Friday, 28 January 2011

South and North ~ Choices

The southern part consisted partly of a Sunday service and lunch shared with the people of Henlow and the Biggleswade Circuit. We had a great time celebrating the hundred year worshipping journey from Onion Barn to the current modern building ~ and on into the future!

The second part was the District Retreat at Pleshey. We reflected on light and darkness and choice ~ and God's voice in the midst of it all. We shared in conversation and silence and were led in prayer by members of the group. We considered God's word in Scripture, in poetry, in music and in pictures. And some of us reflected by using various art materials that were on offer.

It was good to be able to share in this way and to be reminded that God is present in silence and laughter, in deep conversation and in light-hearted fun. That all of us have insight to share, vision to offer, gifts for which all can be grateful, and courage for the journey ahead.

Thank you to all who made this such a rich time and from whose contributions I have continued to learn.

The northern stop was my visit to HMP Altcourse and the privilege of sharing in a SORI afternoon at the end of the Restorative Justice Week. It is impossible to do justice (excuse the intended pun!) to the impact of this work. The offenders involved and those who facilitated the course had worked incredibly hard to enable the offenders to choose to recognise their own responsibilities and to take this opportunity to say "Sorry". If you find it hard to believe that a week's course can change somebody's life contact the Reverend Martin Earl at the prison - or anyone else who is involved in Restorative Justice work and see it for yourself. All of us who attended this afternoon were deeply moved by all we heard and shared ~ and believe me, most of us were not the sort of people to be easily fooled by the usual sob-stories!

We saw the results of their work not only in the material on the walls of the Chapel, but in the lives of both prisoners and ex-prisoners. SORI makes it possible for prolific offenders to change and can provide the opportunity for victims of crime to find a better ending than the court case gave them. It makes sure that the wide ranging effects of crimes are taken seriously by offenders, often for the first time in their lives, and can result in real change for all. It was well worth the journey and I trust all Christians can find ways of supporting this work.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Methodist Council

On 25 January 2011 we gathered at Methodist Church House in London for the Methodist Council. I am deeply impressed by the commitment of the members of Council and the gracious and prayerful manner in which the business is presented and discussed.

Click here .....for Methodist Council Papers

Amongst other things we heard a report on the effects of poverty in the UK (it is estimated that 13.5 million people live in poverty in the UK) with concerns that the current climate is likely to find more people falling into poverty with the spending cuts . The housing benefit reform in particular will have the greatest impact on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our country.

I was delighted to read the paper on workloads and governance with practical responses as to how we can all work in our structures with more manageable workloads.

It felt very appropriate that as council met during the 'Week of Prayer for Christian Unity' we looked at 'Belonging Together-inclusive Church and Equality and Diversity.' This session was led in a very creative way to enable us to engage with the themes of the Project, embracing cultural diversity and understanding in a multi-cultural society.

The Council also discussed the Church’s commitment to addressing climate change and voted to endorse Climate Week. Climate Week (21-17 March 2011) is a national week of positive action, seeking to offer an annual renewal of our ambition and confidence to combat climate change.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) Conference

The Joint Public Issues team (JPIT) is one of the best examples of ecumenical working I have encountered, it is a combination of Methodist Church, Baptist Church and United Reformed Church working together in a team to provide resources, support and encouragement to engage in the world around us.

Click here for the recent JPIT Newsletter

On Saturday 22nd January 2011 in Birmingham they organised a free conference entitled "Poverty of Ambition? Churches and a politics of hope".

Will Hutton provided a deeply challenging and insightful address on, 'The case for a Fairer Britain.' Amongst many other insights he argued a case for fairness rather than equality reflecting that fairness is hard-wired into the human condition.

Some quotes from Will Hutton...........

