Wednesday, 31 August 2011


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.


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

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 .

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.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

South Africa beyond the Conference

Young Seth Mokitimi was a goat-herd. His role in life was to ensure the safety of his father’s flock. He grew up to be the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa (MCSA). That’s the kind of thing that happened when the Methodist Missionary Society provided education to boys who would otherwise never have got out of their village. It must be true, Mandela says so. Now Seth has a brand new Seminary named after him at Pietermaritzburg. Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel was kind enough to take us there. Its design and curriculum are theologically integrated in a most impressive way. Google it and you will see what I mean.

Back in Durban we visited Diakonia, a small charitable advocacy organisation that works for human rights. Its building is peaceful, an oasis in a bustling city. It models the growing of food in a garden sized plot, provides training and awareness-raising in a wide range of social and personal issues, and enables people to tell and hear stories of great courage and sacrifice when under oppression. Though it’s an ecumenical organisation, it’s a natural home for a Methodist. We were glad to learn of its work. Thank you Emmanuel. God is with us.

On from Durban to Johannesburg, where we can’t tell whether it is summer or winter as at night it falls to 0C and by midday it is 24C. We are assured it is winter! Met at the airport by John Mitchley, from MCSA, we are driven to the MCSA office where we are introduced to the staff, and have an informal meeting with the Presiding Bishop Ivan Abrahams. He has just been inducted as the incoming General Secretary of the WMC, a great honour and challenge, especially as his office will be in North Carolina, USA!

Our accommodation for the next 3 nights, The Airport Lodge turns out to be a compound built on a previous farm, and still run by Afrikaaners. Our bungalow is set amongst banana trees and flowering plants so is a big, but pleasant, change from the Blue Waters Hotel. John is our guide for the next few days. His role in MCSA is to oversee the many community projects run by Methodist Churches across Southern Africa. No pressure there then! So, we visited Amcare, built on a former racing stables, (nearby sign is Newmarket!) a huge project which impressed us greatly as each part of it related somehow to the other; for example, those learning catering provided meals not only for others around, but also for weddings and company meetings. So there was not only training but also an income stream enabling sustainability. There was a chapel, converted from a room where the former jockeys used to take a drink to ‘steady their nerves’ to a place filled with the presence of a different Spirit! We were told how their water was supplied from a well quite unexpectedly - one day a man was driving past in his well-drilling vehicle and felt called to stop and offer his help. Another man called in to ask if they had electricity and when told ‘no’ said he would come back to provide lay the very expensive cable they could not afford so long as they had dug the trench ready for it, Miracle stories abound!

Other projects in more outlying areas were more modest in design, but equally if not more demanding on the churches that ran them. Some are fulltime volunteers with no other income. Clinics for HIV testing and counselling, and in some cases the dispensation of Anti-retroviral drugs, were complemented by the provision of home-based care for AIDS sufferers. The target set by funders was often ‘50 clients per carer per month’. Given that most carers travel on foot and may perhaps spend 3 hours in a client’s home, the pressure is incredible. We were pleased to learn of the supervision and support schemes for carers, for many of their clients die, leaving orphans who may themselves be HIV positive. Some of these schemes are run by churches in the poorest areas, and we were also glad to learn of the partnerships between these churches and some very wealthy ones in the affluent suburbs. Thank you to the staff and members at Pimville and the John Wesley Community Centre, for allowing us to interrupt your work and learn about the care you show in the name of Jesus. Not just ‘looking after’, but ‘empowerment’ for people of all ages and backgrounds. Your good schools, training and hospitality for the homeless.

Thank you too, to Revd Vulyelwa, for being our guide when John took us to Soweto. We stood in the huge Catholic Church, Regina Mundi, which was the central gathering place for the young black students who stood up against apartheid. Some bullet holes remain in the ceiling, where armed police broke up a meeting of 5,000. Remembering, as I do, the news coverage of those times, it was very moving to walk on that ground. We moved on to Hector Pieterson Square, where the iconic photo is displayed of the young boy being carried away from the scene where schoolchildren were shot and killed as they demonstrated. On from there to Liliesleaf, the farmhouse where Mandela, Sisulu and others met to plan their strategy, and were eventually arrested. Bizarrely, large reproductions of police photos of ‘The Crime Scene’ look like adverts for Coca-cola.

