death of William McGregor, Founder of The Football League and Director of Aston Villa. All the great and the good from Villa were there – it was like heaven! Pity watching the team play at the moment is apparently like the other word beginning with H!

So now I’m in Norfolk and looking forward to something of a rest for a few days but with a certain nervous glance towards an incredibly busy January I suspect I’ll need to carve out some preparation time somewhere along the line!

A very happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year to all my patient readers!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ethiopia


Sitting in Addis Ababa airport (Tuesday night), so barring an overnight flight nearly home! What an exhilarating trip to Ethiopia! At times grueling (six hours walking each way to remote forest communities in high altitude). At times challenging (with no electricity or fresh water for three days - an experience of course which is a way of life for many Ethiopians) but always at every turn a breaking down of more pre-conceptions (see the Methodist Recorder Christmas edition!) Yes a country that has known much poverty and oppression but is so much more than that - the splendor of the countryside, the safety of the towns, the rich history of the Ethiopian people and not least of the church (as The Patriarch reminded us is the oldest church) see Acts 8 vv26 ff. Ethiopia needs many things but not least a more positive press in the west and plenty of tourists to visit Lalibela, source of The Blue Nile and wildlife in abundance - any takers?


I am so grateful to MRDF, to Simeon Mitchell and Charlotte! who looked after me and to MRDF's partner in Ethiopia SUNARMA for the opportunity to visit this amazing country and see the way in which climate change and deforestation has had a devastating effect but also the way in which Small Miracles are taking place as trees are planted, irrigation provided, alternative sources of income developed and those of how food, security and livelihoods are improved.




On my flight out I read of God's promise to his people of a future and a hope and on my return reflect on a people beginning to believe in both again. Please pray for them.


Monday, 28 November 2011

Blog for November

I realise that it’s been a month since I contributed to the blog; where has time gone? At the beginning of the month I spent time in the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District; a morning with ministers looking at the challenge of doing things differently (a challenge based very much on my trip with MRDF) and then a visit to Meeting Point House in Telford. This is the focal point for Telford Christian Council, which generates and supports a number of ecumenical projects around the Telford area. The building itself is impressive, incorporating a chapel which is used separately by a number of denominations; a café, and a number of offices for voluntary organisations. What a wonderful facility! I spent time with ‘Stay’. Stay exists in order to respond effectively to the accommodation and housing related support needs of vulnerable and homeless young people as a part of the mission of churches in the Borough of Telford & Wrekin. Here is truly love in action. “Lord, when did we see you?”

On from there (through a cloudburst) to spend time with an enthusiastic group of young people whom the church is serving in a different way. 3Generate –the Children and Youth Assembly - was nearly 48 hours of intense activity for about 200 of the under 25s in the Methodist Church. Held at Cleobury Mortimer Pioneer Centre. It gave the opportunity for craft, discussion, worship, fun, and challenge of growing faith and daring physical activity. (I managed to avoid the latter!)

I was, however, asked to give my testimony based on ‘the time I felt like Noah’ (getting there had been a bit like that)! What’s more, I had to give it at 11.30 pm, a time when I am normally fast asleep. And then facilitate a conversation in a small group. Oh to be young again!

What a hugely impressive group of people we have in the OPP scheme. They organised, facilitated, took part themselves, and generally were indispensable to the weekend. This is just what the church needs, and should value and prioritise with resources. I cannot speak too highly of them, nor the Regional Participation Project Managers, nor the staff of the Children and Youth Team based at MCH. Sam Taylor, the Youth President, shows remarkable leadership skills and did a brilliant job. They all deserve our support in whatever way we can give it for what they do to enable the faith life of children and young people.

A very different function was a reception given at the British Academy by Roehampton University, which incorporates Southlands College. All Universities are facing challenging times; Roehampton is taking a number of initiatives to respond to the challenge and grow its share of the student population. I heard some very articulate presentations, though was amazed that it seems to be common for such events to have only 1 dozen chairs available for the most infirm! The rest of us stood for an hour and a half. I must get used to London life.

Since then I have indulged in some non- VP life, including some paid work, an afternoon at Old Trafford (cricket) for Awards by the Princes Trust, in which a friend won in the category in which she had been shortlisted, and a day in Coventry for the Graduation of our ‘Kenyan son’ Linus. Plus three family birthdays. A number of celebrations, much enjoyed.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

This has been a very special couple of weeks. It began in a tent at the Monument in Newcastle in an hour’s conversation with the protesters. It’s been a long time since I discussed Hans Kung in church! Fascinating conversations and whatever the rights or wrongs I was challenged by the comment that “each of us can make a difference” and the mutual caring/sharing with Brunswick Methodist Church 20 yards away.


The Remembrance Service at The Cenotaph was unforgettable - for the timing, the silence, the dignity and the opportunity to speak to a number of High Commissioners - including from Fiji! The occasion demanded politeness (would I be anything else?) but I did indicate that our Methodist sisters and brothers in Fiji would continue to be the focus of our concern.


It seemed somewhat fitting that I should then spend the next couple of days with the Army Chaplains - it was their turn on a three year rota - and I was mightily impressed! I wonder why we sometimes think Chaplaincy is a soft option? All I can say is if spending seven months with our troops on the front line in Afghanistan caring for the injured and their families and grieving for the dead and the bereaved is a soft option then I don’t know what the hard one is! How much they are valued by the armed services - more than in the church I wonder? Perhaps a clue for the next intercessory prayer time at your local church?


