Monday, 24 December 2012

VP - Christmas greetings

I've had plenty of correspondence in December concerning decisions taken at conference in July, but it has been a quiet month re official VP appointments, hardly surprising in the busyness that takes over for Christmas preparations. It has meant that I have been to a number of local carol services, carol singings and later today, crib services in various villages. After going around one village singing carols we all ended up outside a barn and some outbuildings, then treated to a short 'pageant' with shepherds round a brazier with their sheep, angels appearing (dazzling when the floodlight was turned on), Mary and Joseph arriving on a pony (donkey temporarily unavailable!) and wise men singing 'We three kings' as they approached the infant. It was special. But then the real Christmas story is special, and always will be. "Our God contracted to a span; incomprehensibly made man." The light shines in the darkness, even in Syria or Mali or Newtown Connecticut or with people affected by flooding, because God has chosen to be with us. We're human, so we don't always get it right, we too often make mistakes that lead to unhappiness, distress and grief - but God (Emmanuel) thankfully, happily is alongside us all to redeem, restore and forgive. Which is why my wish for anyone reading this, but also my prayer, is summed up in these two words - Happy Christmas.

Friday, 7 December 2012

VP - Freshness in Advent

Last night I gave a short presentation to the Banbury Circuit meeting about some of the things that I've been engaged in this Autumn as VP, and therefore why I have been absent from them so often. I found myself talking about Fresh Expressions of church, not so that they can replicate the ideas of others, but so that seeds can be sown. Some of what came to mind was experienced in District visits, other ideas came from an inspiring few hours at the 'Fresh Ways Practitioners' Forum' held in London on Monday. Did you know that 25% of all Methodist churches have started a fresh expression? That in an 'average' new expression, for every five people there is one person who is a churchgoer, two de-churched, and two unchurched? That sacraments are important to these expressions of church, even if it is not church as many would recognise it. There are some great things happening in big churches, ethnic and language-based fellowships, rural and urban settings, across all geographical, social, ethnic, demographic and, dare I say it, theological differences. Praise God for what is happening both inside and outside the churches. Interestingly, the awareness of God moving outside the Church was the subject of a number of conversations I had following a service in Berkhamsted on Sunday morning. And it was also an important theme running through a conversation with a wise old friend in Birmingham earlier today. I need Advent again to give me a little more time to reflect on what I see around me, to hear what people are actually saying, and to discern where my energies are needing to be focused. Just possibly, and if I pause long enough to 'be' rather than 'do', I might experience Emmanuel in a new, even fresh way. Hope so!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

President on the death of his cousin Jeremy Sorrel
This isn’t easy – far too mixed up and complicated, but it’s part of being me and being a President.  I’m not a President with a very confident Presidential manner I fear and this blog will confirm it.  I don’t have even a small number of the right questions, and even fewer answers.  I’ve also found that as I get older I find it harder and harder to have opinions about lots of things that I used to find necessary.
But my cousin Jeremy has died and I’m sad and troubled.  He was a few years younger than his brother Jonathan, who in turn was a couple of years younger than me.  As a child I remember them both very well.  Jonathan was and is one of the brightest people I know.  He is a brilliant musician and composer and he now lives in Malta with his family.  Jeremy had Down’s syndrome and wasn’t brilliant or a composer.  We have not kept up with our Cousins very well and now I regret it.  Malta seems far away and Jeremy was well, Jeremy.  He lived an independent life and we wrote letters at Christmas.  He was a regular Church goer with strong views about what kind of Church he would go to.  My Uncle Graham, his father, was a professional singer before he retired and for many years was a baritone with the brilliant St. Paul’s Cathedral choir.  Jeremy used to visit his father at work and on one occasion, after Matins, processed out with the choir and clergy, taking the place of the Bishop behind the Dean.  It was frowned on.  But it was Jeremy.  He used to write to Prime ministers and the Queen, to famous people and his local Mayor. Their replies were put up in the Church.
But I didn’t give Jeremy time and as I saw a full Anglican Church for his funeral who all loved him, the local Mencap group and his daily helper so moved by his death, I felt I had cheated myself.  He was a good cook and I hadn’t known it or tasted his food.  I feel sorry and ashamed that because he was Jeremy I hadn’t gone out of my way to visit him.  We sang ‘Be bold, be strong, for the Lord you God is with you’.  I’m quite sure my Uncle would have found that hard – hardly Purcell, Bach or even Rutter.  But it was Jeremy and he was a precious individual in the sight of God who he learnt to love and follow.  He was man of humour and emotional intelligence, integrity and loyalty.  He was my cousin and I’m proud of him and sad he has died.
President says, "No Christmas Presents Please"
This is only relevant to a very small number of people.  Most people were thinking - but we weren't going to buy him one anyway so ignore this blog.  A few really organised people may have bought one all ready - in which case thanks and I'm really grateful but don't read this blog!  But to the very few who were thinking they might, including family and friends, please don't.  I've got enough stuff.  I'm full. I'm overweight with kit.  Instead - please would you either give some money to a charity of your choice or send me some money so I can twin my lavatory  If I get more than enough for one, I'll twin two, and so on....  Or twin your own lavatory and tell me because it will make me happy.  Or if you can't abide not giving something because it just feels wrong not to, please please let it be something you've made.  Lots of love Mark

Friday, 30 November 2012

VP - A launch and a celebration

Action for Children invited me to the official launch of the Junior ISA.This scheme has been jointly promoted by AfC, Barnardo's and Sharefound, together persuading government to give £16.7m to close a loophole created when the Child Trust Funds ceased to receive state funding in 2010. This left young people, leaving the safety of the care system at 18, very vulnerable. e.g. how to find a deposit for a rented flat? Govt is providing £200 for each young person in care to set up individual ISAs; and the charities are now asking all of us to add what we can to these individual pots in order to give youngsters, such as the two who spoke so movingly on Wednesday at the launch, a chance to succeed. This is surely something that churches might like to focus on when charitable donations are discussed in church councils. Straight from there, across the Thames to Lambeth Palace to take part in Evensong and a special reception for leaders of Churches in England and other ecumenical partners to mark Archbishop Rowan's ten years as Primate. The Archbishop's short address centred on hearing God in the quiet places, and the importance of listening carefully to each other in ecumenical circles; loud noise is not usually God's way of communicating. Somewhat ironically, Evensong was followed by a rather noisy reception, which included a gift, in the form of an icon, from Churches Together in England. The varied conversations that I was involved in included bishops and women, the ecumenical dimension to future Methodist training, how to offer appropriate spiritual support to Christian financiers involved in the City of London, and the costs involved in running institutional Churches of all denominations. It's always good to hear and share different perspectives amongst friends.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

28th November 2012 President at Swanwick
I’m on my way back from the City Centre group of the Methodist Church where I’ve spent the last 24 hours.  It’s a gathering of those, rather obviously, who have a ministry within the centre of our great cities – from Edinburgh to Plymouth and wide on either side.  It was really encouraging.  I started my ministry in what was then called a ‘pre-collegiate’ year living in the Birmingham Central Hall with my very new wife, Judith. I was a youth worker and it was an adventure!  I learnt so much from the likes of Alan Francom, Michael Wildgust and the Superintendent Alan Broadbent who recently sadly died.  As I lived on the premises and was about to be trained as a Methodist Minister, I would get all the drunken, lost, bewildered, sad and simply odd members of the City Centre community of Birmingham.  I truly loved the job.  Meeting ministers and lay people who work full time in such areas is simply inspiring.  They do a great job.  I was most inspired by a Fresh Expression in Swansea, Sean and the ‘Zach’s Place’ project will rekindle all your longing for ministry as it should be.  Google it and pray!
I had the privilege – and believe me it was, to share some thoughts with the 50 or so people in the Conference.  Obviously I felt a right old fraud with such front line ministers!  However I asked a question that has been bugging me.  ‘What if the church was more than simply for the poor, confused, sad etc., and instead did the ‘Jesus thing’ and was ‘OF’ the poor and odd etc.  I really don’t have a clever answer – but I’m pretty sure it is a good question.

