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!