And talking of prayer I led a day for Worship Leaders and Local Preachers in the Manchester and Stockport District last Saturday and thought the prayer pyramid at Cheadle Hulme was wonderful! It’s used before, during and after worship when anyone can come and light a candle. A far cry from my second Circuit where I was accused of being a Papist because I asked a child to carry a candle at the Nine Lessons and Carols Service!! Another good idea to pinch from others? Methodists are good at that!

Now after a weekend in Durham for the new Bishop’s Enthronement and the Advent Carol Service - something else Methodists could do well to “pinch” - its off to Ethiopia with MRDF. I can’t imagine what it will be like but moving and exhausting are two words that come to mind. Please pray for me, Charlotte and Simeon Mitchell (from MRDF) that the visit may be both informative for us and encouraging for others.

I’ll let you know how it went next time.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Retreats - Youth Assembly - Epworth Old Rectory


There couldn’t be more of a contrast between a Silent Retreat and Youth Assembly but my journey has taken me from one to the other during this past fortnight. I’m so glad that a retreat (or two!) was strongly recommended as part of my Presidential Year and three days at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire provided a haven for reading, walking, thinking, praying, worshipping, reflecting and sleeping in equal measure and it was an enriching time. Strange to be walking in the beautiful countryside in short sleeves in November though!

Youth Assembly didn’t provide much of the sleeping mentioned above - I thought 5.00am was nearer the time to get up than fall asleep! But it did provide an opportunity to meet and talk to so many children and young people (some around 5th November bonfire!) and be excited about what God is doing in their lives. The depth of commitment to the way of Christ was palpable and the sharing in worship on the Sunday, especially at Communion, was a profound experience. How our church needs to cherish and encourage these folk and all who mentor them for what gifts and insights they have to share with us if we are open to receive.


I enjoyed my visit to Epworth Old Rectory very much as I hadn’t been there for a number of years since I used to take Confirmation groups. I was particularly interested to learn how mission and spirituality are at the centre of their future plans for re-furbishment and expansion - a living and life-giving history if you like. Yet it is surprising how comparatively few Methodists have been and some have never even heard of it! Anyone for a coach trip?

To London next for the Remembrance Sunday Service at The Cenotaph. A silent part in more ways than one but an honour to be there. The military theme continues next week with two days spent with the Army and its Chaplains on Salisbury Plain. Hope its as warm and dry as it was at Launde Abbey!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

October schedule continued


October 13th Birmingham District

A day and a half at home and then down the motorway to Birmingham, to stay as a guest of Bill Anderson, Chair of the Birmingham District, for another long weekend packed with goodies. My bedroom overlooked the lovely manse garden which was surrounded by mature trees which caught the early morning sun and gleamed golden in their autumn glory. Collected by Peter Mills, a fellow synod secretary, I was taken to Quinton Methodist Church for a day with lay workers on ‘Knowing my Place’. We had an interesting time together exploring not only their journey of discipleship but also the varied vital roles they were fulfilling across the district (well two districts as some from W&S were attending). Hopefully an outcome will be that improved methods of communication are found re new initiatives, training and so on.

Saturday brought the excitement of unveiling a mural! What a great event it was, and such a privilege to share in the joy of the members at Stockland Green MC who had completely transformed their church premises (through a lot of commitment and elbow grease under the inspiring leadership of their minister, Nicola Jones) into a bright vibrant worship area and café, plus ancillary rooms. A real ‘tool for the job’ as every church building should be. It’s so lovely when stewards tell you proudly “I’m a steward here and its wonderful!”. The short service at which the President and I were to unveil the mural instructed us to stand on specially constructed boxes (so that we could be seen by all) and ‘unveil the mural with care’ in case pulling off the masking tape which was holding the curtain on resulted in pulling the mural off the wall as well!

Then the crowds gathered from other places for a day on ‘worship’ with a keynote address by Leo which people immediately demanded copies of, then workshops on a variety of facets of worship. Geoff Bond, the Training Officer had skilfully put the day together so that everyone went away enriched by some means or other.

I was then taken by a friend from way back, Revd Anne Smith, to her home in Worcester as I was to preach at St.Andrew’s the next morning. It was great to share in communion the following morning, 12 of us around the bread and wine in a lovely small chapel, and then morning worship in the main sanctuary area up two flights of stairs. A magnificent stained glass window links the 3 floors – the church is integral to a shopping precinct. Then from 12, via 100 to 600 worshippers in the evening, gathered in Hereford Cathedral by warm invitation of the Dean, to celebrate our new hymnal ‘Singing the Faith’. How else could we possibly start than by singing ‘O thou who camest from above’ to the tune ‘Hereford’ (composed by Charles Wesley’s grandson Samuel Sebastian who was organist at Hereford Cathedral 1832-35). Led by a 100-strong choir and a marvellous organist, we took a journey through our history and a look into the future.