28th November 2012 Pioneer  Connexion
Here is something dear to my heart.  I may be hopelessly wrong about it but I sense a real God moment,  a real KAIROS moment whenever I meet the immensely charming Billy Kennedy who is the leader of the Pioneer Network.  They have a real ‘servant heart’ as Eunice (X VP) put it – she’s right.  They work with Churches in Southampton and elsewhere to continue and not replace the Methodist mission of years back.  They grew out of the Charismatic renewal of the 70’s and 80’s, a network of churches for whom God had made a real impact under the leadership of Gerald Coates.  They are now, in the words of Billy – ‘approaching middle age’.  Things have changed.  They have recognised that there was a deal of difficulty in their birth –  but things have moved on.  I have been overwhelmed in recent years with the sense that the Methodist Church needs simply to repent of the troubled way we coped with a new movement of the Spirit in those days, and I was very much part of that.  Not in a spirit of abject guilt and wretchedness – but simply in a spirit of hope and confidence in a God who lets you move on.  Pioneer and groups of similar holiness and groundedness have held for the Christian Church something of Wesley’s vision for the Nation.  My own belief is that we should, where ever possible, seek ways of encouraging them, praying for them, partnering them and expressing a true humility and love.  Martyn Atkins (General Secretary and my x Boss) has played a key role in the relationship and now I’m out of the scene I’m encouraged that this is something that won’t be lost in the majorly slimmed down leadership group of the Church.

27th November 2012 President  ‘Do Your Best’
I was a Cub Scout – not a good one -  but a Cub Scout.  My mother tells  me  that I came home one evening and proudly announced that I would be ‘Unroled  next week’.  I had my very own woggle and scarf and I was number 12 out of 12 in the foot ball team.  My Sixer, Robin Copeland is now a very important surgeon, I think in the Red Cross who specializes in reducing the damage inflicted by weapons of war.  My only skill – really my only skill – was to carry a six inch block of wood on my head without any effort at all.  This I put  down to my Mendi childhood in Sierra Leone where my friends carried everything on their heads – books, ink bottles, lunch – you name it.  Foot ball, however, was a complete mystery to me, and I remember the humiliation of failing to make the Team at a local Sports Event – and then the further humiliation of being called up and wandering around in a complete confusion as to what was expected of me.  A missionary childhood has its benefits, but becoming a sporting hero ‘aint one of them.
With such memories I entered the hallowed grounds of the fine offices of the Scout Association.  I do get on with people as a rule – but not usually quite so quickly.  I loved their passion, their vision, their practical application.  In the last few years they have turned themselves around as an organisation in  ways that should make us gulp with admiration.  I’m hoping we can find all  sorts of synergy and joint projects together and learn from the Association.  I did,  of course, mention the Boys and Girls Brigade, from whom, quite honestly they nicked  some of their best ideas, and they were most graceful and supportive!
If you don’t have a Uniformed Group in your church then get one . . .  times have changed and it is increasingly the in thing to be doing!  Hunt down the woggle.  Seek out the Scarf.  Try and remember why you DYBed and DOBed – and boys and girls are both welcome.

Monday, 26 November 2012

26th November The President at the BBC Daily Service

I’m sitting on a train after an early start in Manchester for the Daily Service – it goes out on Radio 4 Longwave every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the year. On Friday there is a slightly different service but broadcast at the same time.  The service has already had its 50th birthday and is one of the oldest broadcasts of any kind in the world.  Of course it’s changed over the years – 20 years ago they moved from their traditional home of All Soul’s Langam’s in London to Emanuel Didsbury.  The Religion and Ethics studio paving the way for the more recent exodus of the BBC to Media City.  Essentially though it remains the same, a short Christian act of worship with a significant number of folk who regularly tune in at home and around the world.
I first led the service when in the Manchester and Stockport District – and it was always a refreshing and challenging part of the richness of circuit life.  It’s fun to do – the service is live and with live music normally. There is a Daily Service group of professional singers but often, as today with the Manchester Chorale, very good amateur choirs.  I love singing – and know enough to realise that I could never sing at that standard, but perhaps enough to really appreciate just how good these groups are. It’s always a shame to me that the broadcast is on Longwave (and now digital as well) and not FM – so most people don’t hear the service at its musical best.
If you present the Daily Service you are sent a little while before a briefing sheet with the hymns and songs to be sung, a reading and both a weekly and a daily theme.  Today, following the Lectionary for yesterday was ‘Christ the King’ for the week and ‘King of the Jews’ for the day.  The knack of writing the script is to get all your thoughts and prayers into about 1200 words, and to somehow link the music, what’s happening in the news, and the theme together.  Because the service is broadcast live, timing matters!  The continuity announcer introduces the Daily Service and you are in at 10.45 and you have to be ‘out’ at 9.59 and 50 seconds dead our you will either crash the pips (too long) or leave a Radio 4 horror – a space without anything at all!!  The key to such close timing is the back times after the run through.  With the aim of 9.59 and 50 seconds you know, for example, that you must begin your blessing at 9.59 and 40!  To help there are several pages of blessings in case the timings have gone wrong – you’ve spoken too quickly or the choir have got carried away and expanded in the last hymn.  The blessings are not listed in a thematic way but according to how long they take to give.  I reckon the shortest should either be, ‘O dear’ or ‘Sorry’ as you land the service right into the pips before the next programme.
Today I explored the radical nature of ‘Kingship’ that the crucifixion forces us to notice.  A Saviour King without the pomp and circumstance of the every day sense of royalty and majesty.  It is a bit strange to be doing a BBC service as a Christian without the usual BBC stance of ‘not doing religion’.  The dominant secular orthodoxy of the last 50 years or so isn’t known for its tolerance or balance, something I’m afraid they probably learnt from the faith communities.  I’m sure there are few who strongly object that the Christian Community is allowed to do such things, but we are, and what a privilege it is something I suspect we must use more or lose.  Here is a little space in the day when we can stop and think of the great reality in which we all live, and not have to pretend that we don’t in case we upset our secular friends.  Here is a chance to let the King rule, the King of an eternal Kingdom which puts all of life into perspective.
If you haven’t listened – have a go – not that it matters, but there are a remarkable number of Methodists who are on the DS Team.  Google ‘Daily Service’ and you can catch up on their website after the broadcast if you miss it live, or, as many do, get ready at 9.45 with your retuned radio and perhaps a lighted candle to join in the prayers.  It’s no good going through iPlayer you’ll never find it.  I’m not sure the high ups in the BBC are aware of this wonderful gem, or if they are, are that proud of it!
If you like it – tell the BBC and as my aunt used to say, ‘use it or lose it!’
With thanks to the BBC for this opportunity, to their wonderful producers, technical, administrative and musical people.