We need a fairness doctrine for our media and a media standards commission.
There is a need for inter-generational fairness, but also fairness in our media and our politics
Our children confront an 'Everest' of house prices. it's outrageous that there should be a million 18-24 years old out of work.
Inheritance tax isn't a death tax - it's a 'we share in your good luck' tax
Individuals have to take responsibility for their actions - this is a core building-block of Christian faith.
How do we live well? what moral compass can steer us?

Andrew Stunnell MP also spoke about 'Big Society' and the churches contribution commenting towards the end of his speech 'Don't wait for the guidebook, rules and regulations - stop waiting to be told, burst some barriers & start changing your communities.'

I have been involved in many debates around the Big Society from those who believe the rhetoric to be patronising towards faith communities who are already engaging with there communities in many and various ways and those who seek to participate in a new
initiative. In a recent conversation someone made the observation that there were so many descriptions of 'Big Society' that it was like holding onto jelly to which a colleague responded, 'Well then it presents an opportunity for the church to be the jelly mould.'

I believe
passionately that to be transformed by the gospel means that as disciples of Jesus we must engage our faith with the world around us. In my experience it is often in the act of engaging that I meet God and am transformed by the encounter.

The day left me pondering several questions..............

What is our response as a Methodist Church to the 'Big Society?'

How will we respond to the impact of the spending cuts on our communities?

Do we have the courage to reflect on how we as Churches/Circuits and Districts distribute our wealth?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Chester and Stoke-on-Trent ~ with thanks!

Hello again! The thanks are to Eunice who has already given you considerable insight into our visit. And to John for his excellent photos.

It will not surprise those of you who know me, or have been following this, that Saturday for me meant leading a Quiet Day. We reflected on pilgrimage and choices - and I was as grateful for the space as others seemed to be!

A great combination of prayer possibilities (If you haven't seen the Vice President's post, the first picture is the Beacon)
Sunday's worship, and conversation about the world context, was a joy and a delight - though a very full day. It was good to spend time with such a range of Methodist people - and various others! - with the combined focus on God and God's world. We prayed and reflected and considered our responsibilities in the light of God's love.

And we celebrated together 50 years of preaching and leading worship

Monday was my rural day. A combination of Cattle Market ~ which includes a wide range of animals and other products for those of you who have never been ~ a farm cafe lunch (which was excellent!) farm visits and conversation with many of the folk involved in Farm Chaplaincy work and support for farmers and farm workers. It was both informative and inspiring.
And then Tuesday gave me the opportunity to share face to face with a group on ministers, when we talked about spiritual growth, prayer accompanying, the importance of learning to say no at appropriate times, and Ignation Spirituality.
I still regret that in having to move on from one task to another, my reflection days become catch-up days and the blog is both later than I would like and more of a travelogue than a reflective place! But then it is not possible for either the Vice-President or myself to put all our reflections in the public domain!
Next stop is Beds, Essex, Herts!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Chester and Stoke District Visit

The President and I made a joint a joint visit to the Chester and Stoke District although we visited different Projects and Churches. Whilst Alison was hosted by the Chair of District Rev Peter Barber, John and I stayed with Rev Simon Simon Sutcliffe one of our Venture FX Pioneer Ministers. It was a joy to stay with Simon exploring some of the joys and challenges of this new and exciting Project.

About Venture FX.......
The Pioneering Ministries Scheme is a bold and exciting initiative to reach young adults with no Christian heritage. Over the next five years it is planned to identify 20 people with the gifts to pioneer new Christian communities among people of this age group, and 20 locations where this can happen.

The scheme is named VentureFX to reflect its objective, which is to establish fresh expressions of church in new places and in new ways within a culture of holy risk-taking. The scheme is intended to complement the grass roots development of fresh expressions throughout the church and will add a strategic dimension to what is already happening, by focusing on this age-group and by releasing those who are identified as having pioneering gifts to devote their energy and vision to this task.

Rev Ian Bell, the coordinator of the scheme, says, "I believe that the connexional Pioneering Ministries Scheme has the potential to release people with the appropriate gifts to establish new models of church and to offer an alternative pattern for creating Christian communities among some of the people who are hardest to reach in our contemporary culture. I am excited that the Methodist Church has the vision and determination to pursue such a ground-breaking and risky project."

The Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church endorses Venture FX by saying, 'A stated priority of the Methodist Church is to seek fresh ways of being church, particularly ways which enable groups of people largely missing from very many local churches today to encounter Christ, and his community of followers, and be invited to become Christian disciples. The Pioneering Ministries Scheme is an intentional attempt to pursue this priority in sensitive, authentic, apt and culturally appropriate ways.'

Venture FX Blog

Simon's role........ Simon is based in the centre of Stoke where there is currently no Methodist presence his ministry is to look at what it might mean to create community with people who do not attend church. Simon has just begun in Stoke and is spending time walking, networking and engaging with various Projects already based in the city and praying about how to engage with the night and daytime economy of the city. We spent several hours walking around the city (below is the rather colourful Town Hall) and talking about the challenges of this new and exciting Project and how we as a Methodist Church might be able to learn from all of our Pioneer Ministries. I thank God that as a church we have had the courage to invest in doing things differently and pray for all of those engaging in Pioneering, Venture Fx and Fresh expressions of Church.

Rev Simon Sutcliffe's Blog -VFX Hanley

Town Hall - Stoke on Trent

The Beacon - House of Prayer
The Chair of District Rev Peter Barber began our visit to the Chester and Stoke District by taking Alison and I to meet the team at The Beacon, House of Prayer meeting Rev William and Karin Porter again after many years, it was great to see how this ministry has developed. The Beacon's vision is to be a vibrant regional prayer facility praying for spiritual transformation in our city and nation and helping people explore prayer and the spiritual dimension to life. The House is open for anyone to use at regular times. There work is categorised into four main areas of presence, purpose, love and life.

-Multiple prayer rooms to use within the house and several website based prayer rooms where prayers can be posted and responded to.

-Engaging in corporate worship and prayer with a revival vision, asking God to release a greater measure of the Holy Spirit in our city and nation

Love - Love City hub - Our calling we believe is to be a prayer hub for our city and nation.
- Life Prayer outreach

Cross Rhythms Radio Station

If you will look carefully through the glass screen you might be able to spot the President and I being interviewed by the Chief Executive Officer of the local christian based community radio station Cross Rhythms. The President did a great job of answering some tricky questions about Methodism and where it was going in the future.
Cross Rhythms City Radio broadcasts as a community station for the whole community of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, with a Christian values ethos.The station is underpinned by Christian values but its content is driven by local issues. In the last three years they have established working partnerships with many community organisations including the police, council, local newspaper, health, employment and education agencies. They support and profile the theatres, local businesses, arts groups, ethnic organisations and many more and have been invited to support, and play an active role, in city wide initiatives such as Citizen Of The Year Awards, Stoke-on-Trent Music City, and CQ5 - The Cultural Quarter Festival. In describing their vision for the future, 'We are already in discussion of how we can provide media training for young and disadvantaged people; how we can support drug awareness and education into schools; and how we can raise the profile of local businesses. We really believe we are a valued contribution to the whole community, and we hope that value will increase in the coming years'.

Night Church, Hanley
On Friday night around 10pm I joined Night Church in Hanley just as the volunteers were gathering for the evening.....and yes I stayed for the whole night until 3am, drinking tea and talking to the volunteers and clubbers. I've been a Street Pastor for over two years now in Newcastle and it was good to experience a different approach. Night Church is a great space that has been created as a 'Chill Out lounge', using an empty shop front.

Opening in November 2007, every Friday between 10pm and 3am volunteers provide a refuge where clubbers can drop in to relax and unwind. Street Pastors has just begun in Hanley and the two Projects provide a wonderful example of Christians reaching out into their communities, making a difference and keeping, 'the rumour of God alive' on the streets of our towns and cities.