The next day we enjoyed lunch and conversation in Stratford with members of ‘supernumerary’ households and it was good to meet up with friends from days gone by. I just wish we could come up with a better term than supernumerary because many of the people so described are an essential part of circuit ministry teams and all of them enrich our church life immensely. Then to Haseley, for a short visit to St Mary’s where a small gem of a chapel holds some of our ancestral history. Susannah Wesley’s father Samuel Annesley was baptised here. He went on to be ordained and eventually became a lecturer at St’ Paul’s Cathedral. Susannah, his youngest daughter, was said to have 24 brothers and sisters!! Thank you to Helen Bell and Pauline Warner for this fascinating insight. Pauline then took us on to Coventry, to Abbey Park MHA where she is Chaplain, and we experienced their harvest festival. This was also my first introduction to a ‘fruit tree’, which was delicious. MHA take the spiritual aspect of life very seriously and here they are designing a ‘pilgrimage room’ where even the housebound may continue their journey with God. It will be open to residents, staff and families of whatever faith or none.

Also in Coventry I was able to meet with Kenyan ‘son’ Linus whilst Leo and Bill went to the Cathedral and caught the end of evensong.

Tuesday 18th I had a non-VP morning and went to the biannual gathering of Myers-Briggs practitioners in Birmingham which always gives me fresh insights into one of my favourite ‘tools’. Then the main part of the day was spent at the vibrant institution which is the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, which includes the Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies. What a wonderful experience! We had conversation with the Anglican Principal David Hewlitt and the Methodist Oversight Tutor Helen Cameron, which made us aware of the very real challenges facing the Foundation. Then I was privileged to lead an hour’s seminar with the international mission students and Leo led a seminar with ministerial formation students. We had some challenging questions to consider, which is only right in such an place. At 5 pm we gathered for worship and students filled the chapel for a moving service of Holy Communion which was a perfect amalgam of Methodist and Anglican practice. This was a fitting way to end what had been a very full, very inspiring time in the Birmingham district. Once again, I am thankful for the very care-full planning of those concerned.

Thursday 20th October: to London for a celebration of 150 years of the Methodist Recorder. Passport and invitation in hand (for it was to be in the House of Commons) it was good to participate in a reception hosted by Methodist MP Meg Munn. It is truly remarkable that the MR has served the Methodist people for such a long time, and we are all aware of the challenges facing the newspaper industry today. I remained in the London area for the following day’s celebration: a thanksgiving service for the publication of Singing the Faith, held at another historic building, Wesley’s Chapel. Not 1 but 3 accomplished organists accompanied our singing, (sequentially) which as you can imagine, was lusty! I was privileged to be able to present music copies to members of the Music Resources Group, some of whom had given 7 years of their lives to the new hymn collection. We are truly thankful.

Tuesday 25th: my own district, the World Church meeting, where I gave a presentation of our time in South Africa in August. Happy memories!

Friday 28th: a train journey to Oxford, to be met by a friend, Eddie Fowler, who shared my teenage years at North Harrow. Lots of reminiscing to do there then! Eddie had invited me to the Witney and Faringdon Circuit and the weekend started well with a buffet supper at Stella Bristow’s, a former VP. It’s always good to compare experiences and always reassuring to know that your prayer card is in constant use. Two workshops followed on the Saturday, at Faringdon MC/URC, where a fellow Meth Soc friend, Dave Headey, is a member . More reminiscing! Then on the Sunday, 2 services at Witney (sadly the Prime Minister did not turn up for either) and during the evening service the joyful admission of a new Local Preacher. It was a lovely weekend, and once again the generous hospitality of the people called Methodist was very much in evidence. Good, also to have David share in the weekend, including the leading of the Saturday Morning workshop. And great to be driven home!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Enjoying a few days break sandwiched between visits/services in East Anglia. The last two weeks have been non-stop but hugely rewarding including:- an interview on Radio WM, meeting the Chaplain at Villa Park (heaven!), a study day on worship, preaching in my brother’s church at Longbridge, a fantastic service in Hereford Cathedral to celebrate Singing the Faith, meeting staff and students at Queen’s College, two days learning abut the West Norfolk and Ipswich Circuits at close hand, being inspired by risk-taking with worship and buildings in St Ives and Cottenham (Cambridge) respectively, afternoons with Graham Locking our Chaplain to the horse-racing industry at Newmarket and with Briant Smith our Chaplain to The Broads, discovering in Felixstowe what Parish Nursing is and preaching last Sunday in Norwich and at Blakeney where we spent our honeymoon and where they are about to celebrate their 200th anniversary.

So my retreat next week has come at just the right time and should set me up nicely for Youth Assembly!

Thanks for your continued prayers.

Monday, 24 October 2011

District Visits

Well, a lot has happened in the past 4 weeks and I haven’t had time to set it down for the blog till now!

On the last day of September I set off for my first proper district visit, to Bolton and Rochdale. The weather was baking hot for 2 visits to MHA homes, Epworth Grange in Bury and Beechville in Bolton. Accompanied by Paul Martin, who had hardly had time to settle in to the post of District Chair, we met up with Revd Keith Albans and Angela Robinson from MHA who escorted us for the day.

It turned out that it was ‘Africa day’ at Epworth Grange and many of the staff were in African dress – if only I’d known I could have worn African dress too! We were served the most delicious African snacks, which the residents also enjoyed, and a wonderful curry lunch. Sadly we couldn’t stay for the drumming workshop that afternoon! The social activities run at the home are impressive. There is something every day to engage the residents. There are also 2 garden areas, including raised beds which the residents are able to work themselves if they wish. Although all the rooms are bright and airy, the room that impressed me most was the hairdressing salon, which was a room fit to be pampered in!