Monday, 19 November 2012

VP - Being reGenerated

I was privileged to be at two wonderfully life-affirming events over the last seven days. The first had nothing to do with being VP, but our niece was playing in the Youth Music Festival at the Albert Hall on Thursday evening - so lots of family pride! More than that, it was so good to see such talent in the youth of this country, from rap to jazz to inspired singing to concert bands. Absolutely brilliant atmosphere. And being at the Albert Hall, lots of green and yellow memories too. But things move on, and the youth event, 3 Generate, held this year near Lichfield, was excellent. 320 young people, loads of excellent (and exhausted) leaders, a brilliant venue with outdoor activities on site, and all in a context of getting to know God more - and especially looking at 'justice' issues. Mark has written more on the subject on his blog too. I spent the day with some of the leaders 'GeneratePlus' under the guidance of Piers Lane; sharing ideas and good practice, visiting the next door National Memorial Arboretum and linking it with justice issues. And on Sunday, joining the young people directly for the election of the new Youth President to follow Hayley Moss. Five excellent candidates (Anna, Hattie, Paul, Sian, Tamara) and unfortunately only one could be chosen - Tamara. We wish her God's blessing on all she does next year. See the photo to get a 'feel' of the energy.
This was followed by a Communion service in small groups, a very meaningful way to end what was obviously a very happy week-end. The 'problem' is that the venue is too small, so how to keep growing and still keep all these young people in different age-groups happily engaged in a God-centred event? Answers on a postcard please to 3Generate!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The future is going to be so much better than the past

I haven't quite got this blogging thing yet. So far I've kept a diary and then sent stuff to the wonderful David Webster which he cleverly puts in to date order in my beloved brother's, the Vice President, far more regular contributions!.

 Here goes though. I've got some older blogs to post, but this is my latest. I was at the 3Generate - Youth Assembly - Youth Conference - depends exactly how old you are. I was at the first Youth Conference at a Night Club near London in 1995.

We emulated Methodist Conference. There were loads of people there, and some very committed young people and youth leaders. It was good.

 At the time some 17 years ago MAYC was still a large organisation. I was the new National Secretary of MAYC and the Connexional Secretary of the Youth and Community section of the Division of Education and Youth.

The Youth Conference had been set up by Dave Martin - an excellent and inspirational National Secretary in a long line of excellent and inspirational National Secretaries. I was passionate about young people's involvement in the Church, I was part of the implementation group of Charter 95, I had been involved since the early 80's as a volunteer with London Weekend with David Winwood as part of the worship team for the Albert Hall.

 Honestly - I've been there, done that, and shared the pain, hope, joy, anger, frustration, and delight of being part of the youth work of the Church. But I don't want to look back, I want to say how great 3Generate is.

Well done Jude Levermore and her team. well done the young people who did a great deal of the work. Well done the churches, the youth workers, volunteers and youth leaders who brought young people and children to 3Generate this year.

 The Old MAYC was a wonderful creature. I'm overwhelmed with pride that I was there - but in today's world, today's church - the challenges we face now. I know that Jude and her Team of Connexional Staff, volunteers, young people, youth leaders, and above all children and young people - are stunning.

 We explored spirituality and justice, fun and fellowship, worship and wonder at God's continuing call. I would like to see this event grow and grow. I would like to see God's will for young people, the longing, hoping, loving and calling that God has for us growing and growing for us.

We will not return to the 'glories' of the past - the future is so much better than that. But each year things are getting better and better - and I long with all my heart for the Church to hear and learn, accept and value the most precious gift God gives us of young people in the Church.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

VP - in Lancashire

What an encouraging week-end! A Thursday evening meeting with some of the emerging leaders that I was with at the Birmingham week-end in September, now planning their own 24 hour event in the District. A morning with Methodist Action NW, a new charity looking to respond to needs in the community not presently being met; acting on local authority referrals mainly; in partnership with local churches, using church buildings/space not being fully utilised. It was imaginative, creative, risky. I visited the hostel for homeless men in Fox Street, Preston and work with asylum seekers/refugees in Blackburn. "When Lord did we see you...?"(the photo shows the Methodist Action team with Rev Yvonne Pearson)
A couple of hours in Brinscall joint Methodist/CoE junior school was a life-affirming, joyous visit. An excellent assembly led by Year 6 on 'Remembrance', clearly dedicated staff led by Annette.Then on to Clitheroe Church for Together on Fridays, an all-age (3 weeks to 90+)event, held every other week, starting at 4 with activities and games; a sit down meal (with a wondrous choice of puddings!), and then an all-age activity (see photo)
and finish at 7. We felt very much included in the 'family' nature of it all. Saturday morning was a prayer breakfast, focusing on praying for the World Church. This was followed by a discussion with some of the District mission teams going to Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and Uruguay in 2013. A longish morning was rounded off by a visit to Deepdale MC and the end of their coffee morning/lunch. Couldn't quite fit in a visit to Ewood Park to watch Birmingham City play, but the evening entertainment was excellent. Stephen and Myrtle Poxon had obviously put on a District party for my visit, but Joseph (newly 18) clearly thought all the presents and guests were for him! It was such a happy evening, young and old playing ridiculous games! Great fun, excellent food. Sunday morning I was planned for the joint RC/Methodist Church at Nelson, just getting there in time to bring greetings to the RC congregation, before coffee, before the time of Remembrance and the Methodist service. A brief talk over soup and rolls before heading off to Pilling which, I was told, is the second largest village (I presume by area) in England. What is the biggest? We had a wonderful spread for tea, over which about 30 of us had a discussion about the importance of 'rural ministry'. Some very helpful thoughts. And then a Circuit service in the church itself, proudly coming up to its 200th anniversary. A District visit exhibiting lots of life, some excellent ideas and innovation; in a context of faithful witness over many years. Stephen and Myrtle's leadership will be reaping benefits for many years to come.

Monday, 5 November 2012

VP - Connected Worship at Warrington

Travelled on Saturday, with my wife Isabel and fellow lay worker Hazel, to Warrington to be with preachers and worship leaders for the Connected Worship week-end. We met some lovely people, had excellent inputs, and experienced inspiring worship - interspersed regularly with good food. Now that's a great way to spend a Saturday! In the morning I attended the preaching strand led by Ron Willoughby and learned a lot. It was also good to meet at the same venue an old friend, Margaret Parker, an ex-VP who has been preaching for 50 years! There were other groups for worship leaders and those interested in prayer. In the afternoon, we were led by Roger Walton and then, after tea, by Jackie Bellfield (see photo of Jackie in the worship coffee break) who is a minister in the Sankey Valley Circuit.
Jackie has introduced an informal Sunday evening worship in Warrington around tables once a month, called New Song Cafe - and it does what it says! Six songs (mostly very new), short input, informal prayers; tea/coffee break; six more songs and short drama/input/meditation. Some excellent musicians too helped to lead inspiring worship. After which we headed in a conga (in a very Methodist way) through town to a Chinese restaurant with good natured staff and some excellent food. The journey back to Banbury was spent discussing the three different morning inputs we had been to. Thanks also to Jo Cox, Helen Cameron and others on the organising committee for such a good event - and regular tea and cake.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Churches Together and Notts/Derby

I was part of the group that represented the Methodist Church at the Churches Together in England forum from Tuesday to Thursday at Swanwick. There were some inspiring contributions, especially for me those of David Cornick, Mary Tanner and Peter Whittaker; also an excellent Bible Study on I Corinthians 12 from Judith Lieu."What does love require of us?" was the theme, and the underlying question was what things the Churches might need to give up in order to achieve visible unity. It was a useful time of personal reflection concerning how much has been achieved over the last 30 years, but also what still needs to be done. There seemed to be a real tension between wanting to sit lightly to structures in order to join in with God's mission; and the need for any church partnership to have clear and explicit intentions. As so often in these conferences, the conversations outside the hall were fascinating, and I especially enjoyed talking to Deacon Ellie Griffin about her Loughborough and Leeds experiences. On Saturday I was back in the Notts/Derby District for a morning at Toton with a group considering further work in the Church; pm at Stapleford with the Church and Society group; and an evening with a world church theme at Mapperley, with a splendidly arranged Ghanaian and English meal. The photo is of members of the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship in Nottingham
and behind them are, amongst others, Tim and Hannah from Sherwood. Over the meal they shared some very exciting developments about their Venture FX work, outside the mainstream Church. Sunday morning was sharing in the service at Christchurch, Grantham - followed by a bring and share lunch. We really do this kind of thing very well indeed! It was a very happy and informative District visit.

