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!