Moving on to Beechville, we joined in a harvest celebration and then witnessed a music therapy session. We saw how effective making music can be for dementia sufferers, and how skilfully George encouraged people to share their story by means of familiar songs. The holistic approach to life in the ‘fourth age’ in both these Homes was evident.

Saturday dawned even hotter – just the weather to discourage people from turning up to an all day workshop. Nevertheless, more than sixty people from across the district arrived to take part in a day to explore their ‘gifts differing’ and think about how they can use them in teams to care for each other and for the life of the church. An important visual aid was a game of Jenga! Aspull Methodists were great hosts for the day.

Sunday was another busy day – first a service at Chorley Old Road, where I was warmly thanked not only with a bouquet but also an Indian garland beautifully made by Mrs Matcha, wife of the minister. Then after a good bowl of homemade soup, off to Leigh, to a church confusingly (to my PA) called Bedford Methodist Church. Here was to be my first official ‘opening’, of the brand new Bedford Methodist Church Community Hall. I cut the red ribbon and unveiled a plaque, and the Head Teacher of the local Methodist School unveiled a plaque for a time capsule that the children had assembled.

A great feast was then laid out, and much conversation filled the time until the evening Circuit service. It was indeed a day of celebration and a fitting end to the visit.


Monday 3rd October:

Sadly my next duty was tinged with a great deal of regret. A service of thanksgiving was held at the Resourcing Mission Office in Manchester to mark the end of an era, as only three posts will remain there in 2012 following the culmination of the Team Focus process. The chapel was full of people who had come to pay tribute to the staff teams who had worked there over many years, originally in the Property Office.

Scotland

Thursday 6th October dawned cold and blustery as I made my way to Manchester airport to catch a plane to Edinburgh. Autumn has arrived! It was good to be met by a former colleague and good friend Helen Wareing, spend a little time doing something really normal like walking the dog (shame about the ferocious Jack Russell who terrified said dog) and then to the home of the Letbys (Andrew and I did our MA course work together a few years back) for a delicious meal. Probably sooner or later I shall stop commenting on the delicious meals because they seem to crop up very regularly!

Next morning I met with the Edinburgh and Forth Circuit staff for a tour of their churches, which fortunately took place in a church hall, with a named ‘place’ on the floor on which to place symbolic items. The staff are looking seriously at the kind of resources that each congregation needs to engage in mission. It was a prayerful journey as we held each congregation in turn before God. Then I was whisked off to meet with Lily Twist, (District Chair), Sheilagh Kesting (Ecumenical Officer and former moderator of the Church of Scotland) and David Bradwell (Church and Society Council of the C of S) for a useful conversation on Scotland’s political and social concerns. It’ s good to hear of the close working relationship between many of the churches. By train, then, to Stirling for tea and then a car journey to Paisley for an evening at the Methodist Church looking at ‘Glimpses of God’ with my prayer cards. Home-made cakes too! That was a very full day!

I’m learning quickly that district boundaries in Scotland (the whole country!) are indeed far flung in comparison with England. On Saturday we travelled to Perth for a whole day workshop on the treasure of early Methodism – small groups. ‘Meet, pray , love (where love is an active verb) was the theme, which we explored in groups with great energy – despite the fact that some had travelled four hours or more to be there. What commitment! Methodist churches can be widely separated from each other and the district is working hard on imaginative plans to reorganise for maximum benefit from scarce resources of personnel.

Perth Methodist Church welcomed me for the Sunday morning service, which incorporated Communion taken ‘in the pews’ – a first for me. Then, via Stirling to Glasgow, to be met by Alan Anderson and taken to Shettleston MC for a lively circuit service (all songs from Singing the Faith).

This hectic but fruitful visit had a leisurely end in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery where I enjoyed the works of the’ Glasgow School’ chief among whom was Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Wonderful! And thank you to the three couples who provided me with bed and breakfast (not to mention the other delicious meals.)

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Three and a half weeks away from Newcastle - my longest time away from home so far.

From the Birmingham District where I am at present I head off to East Anglia and after a few days holiday and retreat in the East Midlands, spend time at the Youth Assembly in Kidderminster and end up at the Old Rectory in Epworth! So I’m taking in a good chunk of the Midlands and East of England on this “leg” and looking forward to all the variety very much, although hope there wont be too many letters, emails or unexpected meetings/crises to deal with along the way as I’m not quite sure where I’ll fit them in!

The two Conferences I’ve attended since I last “blogged” were fascinating - so many weird and wonderful exhibitions, protesters and covert conversations with so much adulation for

David Cameron even when he stepped out of the hotel or appeared on video link! But in the light of the present recession I couldn't help but remember what happened after the adulation of Palm Sunday! But it was a good opportunity to meet with members of “the hierarchy” including Eric Pickles and Dominic Grieve the Attorney General and with other Free Church Leaders to talk about a wide range of issues including the Big Society and I was very impressed with the careful listening and genuine engagement that took place.


The Score Conference for Sports Chaplains was marred by the sudden death of one of

the Chaplains attending but it was still a privilege to spend time with our Methodist Chaplains in the horseracing, cricket and football world and to learn about the needs and opportunities that such chaplaincy involves. Please pray for them and the other200 chaplains serving the sports industry. Henry Olonga was our great speaker and hearing him speak about how his faith had led him to protest against the Mugabe regime was a reminder of the continuing need to pray for the people of Zimbabwe and not least the Christians there.