Monday, 22 October 2012

VP - Much to celebrate and ponder

Back from Bethlehem and the next day it was joining the wonderful celebrations for Westminster Central Hall's 100th Anniversary. A lovely celebration supper on Saturday evening with excellent speeches; and joining in an uplifting act of worship on Sunday morning. So much going on at WCH at present, and sobering to remember how close the Conference decision was about keeping it open, not so long ago. Monday at Church House to be part of the farewell to Mark Wakelin and John Ellis as they leave the Connexional Team. Two very different people and their varied gifts were rightly celebrated. Both will leave big gaps in the overall leadership of the Church and Connexional Team. Mark and I were together again at Queen's, Birmingham on Tuesday for the annual visit there to welcome the Scholarship students from around the world, and also the new Methodist students in training. After leading sessions for the two groups, and after the obligatory photo with staff and students
we were involved in a vibrant and meaningful Communion service in a packed chapel. It was a very happy day; but staff at Queen's were also very aware of the significance for other training providers of the Fruitful Fields decisions at Conference. Wednesday to Friday were spent at Methodist Council in Sutton Coldfield, the first afternoon and evening jointly with the URC Mission Council. David Cornick of Churches Together in England reminded us of our different histories, but also of our present similarities. It was good to be reminded about what we do well as denominations, but also what we could do even better together. Thereafter, the enormous range of work and reports that is the Methodist Council. I mused more than once about how previous generations provided large representative committees that spent hours looking at specific areas of work; and now it is the responsibility of a relatively small Council of generalists to exercise the scrutiny role on behalf of Conference. It is a heavy responsibility which needs the prayers of all Methodist people, not least David Gamble who now chairs the Council. It was a week to remind me that, in the life of the Church, bold decisions need big vision and broad shoulders; but constantly underpinned by prayerful discernment.

Monday, 15 October 2012

VP - Birmingham to Bethlehem

On Monday and Tuesday it was off to Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) had again enabled the joint-Churches group to meet politicians such as Eric Pickles and Dominic Grieve, Attorney General. I also had time to hear Jeremy Hunt in the Hall extol the virtues and significance of the NHS. No time in a blog for analytical comment, but the Tory view on coalition government was different to the LibDems two weeks ago. I was also given the opportunity to take part in the devotions at the Prayer Breakfast, which led to some interesting conversations afterwards. Upper Boddington's Church Council on Tuesday evening was a welcome change! Very recently I had been asked to represent the Church at the opening of the Methodist Liaison office in Tantur, near Jerusalem. So on Wednesday it was off to Luton Airport for Easyjet's flight to Tel Aviv. Evening in Bethlehem. At 5 am on Thursday morning I was being herded through the 'cattle pens' with all the Palestinian workers trying to get to Jerusalem to their daily work. It was my first time of crossing the wall and I found it a de-humanising process - but those around me did it every day. I marvel at their patience. The Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAPPI) were splendid people from all over the world, including 19 year old Alex, a Methodist from Brazil (see photo), and clearly all were deeply moved and troubled by what they were experiencing day in and day out.
Later on Thursday we moved to Tantur Ecumenical Institute where the new Methodist Liaison office will be housed, two rooms financed mainly by the UMC, with British help, on behalf of the World Methodist Council. Its main purposes will be to provide balanced information on what is happening in Israel/Palestine; to enable Methodist Churches to connect with local ecumenical initiatives in I/P; to encourage theological reflection and dialogue; and to facilitate visits for the increasing number of pilgrims and volunteers to I/P.
At the opening, to which about 100 people were invited, Theophilus, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem attended - rather unexpectedly! It was therefore appropriate that he should bless the offices. Also in the picture are Bishop Hope Ward (UMC) and Thomas Kemper (Gen Board Global Ministries). It all demonstrated the sensitive ecumenical approach that has been made so far with this new venture for the worldwide Methodist family. Thanks are due to Janet Lahr Lewis (a UMC missionary) who has been working in the Jerusalem area for the last 20 years.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chaplains and Churches

My programme for the Leeds District!

Saturday 6th. October Arrival at 11:43 in Harrogate.  1pm. – Signing of the Area Partnership with the Ripon and Leeds Diocese, Trinity Methodist Harrogate, Act of Worship followed by refreshments.

Sunday 7th. October 10:30am – Morning Worship Wesley Chapel Harrogate, 150th. Anniversary, followed by lunch and early afternoon talk.   6pm. Pontefract Central Methodist 60yrs, Jubilee Celebrations

Monday 8th. October 10am – 3pm – Leeds Bradford International Airport Chaplaincy Visit.  7:30pm – District Forum Night at Oxford Place

Tuesday 9th. October 12pm – Lunch with the Supernumerary Ministers from the District at Guiseley Methodist Church

Hardly drawing breath from Kingswood School in Bath I found myself travelling North to the Leeds.  Those familiar with trains will have their favourite routes, and it’s a good journey to Leeds from London.  Liz Smith the Chair is currently off duty, poorly and so I was met by the Acting Chair, Julian Pursehouse.  Our first task was to be part of a covenant signing between the Anglicans and Methodists.  It was a short and excellent service – and to everyone’s delight Liz was able to do the Methodist part of the signing – a fitting thing given how much work she had put into the process.  Our hopes and prayers are with the District and the Diocese as the new mission possibilities this careful diplomacy will release.

Below  - The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds (John Packer)and the Chair of the Leeds Methodist District(Liz Smith) sign the agreement. Behind them stand the Bishop of Knaresborough (James Bell), the Acting Chair of the Leeds District (Julian Pursehouse) and your friendly blogger.

I was preaching in Harrogate and Pontefract for two Church Anniversaries. 

I think every President sees Methodism at its best, positive people in good numbers, but despite the obvious, it is heartening that we can still do both.  We had a lunch together in Harrogate where I was the ‘after lunch speaker’.  I can’t help feeling that they had heard quite enough of me by then! It was great to see the famous minister behind the hat at Conference without his hat at Harrogate and the minister at Pontefract all the way from Meru in Kenya where I was a little boy.

Reverend Jacob Kaiga

I had an extraordinary day at the Leeds Bradford airport – with Nick Baker – which I’ve written about in the Recorder.  Chaplaincy ‘works’ – in that we not only ‘serve and make contact’ with people we simply don’t see coming through the doors of our church,  but that we empower and enable others to be involved in a distinctly missionary activity which honours those among whom we serve, and encourages some of the values, hopes and dreams of the Gospel to flourish.

The District Forum on Monday evening was a good way to bring together all the various groups that have to meet, and there was time for reflection and questions to each other about where we are all going.  I have kept playing with the idea that it’s not the ‘summer that is over’ with all the good things in the past, but the ‘winter that is over’, with the first signs of spring.  I’m not there yet and each time I explore this idea I’m given new insights.  I’ve found it helpful though – and some others have said, ‘that’s exciting’.

There was a good turnout at Guisley on Tuesday for another excellent lunch and service. Among our Supernumerary ministers there are a number of concerns about ‘where the church is going’, not least issues around a recent rise in rents for the Methodist Minister Housing Association houses and of course the radical decisions of Conference.  I think my main job is to listen and promise to feed back to those who might have a say in such matters.  However, besides the anxiety about where things are going, there is also an incredibly passionate belief in the Church and the possibilities we face.  Ministers who have officially ‘sat down’ are often an increasingly important part of the very ‘un sat down church’.  There is a need, I suspect, to reflect on this more – and create space in our thinking that allows continuing ministry to be recognised and honoured in a more coherent and consistent way.