Methodist Book Centre -Hanley
It was a very pleasant surprise to be taken to a 'Methodist Book Centre' in Hanley. I must confess to not even knowing that we even had a specifically named 'Methodist Book Centre.' Given the increasing tendency to buy books on the Internet, I'm very aware that many christian bookshops have had to close down.

Even more surprising was the discovery that there has been a 'Methodist Book Centre' here since 1945! Initially providing a space for a reading room, lectures, exhibitions and discussion groups. In 1947 the Book Centre obtained a catering licence from the Food Office allowing the use of rationed food for light refreshments, including sandwiches and beans on toast! Now there is a small Fair trade cafe staffed by volunteers from churches in the area.

Swan Bank Methodist Church

On Sunday morning I met the vibrant community that is Swan Bank Methodist Church, joining the Superintendent Rev Ashley Cooper at the 9am traditional service followed by the 10.30am service, where over 300 people of all ages gathered for worship. It was great to hear about a growing church that also reaches out into the community and to see the building work for the new coffee shop which will create a much needed community space in the centre of Burslem.

Click here.....for Swan Bank website

Nantwich Methodist Church

The final part of my visit to the Chester and Stoke District was to preach at a Circuit Service held at Nantwich Methodist Church in the Cheshire South Circuit. Worship was led enthusiastically by the Praise band. The Circuit is led by the two Co-Superintendents Rev Malcolm Lorimer and Rev Michael Parrott with the staff team working in mission areas enabling greater collaboration and support across the Circuit.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Festival in Malta

What a joy and delight to share some of the Christmas Festival and the New Year Celebration with new friends in Malta. Hospitality has to be one of the key words every time we think about this visit. We were met at the airport by Doug (the Minister at St. Andrew's) and Lesley and Paul who were kind enough to keep an eye on flight times and therefore be on time - unlike the planes! And then we were welcomed at a boutique hotel by Luciano in the heart of Valletta and to the sound of the bells of St. John's Cathedral.

We were invited to meet with the President, George Abela - you can find photos of that meeting on his website! - and with Archbishop Paul Cremona. Both the conversations were about politics and the faith, and were stimulating and thought provoking in turn. It was good to be able to help the President understand a little more about the tradition of "Nine Lessons and Carols" for his next Christmas celebration.

Later that day we had the privilege of sharing with the English language class at the Marsa Refugee Open Centre. Dot was doing most of the teaching, but we were able to have some conversation with most of the students, some of whom had been in the centre for 3 years or more.

The Watchnight Service was not as well attended as last year, partly because many of the Nigerians, for whom this is a very special event, had been repatriated. But it was good to be part of the celebration filling the streets on that night, and to walk back to our rooms still listening to the carols and songs broadcast at every corner. There is a real sense of the 12 Days of Christmas on the island.

We were also able to spend some time exploring other parts of Malta - Mdina, Rabat, Mtarfa, Mosta, Bugibba, Qawra, Ta'Qali amongst others - and exploration in a very different sense of Malta's history, with especial reference to World War 2.

After an informal and moving Covenant Service, designed to be both Methodist and Church of Scotland, we spent a while with the women of the Dar Tereza Spinelli refuge which is thriving in part because of the help the St Andrew's Church is able to offer. And then on to one of the many festive meals we shared.
Frank and Sarah were kind enough to host our visit the next day to Hal Far where we explored both the Married Quarters and the Tent Village, and were able to have further conversation with Ernest, an elder at St. Andrew's who still lives in that refugee centre. he does what work is available to him there and ministers to as many of his fellow refugees as will allow him. New developments here are being supported both by the members of St. Andrew's and by the South East District to which Malta belongs.

This final picture of a typical street in the capital is my prayer reminder -
for the people who live here
for the people of St. Andrew's
for the refugees and those seeking Asylum Status
for the people who were so kind to us
for those in authority, especially President and Archbishop
and for all who are seeking to serve God in new ways as Malta, a Roman Catholic community, faces the secularisation which is affecting every culture in today's world.