See you next time - hopefully when I’m on “holiday”!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ventures new

I’m beginning to realise how much I have never done before. So I have now visited two political party conferences in the space of 9 days, never having been to one previously. It was interesting to compare the Lib-Dem and the Labour party conferences. It was back to Birmingham to attend the Lib-Dem, in the company of other Free Church leaders and under the guidance of Frank Kantor from our amazing Joint Public Issues Team. I sat in on Vince Cable’s speech (‘no sunny uplands’) attended a Q and A forum at lunchtime and was pleased to head Paddy Ashdown as one of the panel, then attended a debate . I was fascinated by their management of the debate – if you wish to speak you have to hand a card in prior to the debate with your name and a précis of the point you wish to make, and then wait to see if you are selected to speak. A few people are allowed to make a minute’s ‘intervention’ which does give some sense of spontaneity, but I thought it lacked some sense of excitement. By contrast, at the Labour Conference, when the presenters have spoken people leap to their feet waving items that distinguish them from others and so we had ‘the man with the green tie’ followed by ‘the woman with the red scarf’ and ’the man with the stripey shirt on the second row’ come to the podium! Great fun! But for both parties there was the sense that they are still trying to come to terms with the move to the other end of the divide between opposition and government.

A day at each conference was spent in a series of conversations with individual politicians, asking them to clarify matters of policy; informing them of our particular concerns for society in our churches; asking them how we can best make our concerns known and assuring them of our prayers for the difficult decisions they have to make.

Both Conferences also gave us the welcome opportunity to share in prayer with the Christian movement in each party, at breakfast and lunchtime meetings which were also open to local Christians. And six in the morning is a good time to get up.

My weekend trips have now started. A Sunday in Leicester, with Oadby in the morning as part of their 80 year anniversary celebrations. Another shared breakfast, this time with their brand new ‘Family Breakfast’ which was an early morning Messy Church. As I was a bit more dressed up than I would normally be for messy church, I stood well back when a budding Jackson Pollock got going. Fortunately the stewards’ dress was washable! The service that followed was a wonderful act of worship in which a number of people were received into membership and about 180 of us shared communion. This ‘feast’ was followed by the best Sunday dinner I have had for many years, and I have to say has set a high benchmark for any other Sunday hosts.

On then to Syston for a very different act of worship which I co-led with a friend of many years, Jo Kay, who is a member there. David joined me and we had a great time.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Through all the changing scenes of life

What a varied few days - just like Circuit or District ministry! Presiding at the service to mark the retirement of the writer of the church column in The Northern Echo who is also Chairman of The Northern Football League, world domino's champion (or something!) and real ale expert was an exciting challenge - with football people, journalists, church goes and well-wishers among the 150 congregation in Darlington. A real opportunity to talk about the Christ who holds all things together!

Plymouth and Exeter District is a long way from the north-east and seems more scattered so it was good to be in some of the places at the edge (in Bude and Minehead) as well as in Exeter. Two Circuit Inaugurations and one Circuit service. Folk seemed in good heart, the welcome was warm as were the pasties and the cream teas were delicious! Bang goes the pounds I lost during the Great North Run! Then to the Connexional Leaders Forum (+ extras) in Northampton with some really important discussions centered around The Fruitful Field project. If you haven't heard of it already you soon will! It could have got out of hand especially with me chairing but the graciousness and careful listening to one another that I valued at Conference was present again.

But the highlight of the past few days? Probably visiting the Local Worship and Preachers Trust Home at Westerley in Minehead and just being able to chat to the residents there - one just turned
100 and another (only 93!) who preached at a service when I sensed God's call that I should offer to become a Chair of District. Realised again that Pastoral Care is where my heart is - not least because of all I receive from it!


Before you hear from me again I shall hopefully have survived/enjoyed Conservative Party Conference, Score Chaplains Conference, Methodist Council and a trip to Birmingham to begin my 5 day visit! Its all varied but hugely interesting and an enormous privilege. Thanks for your prayers. Last chance to donate to MRDF (Run Fund!). Can we push it up to £5000 - I think so!

PS In the sea at Sunderland yesterday with Charlotte my wife. You'll never see such a picture again! No one swims at Sunderland (even in July) but then its never been so hot before!



Monday, 19 September 2011

Blog Bonus!

Its a little known fact that Joseph The Hymnographer (9th century) wrote a hymn for the Great North Run! It can be found at No. 977 in the Methodist Hymn Book but for some unaccountable reason was not included in Hymns & Psalms or in Singing the faith! The second verse reads:



The prize, the prize secure!

The athlete nearly fell;

Bare all he could endure,

And bare not always well:

But he may smile at troubles gone

Who sets the victor-garland on.


My experience exactly! Although to be absolutely fair it was not half as bad as I feared and I completed it in 2 hours 55 minutes starting at No. 53509 and ending 34561 (just ahead of a man carrying a fridge but just behind the Tellytubbies!) so I was quite chuffed really! Better still sponsorship for MRDF looks as if it might reach £4000! So thank you for all your greetings, encouragement, prayers and gifts. If you would still like to donate just a reminder that the website is http://www.justgiving.com/lionelosborn

Thursday, 15 September 2011



Well it's been a strange couple of weeks! A case of a tale of one city which I was due to visit three times and only ended up going to twice!