Mark Wakelin

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Drove over to Hinckley this afternoon to intercept the 'No drones peace walk' from Shenstone to Waddington, taking place over the next week. The Methodist Conference had passed a resolution on the subject of drones in July, and it felt important to me to show solidarity with those who are prepared not just to talk about such an escalating development in warfare, but who are prepared to make such a public statement. Although others had started the walk yesterday, I met with five peace walkers over a cup of tea at St. John's Methodist Church in Hinckley - including the Revd Bill Anderson, Chair of the Birmingham District.
The photo shows both walkers and the hospitality team at Hinckley - together publicising the need to be active about peace.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Privilege and Grace

It is always chastening to go back to old places, and I found my trip back to Kingswood School in Bath suitably chastening.  It was and remains a very good school, though much changed, and I was given the warmest of welcomes by both the pupils I met and the staff, especially the Chaplain, Michael Wilson and the Head Master Simon Morris.

Methodist Schools are an important part of the life of the Connexion.  Most Methodist Schools are state maintained, over 60 in number and growing.  A smaller number are ‘private’ schools where the majority of pupils are fee paying.  As a missionary child I was destined for Kingswood from an early age, and went even though we had as a family returned home.  I was very troubled by being in such a school when younger, but over the years increasingly grateful and less clear about the ethics of it all.  I know far too many better off people, or ‘able to choose people’ such as ministers, to know that most of us will choose the best for our children within the means we have, even if it’s simply a matter of living as close as possible to ‘good schools’.  We will also spend as much as we can on space, books, and kit as well as give as much expertise and support as we can.  None of it exactly ‘fair’ when so many children in our country let alone the wider world have none of these advantages.  My gratitude, which might just as easily be given to teachers in the state sector, is the care and commitment of Kingswood and my parents to my education.  Wesley was passionate about learning and founded Kingswood upon some very modern concepts of what would constitute an all around education.  One of my favourite rules, though no longer kept, is that children shouldn’t play sport, but do gardening.

Kingswood today is an excellent school by any measure.  It does get good ‘results’, and it has a good sporting, music, arts, drama and world development/peace tradition, the Chaplain also encourages an open and intelligent approach to faith, and the staff are able to give full measure and shaken down in their jobs which for many are their vocation.  I know full well that this happens in the state sector as well – my son Ben is an equally enthusiastic teacher in an infant school in Surbiton, and Judith is wholly committed, and passionate about her role in Finsbury Park . . I could go on!  However, I visited Kingswood School and preached to the seniors, had supper with Simon and Mike, and was so proud that a Methodist School could be so good at what it does, so distinctive in its Christian ethos, and so grounded in the Wesleyan tradition.  With such schools as these, both in the private and maintained sector, Methodists have an important contribution to make to a wider discourse on education that needs rescuing from a simple focus on success and grades to turn out ‘economic units’.  Because we do what we do so well we can offer a little support to the thousands of teachers of all faith and none who work extraordinarily hard because, like Wesley they believe in children as whole human beings!

Mark Wakelin

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


The LibDem Conference in Brighton last week was my first experience of a political party gathering. Being part of an inter-church group (with URC, Baptist, Quaker and Salvation Army)was a helpful sharing of differing expertise. Meetings with people such as Lord David Shutt (ex Chief Whip in the Lords), Steve Webb and David Laws enabled the group to voice concerns to ministers. It genuinely felt like a conversation in which the views of the Churches were being listened to. Clearly, it was a difficult Conference for the LibDems, so unused to being disliked; an unexpected reward of being in power and taking decisions! Leadership isn't easy, of course, especially so as instant universal knowledge is available to everyone via the internet and other media; giving rise to the tendency for too many to become armchair experts. Fortunately the Methodist Church is blessed by having young people who are willing to take leadership positions. An initiative that Stephen Poxon and David Walton began during their Presidency year was followed up on Saturday and Sunday in Birmingham with the Emerging Lay Leaders Conference. Nearly every District sent reps and it was inspiring and energising to share with a group of young people with so much to offer(See the photo). An NHS manager, Andrew Bennett gave a helpful opening address on Servant Leadership.
What will be so important now for these young people, so keen to follow Jesus, is to go back to church and circuit situations where they can be nurtured and encouraged into leadership. I wonder if as a Church we give enough thought or resources to mentoring programmes which allow leaders at all levels to grow into positions of authority in the church at an appropriate pace? Learning through example was, after all, what the early disciples did.

Monday, 1 October 2012

“Surprising truth about politicians”

I’ve met a number of politicians over many years from all parties and of all the ‘types’ of people you meet, (how unfair putting people into types!) I must admit to liking politicians the most.

They are energetic, enthusiastic, committed – and usually not driven by money or power for the sake of it.  They really want to make a difference.  I know we need to keep an eye on them, and sometimes the difference they want to make is very far from the difference I want them to make, but still – for an energising conversation over a cup of tea, choose a member of the House of Commons (or indeed ‘The Other Place’.

This visit to the Labour Party conference was all about meeting politicians and I have to admit my expectations of how fun they are was were fully met. I went with a party organised by JPIT and the Salvation Army and though we had some areas we were interested to explore, we were mostly  there to listen, encourage, and try and give a good impression of the Churches.

It was impressive how much the various people showed knowledge of the Churches, and how important they felt our conversations were.  Two things come to my mind at the end – one is to try and articulate a more positive story about politicians than we sometimes get, and secondly to resist the increasingly common desire to blame the poor for their poverty.  These politicians at least would find life much easier if there was a more sophisticated attitude to people’s need than, ‘they deserve all they get’.

A couple of pictures

David Lamy and Hilary Benn

Trying to make what is not doubt a very important Methodist point to
Stephen Timms (right) with colleagues from the Churches.

We saw between us:  David Lammy, Hilary Benn, Stephen Timms, Paul Goggins, Jack Straw, Stella Creasy, Jack Dromey, and after I had left Kate Green. 

All thanks and much praise and thanks to the Salvation Army and of course JPIT – and of course the MPs who found time from insanely busy schedules to talk representatives from the Churches.

Mark Wakelin

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Roots and Branches

I had a ‘coming home’ sort of Sunday for the 50th Anniversary of Park Lane Methodist Church Wembley.  My paternal Grandfather found Methodism at Park Lane Methodist Church in Wembley in the 1920s.  I never knew him, but he took my father as a young boy with him, and thus that side of my family ended up Methodist.

Samuel Wakelin was much impressed with the Hymns of Charles Wesley finding great comfort in the sense of ‘all are welcome’ which up and ‘till then had not been something he’d come across.

It started a journey for my father, Paul, as a Pacifist going to Ethiopia in the 2nd World War, and then after the war as a Methodist Mission Partner in West and later East Africa.

I grew up a Methodist Missionary Boy – with my twin sister Mary and my brother Michael.  To come back, then to a church, admittedly not the same building, as my grandfather and to find the Church blessed with ‘every nation, ethnic group and language’ was thrilling.

What a fine church celebrating 50 years of the new building.  I preached, ‘place matters but people matter more’, and enjoyed the company of God’s faithful people.

Mark Wakelin

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Retreating to move forward

Up to Northampton again – less rain but still the road improvements which seem to be a work without end.  I’m not sure how we will cope when they are finished, so much spare time!  I’ve been asked to share in the Discipleship and Ministries Cluster away day.  D&M cover loads of things that matter to the Church from Local Preaching, Youth, Children, Theological Education, Evangelism and Chaplaincy.  It is thus a very powerful and committed team and I felt duly honoured to be with them.

