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.


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 prĂ©cis 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.