Wesley's Chapel was wonderful - a full church, much life and energy and plenty of young people! To preach from Wesley's pulpit and distribute the elements from Wesley's table with memorials to the saints of Methodism all around me was both awesome and humbling. A very special day!




The New Year service at Methodist Church House provided an opportunity to put faces to names because despite what some may think - and the way some are treated - they are people and they work hard for God to enable the church to function at its best. It would be lovely to think that this year they might receive more encouragement and less brickbats from the people called Methodists!


But visit number three to the TUC never happened because at the very last minute they decided they wanted to go "in house" and guests were to be excluded. This was a great pity as links with the Trade Unions have historically been very important to both sides but hopefully normal service will be resumed next year.



But the two "free" days gave me an opportunity to fulfil a promise I had made to the Methodist Church in Ghana when I was there recently and that was to take a gift and certificate to three former missionaries from the British Methodist church who had signed their autonomy document fifty years ago and who they wished to honour. A doddle I thought they're bound to live in London, Manchester or ...... Newcastle? Not a bit of it - North Yorkshire, Somerset and The Republic of Ireland! So I've been to Settle and to Tullamore so far and hope to get to Weston Super Mare next weekend on my way back from Plymouth and Exeter District. They were long days but I think good visits and impossible of course to quantify in terms of distance or time.



Well The Great North Run approaches! Apprehensive but confident I can at least walk if not run it but a pity the sun has started shining warmly in the North-East at last!!

Monday, 12 September 2011

September is a month for Beginnings

September 1st A new connexional year dawned hazily on with a promise of a busy schedule. I was looking forward to the visit that evening to the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, where a celebration service was planned for the inauguration of the new Birmingham Circuit. Leo and I had both been invited, and Leo was born and bred in Birmingham. My links are through one of my daughters, who studied and then practised jewellery there, so I had visited fairly frequently. Also, I greatly enjoy the end products from the local chocolate factory!

Preparing for the service with Leo and Bill Anderson in a room marked ‘dignitaries’, it was a great joy when Irene, an ‘ordinary’ yet extraordinary Methodist member, entered the room and invited the President, Vice-President and Chair of District to pray. She led us without a hint of self-consciousness. It’s that kind of thing that makes me proud to be a Methodist.

The service was wonderful, 2 hours of praise and prayer that included drama, dance, a great deal of singing and a very moving meditation on the city. Leo preached a memorable sermon based on his childhood memories of Birmingham and using a number of incidents to illustrate different facets of the theme ‘The River of Life’.

Prayers in the service faced honestly the challenges to be met as such a large circuit, whose three co-superintendents were inducted that evening. May God prosper the work.

September 2nd brought a trip to London to welcome the incoming Youth President, Sam Taylor, and the new OPPs (One Programme Participants) and to say farewell and thank you to the outgoing Youth President Christy- Anna Errington and the previous OPPs. I was glad to be able to honour their work with a certificate. There is a real buzz about the One Programme (previously known as the Youth Participation Strategy). it took a while to refine but now seems to be bringing something really good to the church. The outgoing OPPs had grown in experience and maturity through the opportunity given to them, and were sad to finish. We need to cherish this programme.

September 4th

For the President, the joy of preaching in Wesley’s Chapel. For me, a second circuit inauguration. This time it was my home circuit; the new Dane and Trent Circuit. Without leaving the same town I have been a member in three different circuits in 3 years! Prior to the service we gathered for cake and conversation before an act of worship that drew on the skills of about 60 singers and musicians. I was able to draw on some of my experiences with MRDF in Kenya as I encouraged those present to face the future with faith and determination.

September 7th

To London again. Fortunately it’s a very good train from Stoke-on-Trent which takes less than 90 minutes. This time it is the connexional team’s New Year service, which is an annual event. It’s good to have the opportunity to meet afterwards and get to know some of those who work behind the scenes in administration, and who rarely get thanked. The service was poignant because it was attended by some of the staff from Manchester who would shortly be leaving the team after many years’ service.

September 8th

This time the train was going north, to Durham, where I attended a two-day conference about Diaconal Ministry (oops, we were told that was tautology) which was very stimulating and even more so because it was well attended by deacons from other denominations. It was also good because it focused on both research and practice. Even better, it was 5 minutes’ walk to the magnificent cathedral, and I managed to spend a little time there. Strangely enough, I encountered a man who used to be our lodger 30 years ago!

September 9th involved the longest journey of the month – 5.5 hours on a cross-country train to the south west, to attend the wedding of godson Tom to Annie, and to pray for God’s blessing on the beginning of their married life on the 10th September.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Greenbelt!




A wonderful time at Greenbelt - even if only for one day! A pity I didn’t have the chance to read the programme on the way there rather than the way back so that I could have used every available minute and sampled even more “goodies” but as it happened it was really important to be in the Methodist tent and meet so many interesting people including someone from Sunday school days who I hadn’t seen for nearly 50 years!

I was so impressed with Greenbelt where different expressions of faith seemed to be able to live comfortably with each other because the focus was on Christ The King and what it means to live by Kingdom values. A picture of heaven maybe? I am so glad that the Methodist Church has invested time and money into Greenbelt. It seems to me to be so much at the heart of Our Priorities and of Our Discipleship that it would be silly not to!