I had two sessions which I led as a mini retreat with some reflection on work and the Connexion.  It was a good time of fellowship and though it is easy to feel life is too pressured to pause and think, it is amazing how such discipline and sacrifice of effort and time is blessed.  It’s a big year for D&M as, among other things, they start pulling together the Fruitful Field project and ground it some creative and courageous decisions. Keep them in your prayers.

You can read more about the D&M team here:

Mark Wakelin

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Leadership and Fellowship

I drove up through impossibly heavy rain to Kings Park in Northampton for the Connexional Leaders’ Forum.  In my previous job as Secretary for Internal Relationships I had been part of this group and had learnt to both dread and enjoy it in equal measures!  However going in a new role was different and everyone was so very kind and keen to find out how things were going for me.  We discussed as always an extraordinarily wide range of issues.

There are great many people in Methodism who care a great deal about a great deal and this has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s always difficult to trust others when you care a lot about something, and maybe we as a Church have lost trust in each other.

If is very important that we seek to regain it so our genuine care and concern for so many things can be delivered with a greater deal of comfort and happiness!  There’s an oblique point if you want one.  The best bit about CLF is when we share in small groups and we prayed for each other.  Thank you Connexional Leaders for such kindness and grace.

Mark Wakelin

Saturday, 22 September 2012


The last ten days have been very varied. Wednesday Sept 12th was the official farewell to Christine Elliott as Secretary for External Relationships. I said publicly then, and repeat the slight paraphrase here, that we won't know what we've lost till she's gone. Chris was a great colleague for me to have worked with in the World Church Office, and has since worked tirelessly with the wide-ranging brief that the Conference gave her in 2008. I was reminded of the high esteem with which Chris is held worldwide when I attended (probably as much for my previous world church experience, as for representing MCB) a Sri Lanka consultation in Geneva over the last couple of days. It drew together members of the Christian Council in Sri Lanka and external partners - of which the Methodist Church in Britain is highly respected as accompanying SL on its long journey to reconciliation and a lasting peace. Notwithstanding the present excellent relations with MCB's World Church Relationships' staff, many delegates from Asia were genuinely sorry to hear that Chris was no longer in the Connexional Team, so soon after the successful All Partners Consultation in 2010. The photo below shows one of the sessions, hosted by WCC, and chaired jointly by WCC and the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka. Much still needs to be done on the road to reconciliation, and MCB remains committed to the future, and possibly painful, process ahead for SL.
In between those events was a very happy evening at Oxford Brookes University, very closely allied to the Methodist Church through its merger with Westminster College. The event was specifically to open two new student residential blocks; and they were designed and finished to a very high standard. The great joy was that one of these blocks was being named after the Revd Professor Frances Young, who served on the Governing Council of Westminster College, was a Governor of Brookes and Chair of the Westminster College Oxford Trust. In 2010 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate by the University. It was a happy, largely informal and yet very significant evening. I know that for all of us our rewards are in heaven, but I am still left wondering whether we always do enough in the Methodist Church to honour appropriately those who have served us well?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


A week-end of anniversaries and celebrations! Last Friday I was one of the Methodist Church reps at Yattenden, near Reading, for the 40th Anniversary of the Arthur Rank Centre, the ecumenical body which has helped rural communities so much in recent times. It was a lovely occasion rounded off by a service of worship, with Pam Rhodes interviewing both the Revd John Clark (Director 1988-99)(in the photo) and the Revd Graham Jones (National Rural Officer for the Methodist Church and URC).
On my way there I was pondering on the ARC initials, and for me they could stand for Approachable, Rural expertise, and Credibility. The Revd Gordon Gatward (present Director)at Conference this year reminded us that probably the only organisation that kept credibility with the farming community during the Foot and Mouth outbreak, was the ARC; acts of kindness, compassion, practical help and just being there for people when it was most needed. On Sunday, after leading a morning Harvest Festival in Chacombe (as part of which we exhibited the art work of the village group), having found a way across the paralympic marathon route, I went to Westminster Central Hall to be with the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship and join in their 10th Anniversary service. Much celebration about what has been achieved, the big strides forward in integration, the ways in which the British Church is being changed by influences from beyond these shores. Yet the challenge throughout was the further need for Ghanaians and those of other Fellowships, to take more of a lead in ministry and mission here in UK. In the Body of Christ, in the Methodist Church in Britain, how we need to make the most of each other's gifts.
It was a week-end to give thanks to God, and especially for the Church being a credible presence in the lives of very different communities.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Opening and Closing, thanksgiving and hope

A visit to the Nottingham and Derby and what a lovely time!  Excellent hosting with thanks to the Chair of District Loraine Mellor and John Mellor – and two really lovely dogs!  Just be careful when they show affection after enjoying a large amount of water.  I’m not experienced about such visits, but I can’t see how this would be improved.

I had the privilege of meeting with Chris Hughes Smith and Dick and Kathleen Jones for an evening meal on the Friday – and then on Saturday taking part in a very uplifting Synod.  I reflected here on ‘The winter is over’ and had some fascinating conversations afterwards.

Sunday was replete with good things – with a full and lively service in the morning at Bulwell, afternoon taking part in the closing and thanksgiving for Queens Hall Methodist Mission in Derby and in the evening the reopening of Tissington Methodist Church.

The picture above is of Queens Hall – sadly to be closed, but what a good service and a lovely people.  It is never the end of a story, but some turns are easier to bear than others.  

Tissington, small but perfectly formed after its refurbishment, seemed to bring together a sense of worthy tradition with a new sense of purpose and direction.  A weekend of thanksgiving and hope, with sadness but much good.

Mark Wakelin

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Feasting and Fun in York

A very pleasant journey on my favourite rail way route to the fine city of York to be taken out and excellently hosted by the Chair of District, Stephen Burgess and Barbara Burgess.  Such good company and what a lovely place to be.  I was there, in good time, to take part in the thought provoking and challenging ‘York Institute for Community Theology’  

I have been there before in various capacities, and this year I was sharing with a post graduate group some approaches to collaborative ministry.  Good day again – and not too late back to London so I could get ready for a busy weekend! 
With David Dadswell learning a good deal!

Mark Wakelin
On Sunday September 2nd, the first Sunday in the new Connexional Year, Mark and I were invited to Wesley's Chapel in the morning.It was a time of praise and worship with a real international flavour, we enjoyed two baptisms, an uplifting sermon from Mark on '...the best is yet to be', and shared in communion. After the service, outdoors at the back under the watchful eye of our founder, an international buffet was laid on for a veritable multitude. Conversations with Ghanaians, Sierra Leoneans; with others from Cote d'Ivoire, Tonga, Fiji, Ireland, Singapore. What a joyous occasion - and thanks to all involved! The evening service was a more reflective time at Westminster Central Hall. It was a healing service and was lifted in prayer well before 6.30. Walking into the sanctuary there was an almost palpable sense of expectation, and people were clearly wanting to hear God speaking to them. The theme for my sermon was 'Longing for Grace'. The integrated communion and prayers of healing was such a special time. The Revd Peter Edwards will now co-ordinate this healing ministry. I was very impressed by the quality of leadership evident on Sunday. Not just the superintendent ministers, Leslie and Martin the right people at the right time, but also by the team of ordained and lay people who are involved in so many ways in both Wesley's Chapel and Westminster Central Hall. Without such quality lay commitment, up and down the country, Methodism would be very much poorer - indeed, probably not exist at all. Yesterday, Mark and I were together again at Methodist Church House to take part in the new year service for the Connexional Team. The Revd Jo Cox led the worship and I kicked off with a reflection on 'We'll praise him for all that is past...' followed by Mark on '...and trust him for all that's to come.' It was not the easiest reflection that either of us will do this year. Decisions taken at Conference, or even by Methodist Council, sometimes taken without much debate, often have a real impact on people's jobs and lives in the Connexional Team, and we were both very conscious of this; for me the real impact was in 2007, for Mark it is, of course, very recent. We all need healing, we all need God's grace, we all need to trust God - and yes, the best is yet to be!

