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.
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!