In Birmingham now. It’s good to be back in the city of my birth to share in the Inauguration of the new Birmingham Circuit in the splendid surroundings of The Symphony Hall and to have a day off in the equally splendid surroundings of the “new” Edgbaston to join in Warwickshire’s march in the County Championship!

Next it’s London - Wesley Chapel on Sunday and the New Year Service at Methodist Church House on Wednesday. Please continue to pray for all who work and minister in London at this difficult time.

PS Update on Great North Run (18th September) 8 ½ miles in running so far - not sure I’ll manage much further but intent to walk some of it anyway! Keep praying - and giving!!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Kenyan safari with MRDF

No, not the kind involving lions – safari is Kiswahili for ‘journey’. We travelled from Jo’burg to Nairobi where we met Audrey Skervin from MRDF, with whom we were to visit some projects which MRDF help to fund. We spent a night in the Methodist Guest House and then returned to the airport to take a small plane up country to Kitale, which is near the border with Uganda. I sat next to an Oxfam worker who was going to assess the situation in the refugee camps in the far north; I didn’t envy her role as part of the Emergency Response team. The plane landed and offloaded us at Kitale, and then flew on to Lodwar with a number of others from NGOs. Kitale airport building would almost fit into our lounge and it didn’t take us long to collect our luggage. We were met by Jack Wafula, the director of SMART, a small NGO that has been working in the area for about 6 years. He took us to our lodgings for the next 3 nights – the Mid-Africa Hotel. I felt it would have been at home in a Graham Greene novel, though I was unable to tell whether any political intriguing was taking place! However, our shower and flushing toilet worked perfectly, and we appeared to be the only living creatures in our bedroom so all was fine.

It was to be the base for 3 wonderful days of learning and adventure. SMART had arranged a programme for us of 2 days of visits to self-help groups of farmers in the undeveloped West Pokot region. The Pokot tribe historically were pastoralists, but cattle rustling and drought gradually led to them settling down as farmers, growing mainly maize and beans. The cost of seeds and frequent droughts meant that they rarely had enough to eat and sometimes no food for months on end. Infant mortality from malnutrition was high, though attributed to witch-craft. Some formed self-help groups in an attempt to survive by sharing scarce resources. Then SMART came along and helped them to learn how to grow a wide variety of traditional crops in raised beds; to store food well; to harvest water and to save seeds for the next year. The condition of opting into the scheme was that they would themselves have to teach their neighbours how to do the same. Some of them were also given Value Added training in bookkeeping, marketing and cooking the foods in imaginative ways.

The difference it has made is impressive. No children are thought to have died from malnutrition in the areas served by the scheme. The land looks very fertile in comparison with the semi-arid region around, and the farmers are able to sell excess produce for enough income to send their children to school. They have gained many new skills.

We were made welcome by traditional dancing, being drawn into the dance by invitation and the giving of necklaces. At one farm we were invited in for a midday meal of goat stew, ugali (maize mash) and black nightshade (rather like spinach and very cheap to grow). Once again, we experienced the generous hospitality of people who were living near to the margins. Given that the Daily Nation was announcing that the cost of maize had risen by 84% in 12 months we could see the sense in reintroducing the traditional crops of finger millet and sorghum, which in fact are also more nutritious. The seed companies that persuaded people to almost exclusively plant maize in the 1980s have arguably had a large part to play in the cycle of poverty and hunger.

The safari was made even more entertaining by travelling in a 4x4 pickup truck (we picked a lot of people up and were 14 at one stage. Audrey wasn’t sure what MRDF would think of this.) Despite us speaking only 2 phrases in the local language we had a lot of laughter and a great time together bumping along the murram roads. They were much more enjoyable than the fume filled traffic jams that have almost paralysed life in Nairobi. A fuller account of our trip can be found on the MRDF website.

Nairobi

We flew back to Nairobi on a 29 seater and said farewell to Audrey. Back at the Methodist Guest House we encountered Andy Moffoot, the British Representative to the Kenyan Methodist Conference, due to start the next week. The Guest house is a great place to catch up with people, and we always enjoy staying there. Next, our friends Elijah and Priscilla appeared. It’s only 3 weeks since we said farewell to them in England but it seems much longer. We made plans for the next day (always a triumph of optimism over experience, making plans in Kenya) when we are due to meet with the Presiding Bishop at 10.00 but assume we will be free after about 11.00! He turned out to have much more in store for us, so after meeting members of staff at the Ministries’ Centre and learning about their hopes for raising enough money to complete this ambitious project of supporting the maintenance and outreach of the Church by means of rental from the very prestigious offices they are building, we moved on to the Nairobi campuses of KeMU (Kenyan Methodist University) which was the ambitious vision of a previous Presiding Bishop, Lawi Imathieu. He must surely praise God for the way in which his vision has been realised, for it has sites across Kenya and a good reputation. We were fortunate to hear from the Vice-Chancellor how he has Government permission to start a medical school on the Meru Campus, with Maua Methodist Hospital being used for training medics. The KeMU curriculum brochure shows that all courses are applied subjects – not for Kenya the luxury of pure maths or physics, media or film studies. Agriculture and social policy issues feature heavily, but all students take classes in theology, health studies and personal development. It was good to catch up with John Ataya, whom I first met 24 years ago when he was a student minister at the Methodist Training Institute. He is now deputy Vice-Chancellor; in fact over the week I met a number of people whom I first met in 1987, when I went to Kenya as the enabler with the British Youth Exchange. A fair number of them are Bishops (the Kenyan equivalent of District Chair) or prominent academics. Many of them will have had their schooling at least partially funded by Mission Partners. It was money well spent!

