Tuesday, 28 February 2012

VP Blog for February part 2

The 17 – 19th February weekend with London lay leaders was one of the most exhausting – and exciting - visits of the year. The district is engaged in a scheme named MEDAL (Methodists Enabling Disciples as Leaders) which is investing lots of time and energy in encouraging, enabling and equipping lay leaders – some new, some existing leaders – to play their part more fully in the mission and ministry of the church. More than 100 came to High Leigh to work and worship together and it was overwhelmingly wonderful. The mix of ethnic origin, age, experience and expertise gave a glimpse of the kingdom of God present among us.

It was hard work, mind. Not only did I have to be a ‘listener’ for the whole event along with Kan Yu and Peter Baffoe, but also lead a workshop (twice), answer some really tough questions on the Q and A panel, and preach at the communion service. Fortunately I was well fed myself by the prayers led by two ‘graduates’ from the London LP course, both of whom were inspiring, and by the singing (which of course led to dancing) and worship leading of the Leytonstone Methodist Youth Choir and their two exceptionally able accompanists. And all this as we sat around a beautiful worship display set up by Revd. David Butterworth, who used to enhance my own district gatherings with such as this. Wow!

Add to that a visit by the first black Zimbabwean cricketer, Henry Olonga, who told us how he had to flee his country because of his stand against the Government of Robert Mugabe, and how he was subsequently converted to Christianity.

Those present undertook some hard thinking led by Judith Jewell about how they would return to their circuits and engage in leading the church collaboratively with their ordained colleagues, pressing for change so that the church can more effectively be one of God’s tools for mission.

Their training will continue. Other districts could learn much from this model.

Visit to the Isle of Man

Fortunately I recovered my strength for the next weekend visit to the Isle of Man; very different, but also exciting in its own way. This beautiful district, like the other Island districts, has to find the right way to be part of the British Methodist Connexion whilst having a different legislature and being geographically discrete. My first engagement was with a group from their Leadership team to update them on the latest progress in the North West Districts Review process, and the Covenant which is to go before spring Synods. It was a very valuable exchange of information for me in my role as co-convenor of the steering group that underpins the work.

On Saturday morning a group of about 40 from churches across the Island gathered at Onchan MC to hear and share Good News Stories that I had picked up during my travels, and that they had within the Island. This is a very worthwhile exercise to undertake, as it does help to change the culture from seeing ourselves as in decline and fading away to one of rejoicing at the good things God is enabling through willing people who want to share the good news of the message of Jesus. Those who attended went away encouraged and fired up with some ideas to take to their own churches. Onchan itself has grown spiritually and numerically in the past few years, and that afternoon members were starting their new prayer initiative (see photo). There is just one circuit now on the Island, and some of the churches have their own ‘lay pastor’ as part of a collaborative ministry team across the Island.

Moving on then to Union Mills MC, for an afternoon on multi-sensory worship for LPs and WLs. One of the preachers, Bev, had set up a very moving worship focus with Lent as its theme, and all our senses were stimulated as we smelt the herbs, ate the bread and fruit, picked up the stones, lit the candles, had our hands washed, heard the clock ticking and the birds singing outside as we worshipped without words other than the Maundy Thursday readings. We were truly blessed by her ministry.

Sunday morning I led worship at Promenade MC, a church rebuilt in the 70s with a particular focus on welcoming holiday-makers. Good news! A Lenten liturgy was included (this seems to be very common now and uses actions and visuals to complement our words); a skilful organ accompaniment to every style of music we sang, full participation by the congregation, good powerpoint presentation, excellent coordination beforehand by the stewards, and fellowship afterwards helped us offer of our best to God.

All this was upheld by wonderful hospitality of the District Chair and his wife, a good Sunday lunch at Onchan, and a sightseeing trip to the west courtesy of Anne. “There’s Peel Castle”, she said. Oh, said I, there’s a hymn tune called Peel Castle. Yes, said she, it’s the Manx Fishermen’s Hymn!! - Doh!


Friday, 17 February 2012

Well at last the snow has caught up with me which made my visit to The Nottingham and Derby District an interesting one! Late trains, lost taxi-drivers and a service cancelled but in between a really good turnout for the morning the Vice President and I led on Collaborative Leadership for Healthy Circuits, an opportunity to celebrate with the folk at Uttoxeter in their re-furbished building, two local radio interviews, one a great deal better than the other not least due to the interviewer and back to where it all began in Swanwick, one of eight churches in my first appointment. Good to see some old faces, better to see plenty of new ones and great to see some young people!!

Young people featured during the next couple of days too as I was privileged to spend 24 hours with 30 of our Younger Ministers at St Katherine’s Retreat Centre in London. So inspired with their commitment, so anxious about some of the issues they raised, so moved by sharing Communion and anointing some with oil for the next stage of their journey.