Vice President

On Saturday August 25 I joined Mark at Greenbelt. We did some things together - photo opportunity at the Christian Aid bus re Tax Justice (please watch out for it on its current national tour); and a late evening 'Methodist mingle' in a very soggy tent. In between, some stimulating speakers, good worship, and a fascinating discussion on prayer. The Goan fish curry was good too! There was the joy of unexpected meetings with Mission Partners, Chairs of District, old friends and colleagues. I am interested too, at ecumenical events like this, in the number of conversations with total strangers who have Methodist connections. Do I lament that all these people are not now regularly worshipping in the Methodist Church; or rejoice in the seeds that Methodism continues to sow? And which is nearer to the vision of John Wesley? The next day, in between leading worship am and pm, I attended a service in a village called Wroxton at a chapel where the fellowship was 'ceasing to meet'. It was the first time that I had attended such a service - a sensitive mixture of thanksgiving for all that had happened there, mixed with a sense of bereavement, and the difficult task of 'moving on' for the faithful few - but to where, and to what - how to discern what God was actually asking them to do now? Where now to sow the seeds? The building itself is in good condition and the local school will use at least one of its rooms for the next two terms. After that, decisions will need to be made about the various options: realising capital for the circuit, releasing money for mission, keeping a 'presence' in the village, using the chapel for other Christian purposes, etc. God is present in all this; but what does God want us to do? I keep thinking about that discussion at Greenbelt on the importance and purpose of prayer.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

We’ll praise him for all that is past, and trust him for all that’s to come

Mike and I took part in the Connexional Team Start of Year Service – and it was a very odd experience for me, and a poignant theme.

As many seem to know my post as ‘Secretary for Internal Relationships’ was made redundant at Methodist Conference this year, and I was officially no longer in post from the 1st of September.  Under normal circumstances I would not have been seen for dust but because I was President I had to come back and look positive!

Being made redundant is not fun, whatever the rhetoric that comes out from the organisation, ‘this is not personal’, ‘this does not imply you have done a bad job’, ‘it’s the post that has been made redundant’ etc., etc., it doesn’t feel that way.  You feel rejected, you feel that what you have done has ‘failed to come up to expectations’ and not just ‘The post that has not come up to expectations’ as the report on which the decision was based suggested.  I have been surprised and to be honest deeply embarrassed how badly I have taken this turn of events.

I’ve tried to understand why.  It’s partly because Methodism does these things in the most impersonal way, there is very little conversation and round robin emails are the usual way of keeping you up to date.  It’s partly to do with ordinary crushed ego and pride, ‘but I thought I was doing a good job, how can they not need me or what I did?’  It’s also partly about insecurity – ‘I’d rather relied on being settled for a while so the Wakelin clan (Oakwood Branch), could finish off paying a mortgage!  But underneath all this was a sense of personal doubt – ‘am I really that unnecessary’,’ has God really not been behind all the hard work of the last four years?’

I struggled with that so much because I had felt so strongly called to work in the Connexional Team – so much prayer and worrying about applying for the job.  Losing your job doesn’t involve you very much unlike applying for one!

But here we were with Mike and I taking a lead in a beautifully planned service for the beginning of the year.  Mike took, ‘we’ll praise him for all that is past’, and as usual gave a carefully crafted and compassionate talk about praise and the past.  I had to tackle, ‘we’ll trust him for that’s to come’.

After much thought I focused on one thing – ‘how little we do actually really know about the future – but how much we do know about God’s love.  I’ve no idea what this year will bring, but I do know that come hail and high water I will be loved, and so will you.

Though waves and storms go o’er my head,
Though strength, and health, and friends be gone,
Though joys be withered all and dead,
Though every comfort be withdrawn,
On this my steadfast soul relies,
Father, Thy mercy never dies.
Johann A. Rothe (tr. John Wesley)

Having told this story – a little self pitying I’m afraid, I need to notice that my colleagues, John Ellis, Christine Elliott Hall and Paul Winyard also lost their jobs and without the luxury of being a Minister who is guaranteed an appointment and a house.  My colleagues have given a great deal to Methodism and I want to thank and honour them, if I may, from my rather odd position as a Methodist President currently on his own, ‘President’s List’.

Mark Wakelin

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Service providers and Bishops

Higher Education Chaplains

 Judith’s new term started on the Tuesday, and I was away at an ecumenical Conference for Chaplain’s in higher education. This was a lesson in how far Universities have changed! The fascinating speaker from Warwick University who line manages the chaplains, talked about ‘customers’, and ‘service provision’, and the cost per student of a one to one chaplain encounter! I wore the ‘Presidential Cross’ and everyone thought I was a Bishop and all the nuns at another conference in the centre call me ‘Father’. Odd you have to admit for a plain and simple Primitive Methodist from Puritan stock. Not sure what my ancient relatives would have said – my great grandfather’s, great grandfather’s, great grandfather, Henry Oasland, who lost his living as the Minister at Bewdley Parish Church 350 years ago this August just gone!

Here’s a good piece of work again so do click on -

Do pray for our Chaplains in HE as they continue to welcome back bunches of students all eager and ready to learn!

Mark Wakelin

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The winter is over and now is the time for singing

Preparing for the first services of the year I read this as the Hebrew Scripture reading for the morning service!  It felt very counter intuitive.  Methodism, and to be honest, this Methodist minister feels so very old at times!  Just holding, for example, the ‘Field’ Bible at my induction as President put you in touch with hundreds of years of history.

Songs of Songs 2

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

I preached both at St Giles Cripplegate and Wesley’s Chapel in the morning of the 2nd of September, and both impressed with their sense of tradition and age!  I’ve decided I like a good mahogany pulpit and nothing less will now do.  But that reading – instead of saying, ‘Summer is over’ – the Church’s summer, the good things that were, the great preachers, ministry, mission, success and glory; the reading reminded us that it was winter that was over.  What we look back on, our history and tradition, were not the glorious summer soon to be forgotten, but the first day of spring, with the best yet to be!  I have been haunted by the reading for the whole month; winter is over!  I wonder, you see, if Methodism is not over and done with, or indeed the Christian Church over and done with, glory days behind, but instead we’ve only just begun.  I shared that with someone, full of enthusiasm and not a little pride at the rather nice turn of phrase, and they told me, ‘That’s like the Archbishop argued when he said, ‘perhaps we are the early church!’’

Moving on rapidly in a long day, it was lovely to go Westminster Central Hall in the evening.  These two Methodist Churches are different from each other in a dozen ways, but both stunning as well.  Our healing service was excellent, gentle, powerful, encouraging and effective.  Mike King preached and what a pleasure it was to hear him expound scripture in the wise and passionate way he does.

Mark Wakelin

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The summer is over and winter is coming!

The mud was still drying on my favourite shoes – overcome as they were with the joyous downpours of blessing and rain at Greenbelt.  The first winds of the autumn came, hurrying up a final splurge of by now rather unwelcome courgettes and runner beans.  There are, after all, only so much of such richness that can be consumed by two of you, and only so many neighbours and friends that can face another generous visit and vegetable sharing conversation.  The summer is over and the end of the year approaches – the Methodist Year that is as well as the allotment year.