It was our first time in South Africa and we found it very different to other African countries we have visited. We were no longer the only white people in the room, as we so often are in Kenya; there are white Africans too. There are shopping malls resembling our own, and plenty of eating out places such as Mugg and Bean which seemed to be a favourite. There is still much to be achieved in terms of trust between the different cultures. There is still great poverty in areas very close to affluent areas. And there is apprehension about what will happen when Mandela and Tutu are no longer there as a living reminder of the ideals of a truly integrated and reconciled society.

Monday, 15 August 2011


It’s a wonderful opportunity to take my overseas visit so early in my Vice-Presidential year, and even more special to be going to the World Methodist Council and Conference in Durban. Great, too, that David is able to accompany me to share the experience.
So on Sunday evening, 31st July, we shared a meal with the delegates from the British and Irish Methodist Churches at the Blue Waters Hotel in Durban, and learnt something about the Council, at which we were observers.
Monday morning brought the sunrise over the Indian Ocean beaming into our bedroom - what could have been a better start to our time there? We set out as a ‘walking bus’ to register at the Central Methodist Church and be briefed on procedure. Then we set out to explore Durban, found a sandwich shop, and puzzled the locals by sitting on the grass in the park to eat our sandwiches! Returning for the opening session we took our places in the ‘peanut gallery’ as our newly found friends from the USA called the raised area for observers. (Later that week they brought us some peanuts!) As we didn’t have to be there for all the sessions we took the time to make friends with the delegates from the Nepal MC, caught up with Kenyan friends and generally had conversations with anyone who was willing. I’ll leave any comment on Council business to Leo.

Thursday was the morning that thousands of Methodists converged on the impressive International Convention Centre for the opening of the Conference. It was truly moving. In the opening worship we sang ‘O for a thousand tongues’ with verses in English, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, seSotho, and isiZulu. WOW! That alone was worth the journey. Thus began five tremendous days of worship, Bible study, inspirational addresses, reports, workshops, seminars, visits……. All in the spirit of UBUNTU which translates ‘I am because you are’.

When everything is inspiring, it is difficult to pick out highlights. But I can link some together: for example, being addressed by people who have been humiliated, tortured and imprisoned for what they believe, is truly humbling. That has been the experience of many who spoke to us. They spoke with dignity, and challenge. We wept. The theme Jesus Christ: for the healing of the nations resonated through all the addresses. Archbishop Elias Chacour from Galilee told the most astounding stories from the Jewish/Palestinian struggles. We wept… and laughed, for he had the wonderful ability to weave sorrow and joy into one pattern. An unforgettable experience.

Then, we were blessed with visits to churches in the area, and David and I went as part of a group to two services held in nearby townships. The hospitality was overwhelming, to say nothing of the singing, dancing and enthusiasm for the worship. These churches serve some areas of great poverty, and along with many of the churches in the area offer dedicated service in the community, not least to those suffering as a result of HIV/AIDS. We were again humbled, because they thought it was a great honour to receive visitors from all over the world.

It was a privilege also to take part with many from local churches, and Methodists from all over the world, in the Sunday afternoon parade of witness through the city centre. It was impossible not to think of other marches that were held during the times of struggle against apartheid, when those who walked faced police, guns and beatings. Now we were of many shades of skin colour marching together in witness to Jesus Christ: the healer of the nations. God is good.

The Conference ended on Monday 8th August; we had made many friends, and celebrated our faith in God and our Wesleyan heritage together. But the African trip will continue…..

Friday, 12 August 2011

Back from my "grand" tour

Back from my “grand” tour of Africa now - the longest time I shall be away for the whole of my Presidential year!

The World Methodist Council (the bit that does the work) and The World Methodist Conference (the “showcase” event) were a mixture of the frustrating and the exciting. Chairing The British Methodist Conference is a cakewalk compared to chairing Council where different cultures, backgrounds and structures struggle to be understood and where even the English language can mean at least six different things! So trying to sort out the constitution was a bit of a nightmare but we got there in the end! The Conference however was entirely different - so many opportunities to meet the World Methodist family (usually over a meal!) and to hear of all that God is doing - often in places where its really tough to be a Christian. The parade of 84 flags/banners representing the Methodist/Weslyan church throughout the world will live long in the memory as will the Bible studies and worship which came from a different continent each day.

A brief stop over in Cape Town provided an opportunity to visit Robben Island. We arrived in thick mist which expressed something of the desolation of the past. We left as the sun began to break through the clouds. It was to me a sign of hope for the future of South Africa and Ghana and all the countries and churches I have encountered through others in these past days. And so I end with a blessing from and for Africa:

Walk tall, walk well, walk safe, walk free

and may harm never come to thee.