Then for something completely different we were taken to Kariorkor MC where the church, which is set in a very poor area, has a big programme of social outreach. We learnt of the work focussing on the Youth – a popular activity is a competition between the male and female youth in goat-roasting! Andy Moffoot, who accompanied us for the day, was not entirely certain it would cross cultures to his youth group. More seriously, there is an excellent programme of Bible study and small fellowship groups for different ages. MCK has experienced some of the ‘Missing Generation’ challenges that we have, and has in consequence many churches have a separate youth worship on a Sunday, and a full programme of theological and social activities that are age-specific.

The day was brought to a conclusion with afternoon tea at the PB’s home, where we were served by his lively wife Mercy. We carried forward our unrealised plans for the Masai market to Saturday. It had been a very informative day, and we were grateful for the hospitality shown to us.

Karibuni! (welcome all)

The following day we had another full day of visits, but this time to projects which are supported by the Karibuni Trust (long headed up by Rev Bill and Joy Murphy). Rev Julius Kithinji picked us up, and we drove to Tusaidie Watoto nursery school in the giant slum Kibera. We had first visited with Bishop Maureen Jones in 2000 and still have the recordings of the children singing to us. It has grown in complexity since that time, with feeding programmes for older children as well as education for pre-primary school. The social worker Makena visits the homes of the children to assess what needs they have. We were privileged to go into Kibera and spend a little time in two homes. We were accompanied by Eric, a remarkable young man who was in the nursery school in 1998 and has recently started at University having won a scholarship which makes his funding possible. Karibuni still support him by paying his monthly room rental. His parents’ home in Kibera would fit into our kitchen; his mother Elizabeth and father Charles still live there with their four daughters. Charles earns a living by mending watches, but the ubiquitous, and very cheap, mobile phones are putting him out of business – people no longer need watches. We visited another home, where a mother nursed her youngest child. The nursery can only take one child from each family – this mother has eight children and a husband who has spasmodic casual work. Again, the house is poorly built of wood and mud, and reached by a walkway that contains human waste. It is the responsibility of a landlord, to whom rent is paid. There is an illegal electricity supply in Kibera tapped off the nearby grid. Because it is so basic, there are instances of electrocution and fires frequently. Water has to be fetched in plastic containers at 3Ksh a go. (The nursery school uses about 30 a day even though it pays water rates – water pressure is so low that none arrives at their premises.) I looked hopefully for signs of the water stations featured in Christian Aid week in 2009 but there were none in this part of the slum. Yet there is a dignity about many of the people, and a hope that things will one day be better. Certainly, it does seem to have improved slightly since 2000.

Moving on, we also visited the work at Kawangware – the church that pulled down its building to build a school, continuing to worship in a makeshift hall. It serves an area of great poverty, but we were served a delicious lunch of rice and stew which 3 women had prepared for us. By this time we were an hour behind schedule and Julius was anxious. We needed to be back by 4.30 for another meeting with the PB and Julius had a service to lead!


Nevertheless, we made time to call in at Oases Academy, run by Judith (an ex TDO colleague) and her husband Josh. They have just put up new buildings on a bigger plot of land and we wanted to see how things were progressing. Even though it was school holidays, some of the teachers and children had gathered to meet with us, and we were able to give them some stationery. The very clean pit latrine provided a welcome comfort stop too! They have needed to start a feeding programme, for though the drought and famine is most acute in the north of Kenya, there is also hunger in the slums communities. Josh is making up food parcels to distribute. For more info go to www.oasescommunitycentre.com

By this time we had pretty much abandoned our timetable and Julius was

determined that we should visit Embakasi, where the Methodist Church serves a slum fairly near the airport. The trouble is, what should in theory be a 20 minute journey in Nairobi almost al

ways takes an hour. Or more. But Embakasi folks were expecting us – indeed, they had prepared a ‘few snacks’ which would have quite easily fed 3 times our number. After we had eaten, we were shown their new water tank and toilet block, provided with the help of the Karibuni Trust. They are building a new church too, as funds permit. In the most difficult of conditions, we have seen with our own eyes how Methodists are wor

king out their faith. It is very humbling. You can learn more about the work supported by the Karibuni Trust on www.karibuni.org.uk .

We turned up at the PB’s office 30 minutes late for a second scheduled meeting. Also wearing the clothes put on that morning for visiting the poorer parts of the city. My trainers, in which I ran 10K to raise money for MRDF are now red with the soil of West Pokot and further coloured by the walkways in the slums. The PB doesn’t mind – we have been ‘field-workers’ today. And we have been encouraged to learn how the gospel is being lived out by our brothers and sisters in Christ in Kenya. Not only mission alongside the poor, but evangelism in new territories, replacing the fear which arises out of some of the traditional beliefs and practices with the trust and confidence of the Christian life. Kwaheri – we will surely return.