I thought December would be a ‘quiet’ month VP-wise and how welcome that would be so that I could get ready for Christmas. However, I had omitted to take alcohol into consideration! Before your intake of breath becomes so sharp that you choke, let me explain; through our excellent media team and our wonderful, ecumenical, Joint Public Issues Team, the Methodist, Baptist and URC Churches are engaged in a joint initiative with the BBC in a campaign for Unit Pricing of alcohol. As I was for ten years the manager of, and a counsellor in, a community alcohol advisory and counselling service I was asked if I would be the principal Methodist spokesperson on behalf of the campaign. I agreed and in consequence had to do some pretty intensive catch up on the research that has led to the initiative before engaging in conversation with more than a dozen breakfast presenters in BBC Local Radio stations. You can imagine how (un)popular a campaign of this sort is in the run up to Christmas – and what stereotypical ideas much of the media has about Methodists and abstinence. It was good fun though and hopefully made a lot of people think.
Less unusual VP activity was to lead worship in two churches, for special reasons. At St. James’ in Woolton I participated in the series of special services they have had for their 200 years’ Anniversary. Talking afterwards to the choir mistress, I discovered that she had connections with the church I was going to the following week – Lidgett Park in Leeds – and had known my aunt and uncle who had been fellow choristers with her! Just another example of the small world that is Methodism. Lidgett Park has special significance for me for family reasons, and I had asked to be invited there so that I could thank them for all they had done for my aunt and uncle as they became more dependent due to age and infirmity.
Other events were all London based, and included a thanksgiving service at Wesley’s Chapel for the Methodist Recorder’s 150 years in publication. This is a remarkable achievement and the challenges facing all newspapers in this digital age are enormous. Returning to the Methodist International Centre for a night’s accommodation, I was invited to the students’ Christmas party. Now it’s a long time since I went to a student Christmas party and wasn’t sure whether I would be up to it, but it turned out to be a very nice Christmas dinner for the (mainly) international students. The tables were beautifully laid with decorations and crackers; the crackers were most probably made in China, but the Chinese and other students had no idea what to do with them, or what the jokes meant! How on earth did this custom arise for us? Anyway, it was great to have conversation with some very interesting people.
The President has already told you about various meetings we were at together, so I’ll leave it there, only to add that it was a great honour to be asked to preach at midnight communion at my own church on Christmas Eve – something I’ve never done before. Then followed a week at home with lots of family visitors, rest, reading a novel and catching up on my sleep. Wonderful! So now it remains to wish you all a blessed New Year and the awareness of God's presence in all our undertakings in 2012.