Walk wise, walk good, walk proud, walk true

and may sun always smile on you.

Walk prayer, walk hope, walk faith, walk light

and may peace always guide you right.

Walk joy, walk brave, walk love, walk strong

and may life always give you song.

See you in a couple of weeks before which I’ve much preparation to do for sermons, talks etc!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

What a varied fortnight this has been, starting on Sunday 17th July with the recording of morning worship at our local church, Biddulph Methodist Church, for BBC Radio Stoke. It’s the third or fourth time we have done this, and our old friend and producer Simon Penfold knows the church well, so does not take long to set up. It’s a joint service between our own congregation and that of Brown Lees Methodist Church, who are worshipping with us monthly in preparation for us becoming one congregation in September when their building closes. Members from both congregations lead the worship, and I preach the sermon. We are perhaps a bit more subdued than we would normally be, conscious that when it is broadcast we will be proclaiming the Gospel to more than 50,000
listeners - an awesome responsibility that we don’t take lightly. But it feels like we have lost some of our informality and responsiveness as a congregation.
Then on Tuesday a trip ‘up to London to visit the Queen’ as the old nursery rhyme goes. The President has told you about this in his post. We also enjoyed the good company of Peter and Doreen Whittaker who were to move house the following day but nevertheless entered into the spirit of the occasion, and enjoyed as much as I did the lovely Palace gardens with some very fragrant roses.

Thursday saw me on the train to London once again, this time to attend the MHA day conference on The Church and an Ageing Society. I was invited to give the opening address on ‘Learning as disciples of Jesus’ and lead a workshop on ‘The
church’s role in caring for the carers’. There were four other workshops to choose from, and Revd Keith Albans gave the final address on ‘Older People in a Mission- Shaped Church. Around 80 people participated, and it was a pleasure to be reminded of the multi-cultural nature of the London District, and the riches that are brought to Methodism. I look forward to seeing at first hand some of the excellent work that MHA is doing as I visit Homes in various districts.

Then we welcomed visitors from New Zealand, cousins whom we haven’t seen for 10 years, and who were thrilled to have followed Conference on the ‘watch again’ facility. No sooner had they gone and we welcomed back our Kenyan visitors, Rev Elijah and Mrs Priscilla Mwirigi, who had been travelling in Scotland for a week. They have had a wonderful four weeks in the UK, catching up on mission partners whom they had known, more than 40 years ago in some cases. Most moving was the reunion with the minister for whom Elijah had been the garden boy, and who enabled him to gain an education. Elijah has himself now been a Methodist minister for nearly 40 years. Elijah and Priscilla returned home to attend the Ph.D ceremony of their eldest son. What proud parents! We will quickly be reunited with them in Nairobi when we visit with MRDF.

Saturday 23rd July: A Frantic Fortnight

Up at 4.00 am to fly down to Bristol for the closing service at Wesley College. But worth every minute of lost sleep! A deeply moving occasion and the large number of people present was a fitting tribute to all that the college has meant. Thanks be to God.
Wednesday 27th July another early flight, to Accra, Ghana via a meeting with MRDF at Heathrow about my trip to Ethiopia in December! Read papers for the World Methodist Council in South Africa during the flight so when I landed couldn't quite remember where I was!

Methodist Church Ghana is in very good heart and continues to grow. Travelled over 1000 miles in three days mostly to visit Methodist Schools, of which they are justly proud.
I met with the President of Ghana, Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice and was on the front page of the national news paper the next day - although they chose to use a picture of one of our group, Rev Jenny Impey (London Chair) instead of me! I wonder why? Clearly the Methodist Church is a big player in the nation's life and this was reflected in Sunday's service at the national football stadium to celebrate 50 years of Methodist autonomy.

This was attended by all of the above plus the leader of the opposition and 15,000 others! The service was relatively short - just less than 4 1/2 hours - and was an interesting mix of Methodist liturgy (MWB and Book of Offices) and modern African worship. Thankfully it was not too hot and it was a great honour to be there. Great thrill to be on the pitch too - the nearest I'll get to scoring a world cup goal!
Visited Cape Coast Castle from which slaves were transported to the West Indies - that is any that survived the brutal treatment whilst waiting to board ship. Hung my head in shame. Who wouldn't?
Overnight flight to Durban where I'm blogging from. I'll report on World Methodist Council next time.
Posted on Behalf of Leo