The Northumbrian Industrial Mission service in Durham Cathedral was another highlight of the year. Chaplains from across the region representing 14 different expressions of chaplaincy were present and including folk from church and work-place the congregation was around 250! Placing different symbols of chaplaincy on the altar and offering them in prayer to God was deeply moving. Great to hear Northumbrian pipes played too – different and better (??) than bagpipes!

On that contentious note I’ll sign off! Forces Chaplains Conference next and then after a few days break a longish visit to Sheffield for which much preparation awaits!

PS Thanks for your prayers for The Retreat. It didn’t quite work as I’d imagined as I kept bumping into people I knew but I fitted in a good walk and for reasons I still can’t fathom was asked to accompany one of our Probationer Ministers to a Valentine’s meal at her church!! Must have been 105th choice! I’m sure she’d prefer to remain anonymous so here’s a photo of her with our chaperone! I’ll leave you to work out who is who and which is which!!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Blog for February part 1

Well, I spoke too soon about the kindness of the weather! My first engagement in February, to the Notts and Derby District, was curtailed by 10 cm of snow that fell overnight halfway through the visit; the Saturday went well, with 98 members of circuit leadership teams attending the morning session which Leo and I led. The focus was the General Secretary’s report to the Conference of 2011 on becoming a discipleship movement shaped for mission. Those present engaged in some serious thinking about possibilities for change. In the afternoon I spent a happy time with some of the families who attend West Bridgford MC. Overnight accommodation was provided by a former TDO colleague and it was good to catch up. Then I returned (having cleared off the snow) for a full cooked breakfast and then morning worship in which the children engaged in bread making and we shared a freshly baked loaf for Communion. Music was provided by a 15 piece ensemble, which is the largest I have seen so far, and all were excellent musicians. Sadly my lunch and afternoon engagement at Ashbourne had to be called off.

Two days later I was privileged to attend a service in Westminster Abbey, where the Church of England and URC were holding a service of reconciliation, healing of memories and mutual commitment. Fortunately the service sheet made up for my very rusty recall on church history of the mid-seventeenth century. It was a very fitting service, and struck me that it would have been impossible, 40 years ago when the URC was formed, to foresee that in 2012 the prayers of penitence would have been led jointly by an Archbishop who was a black man and a woman Moderator of the URC.

Back home and onto Bolton, to visit the Central Mission. This huge building is sought after for concerts due to its excellent acoustics, and the worship area is a fine example of its kind. But overall, such buildings as this present a significant challenge to the local congregation, who must not only deal with ongoing expensive maintenance problems but also seek a vision for the right way forward. The work that is carried out in the lower floor of this Mission is most impressive. Independent charities, as well as church activities, serve some of the most vulnerable members of the community including asylum seekers, refugees, and people with long-term mental health issues. There is a bright and cheerful café serving good food prepared by this latter group., but I was not able to sample it as I already had an invitation to good food at the home of Rev Devadas Matcha and his wife Sarani who provided great hospitality.

The following Sunday I was in another Anglican building, this time the small Parish Church of Ashby St. Mary, the village where we were having a few days holiday with a friend. I preached to a full church of about 50 souls, all of whom were very warmly wrapped up. The choice of hymns which the preacher and organist (both Methodists) had chosen were approved of and sung heartily I’m glad to report.

Against all this, I was contributing to the continuing campaign for minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and articles were in the Methodist Recorder two weeks running. So please forgive me if I insert an appeal to you, the reader, in my blog this week. We think that David Cameron is warming towards this proposal of a minimum retail price of between 40-50p per unit of alcohol, which would save countless tales of injury and illness resulting from alcohol misuse and millions of pounds per annum to the tax payer. You can see more information about the current campaign, Measure for Measure, by following this link: www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/alcohol. If you can, please do write to your MP to show the strength of feeling for this issue. Thank you, it can really make a difference.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Island Hopping

Well I’ve been Island Hopping these last two weeks on “trains and boats and planes” and by car too! Good things are happening in Isle of Man Methodism and folk talked with energy, vision and enthusiasm about the future in a way they hadn’t apparently done in quite the same way before. Very impressed indeed with Saturdays turnout to discuss Pastoral Care.

The Shetland Islands was buzzing with Up Helly Aa in the air – a festival commemorating their Viking links and which is now the largest fire/light event in the world. 1000 men (men only!) carrying lighted torches through the streets will live long in the memory – health and safety on the mainland would have had a fit! Good to link this in with Candlemas though! Shetland, like the Isle of Man is beautiful and despite the problems (??) of isolation seem to value their Methodist links very much. Worship was a special highlight in both places as were the number of children, young people and young adults in the congregations. Any preacher who is in either place during the summer and could offer a date for the plan would be enriched as well as being much appreciated.

Notts and Derby later today and then back here to Newcastle for Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth. Then south once more for 24 hours with some of our younger ministers before the pace drops a little for a few days! Looking forward to preaching at the Northumbria Industrial Mission service in Durham Cathedral on Monday 13th though!