It was good to hear something of the harvest of the One Programme celebrations on the last day of August and meet the new OPP seedlings as they looked around rather anxiously in the Richmond room in Methodist Church house wearing remarkably clean and new OPP ‘T’ shirts.  Our One programme (youth participation) – placing young people in various posts around the country, is stunning.  Please follow the link to find out more!  I was there to do a short talk, to say thanks to the young people ending their time with us, and to say ‘hi’ to all the new arrivals.  Good day!  Good group!  Huge thanks needed for the Connexional Team involved – who are professional, caring, enthusiastic and calming!  Incredible.  And of course to say thanks to last year’s Youth President Sam Taylor and welcome this year’s Youth President Hayley Moss.

Mark Wakelin

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Technically this is holiday time, because Isabel and I had hoped to be in Poland for a few days after the European Methodist Festival in Krakow. In the event, not enough people signed up for the EMF and the festival was cancelled. However, with appetites whetted, with accommodation and flights already booked, we decided to go to Krakow for a few days anyway. The Old Town was fascinating, roaming round the old Jewish quarters made Thomas Keneally's 'Schindler's Ark' come alive, and the visits to the Salt Mines and Auschwitz, for very different reasons, will long live in the memory.
One evening we successfully found the Methodist Church in Krakow and were welcomed in off the street by the pastor, the Revd Josef Bartos, wife Ola and elder daughter Alexandra (see photo). Given the obvious disappointment of the cancellation of the Festival, it felt important to be a small encouragement to the church in Krakow; and we met a few British Methodists around in the city who felt the same way - I'm only sorry that we couldn't stay for the Sunday service. Encouragement is such an important part of church life. I have realised again in recent days, with many messages and cards of support for my year as VP, just how important it is that we encourage one another. Prayer is so important, and letting people know that we are holding them in our prayers is very powerful.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Last Sunday I was invited to preach at Watlington (Oxford Circuit) on the occasion of the Methodist Church's 200th Anniversary. A warm welcome, an air of celebration created by the large numbers of visitors that had enjoyed cream teas the day before, and a group of people who wanted to move forwards with God. It gladdened my heart to realise that a good number of local Anglicans had joined in the worship. It was a joy to be with them all, the bring and share lunch was of a very high standard, and the anniversary (fruit) cake rounded things off very well indeed! Below is a picture taken by Phil Crockett after the service. An excellent village occasion.
On Tuesday I was in London for meetings, notably about recent government initiatives on renewable energy. A real buzz about London in preparation for the Olympics. Then on to Methodist Church House to help with planning the Connexional Team service in September. Conversations with a number of old friends and colleagues. Good to hear up to date news from Sierra Leone, from Arnold Temple; that 'Singing the Faith' is being sold in such numbers; the sensitive way that the Fruitful Field report is now being progressed; that mission partners, the Harbottles, are all set for Haiti. I also saw Tom Quenet, who has volunteered as an 'ambassador' for the London Games. I wonder how many other Methodists have volunteered to be part of this amazing world wide celebration? This is what travellers coming to Heathrow will be greeted by - well the outer layers anyway! Thanks for the use of the pic. Very athletic and the colours suit you, Tom!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The thanksgiving service on Friday for Peter Baker in Slough was very moving. The church itself was packed, and the overflow hall also full. Andrew, Jill and Tim were a real witness to the love of God in the most difficult of situations. I know that the family will be upheld by many in prayer. On Saturday Isabel and I travelled to Hove, hosted by Isabel's cousin Char and Jonathan. A lovely meal was shared with a number of local church leaders and I found myself involved in a number of important and spiritually deep conversations; which enabled the worship on Sunday to be both more meaningful and more personal. Some visitors from Zambia stopped to talk after the service, about their HIV/AIDS work. Global and local. On Tuesday evening, it was off to Sutton Coldfield, to be with Rev Joshva Raja (Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies) who was being inducted or collated as Vicar of Curdworth, Middleton and Wishaw. Joshva has given excellent service over the last few years and inspired many from different parts of the world on the MA (Mission Studies) course. It was a joy to share with so many others in this service, conducted by the Bishop of Aston. One thing has been consistently disconcerting this week. I keep turning up for events as a friend, but treated by many as the Vice-President!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Vice President

After a triumphal attempt at blogging yesterday, I need to add some other highlights of the Plymouth Conference: Mark's address was excellent on Saturday, topped and tailed by the young women's choir from Edmonton (in the Enfield Circuit where I spent over 30 years). It was very special for me to be ministered to by youngsters I have seen growing up. The Sunday ordination service at Gwennap Pit was such a wonderful occasion, not just for the diaconal ordinands, but also everyone involved. When the rain came it added to the sense of joy without detracting from the sense of occasion. The thoughtfully provided white ponchos came into their own, but I have to report that Sue Culver provided Steve Wild and the Bishop of Truro with purple ponchos; and Steve seemed to be enjoying this distinction a little too much, I felt! Chatting to my neighbour, the same person that had received a soggy communion loaf from me shortly before, she turned out to be the Leader of Cornwall Council (we all looked the same under white ponchos! Is there a sermon there?)and was very impressed by the occasion and Eunice Attwood's sermon - a sort of prophecy about how to get out of the pit! I have come home via our son's house move near Salisbury, then on monday my work with village churches restarted. Good news, bad news, a bible study where people shared deeply about suffering, a well-intentioned letter misconstrued by the receiver, a week of rain and sunshine. And tomorrow a funeral for a much-loved and talented young man. Please pray for God's presence and peace for the family.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Apologies for not blogging before. Thought I'd cracked it at Conference, but clearly not! So a few comments on Conference highlights, for me at least. There were some difficult debates, not least about training (Fruitful Field) and the proposals re leadership of the Connexional Team - but how gracious people were with such emotional subjects. Ongoing prayers needed for people affected, some of whom are very good friends. I was delighted with the number of world church visitors who ventured forward, notably the Argentinian Bishop who spoke first in the discussion on the report on Drones - given what the politicians of respective nations have said recently about the South Atlantic, I found this very moving. So many hopeful signs in our Church. The young people spoke so well to their particular pieces of business, and the Church now needs to hear them more to other parts of the Agenda. There is a real focus on deepening Discipleship, which can only be good for both the Church and wider society. Without going on too long, sitting on the platform and being surrounded by prayer, by regular worship, by uplifting moments from all parts of Conference, was very special. What a privilege.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ruth's Final Blog

And so to my final blog. It’s been a privileged year, full of challenge, fun, hard work and new experiences. And in one of those ‘Godincidences’ an invitation during the course of the year led to my final official visit being to the church that nurtured me as a teenager and witnessed my commitment as a follower of Jesus and as a member of the Methodist Church. The youth work at that church was terrific, and engaged a great number of us. Fortunately, although most of us moved away, some are still there, and so Jan Burgess responded to my invitation to organise a reunion of friends as part of the weekend. Of course, most are now retired so there was plenty to catch up on, and we had lunch together and then a cinefilm show! Yes, really. Jan’s husband Vic had been way ahead of the game in the 1950s and took cine film way into the 190s of Youth Club hikes and weekends away. So he assembled his antique projector and persuaded the reel to run. Not only nostalgic but a glimpse of social history as we were reminded of how fashions (we used to hike in skirts!) and motor cars changed over a period of about 8 years. Some of the older boys smoked a pipe (tobacco of course).
In addition to the reunion, I ran a workshop on spiritual leadership, answered questions at a ‘meet the VP’ session and did my final service based on the challenge from the MRDF trip to Kenya.
 Thank you North Harrow, and all the other people who have made my journey so rewarding during these past twelve months. To those who have organised, given me transport and hospitality, arranged visits, provided meals, shared in leading worship, written notes of encouragement and, essentially, prayed for me, I give my heartfelt thanks. Together we look forward to a year led by Mark and Mike, and will pray for them and all the ways they will enrich, and be enriched by, the people called Methodist. May we all know God’s continued blessing.