Saturday: Leo and I led a quiet day in the village of Apperknowle. The chapel claims to have the best view in Methodism – I would say it certainly comes in the top three I have seen. Inside there is, as always, great hospitality, with home-made cakes accompanying morning coffee and afternoon tea. This was a day in which we considered those things that had been significant to us on our discipleship journey, and included some creative work on personal symbols.
Sunday: for me, morning worship at Handsworth; a congregation which has dramatically altered its premises to make them a community space. It’s impossible to judge how much pain went into that process, but everyone can see how much gain has resulted. Worship is held in a multi-function room and people are setting the chairs out in the worship space as I arrive. Then ‘home’ to my friends for a reunion lunch for an ecumenical ‘ginger group’ I was part of in my post graduate days. This was followed by another reunion, where almost forty of my Meth Soc contemporaries gathered at the Broomhill site that had been our base. The building (to serve the present age….) is completely unrecognisable from the Victorian one in which more than 100 of us cooked group teas on Wednesday evenings. We shared in evening worship with the local congregation and circuit, to which I brought my challenge from the Pokot people of Kenya (see August blog).
Monday: down memory lane again, this time to Pitsmoor to the Urban Theology Unit, where I studied in the 80s. John Vincent is still actively involved although no longer director. UTU provides a valuable opportunity to study and reflect on ministry ‘at the edge’, but like all institutions is anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Fruitful Field process. A useful meeting with Noel, Ian and John and Russell.
On then to have lunch with Caroline Riley, currently a regional training officer, and once a valued TDO colleague. Then to Whirlow Grange for a residential time with ministers up to 10 years in ministry. This gave us time to slow down, and reflect on our ministry under the theme of ‘Watching over one another in love’. It was a great privilege to spend time in this way in such a beautiful setting , and get to know people better. Our communion service focussed on the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and Leo and I were able to offer foot-washing to those who wished to participate.
I then went on to the University chaplaincy with Revd. Catrin Harland and met the students who were present for the midweek communion service. Over refreshments afterwards I had a slice of a vegan birthday cake (some of the group have gone vegan for Lent) and it was delicious. It was also a coincidence that the birthday girl was the twin sister of one of the staff at the Keele chaplaincy, where I am on the management group for the free church chaplain! A quick tour of the Uni showed that immense changes have taken place since my student days. It was good to see a demonstration taking place outside the union building – some things haven’t changed and I’m glad.
Thursday I was picked up to go to Bawtry Hall, again old haunts, to meet with the superintendents. I was amazed to find they all wore very smart suits! And there were hundreds of them. Oh, no, there was a business convention happening, with the smart cars being so unsmart in their parking there was little room for us. Eventually the supers arrived looking more like supers and we had a useful time together working on collaborative leadership and risk taking.
I was then taken by an ex-colleague from the NW to his home for tea, and then on a visit to ‘Starter Packs’. This amazing (whoops, I’m becoming Eunice) project is run by a group of volunteers who wish to remain anonymous, and to keep the venue where they do their good works secret. (reminded me of some words of Jesus). They pack boxes which contain the essential bedding and kitchen utensils for homeless people who have been allocated a place to live but have nothing to call their own. All the bedding is new but other things may be new or good quality second hand. A referring agent acts as go-between so the recipient does not know who is providing their equipment. Nevertheless, they know that a thank you card will reach the providers! Another great little project!
Friday was the day to greet the supernumerary ministers and spouses, plus those whose partners have died. It was a blue-sky day in Bakewell and a glorious drive to get there. I knew quite a few who had been in Chester and Stoke-on-Trent at some time, and it was also good to meet a previous colleague on the Conference Secretariat in days long gone. There was much chattering, a short service and a sit-down meal. Afterwards I was able to spend longer with Jane Farley, who, together with husband John, had played such a significant part in my journey of faith. Then (this is turning into a continuous trip down memory lane) I went to visit Janet Morley, once coordinator of the TDO scheme and now a freelance writer. Her new book for Lent ‘The heart’s time’ is wonderful, and I purchased a further seven copies for folks who had requested one. Leo and I discovered at the beginning of the week that we were both using it, and had a daily conversation about each poem.
Our final day together on this visit was spent with some of the circuit stewards. I am full of admiration for those who take on this role; it must be one of the most challenging for lay people. We had a useful day in the fairly new church building at Birdwell, looking at challenges and opportunities in circuits. Again, there is good use of this chapel by the community. This is such a consistent theme now across the district visits.
Sunday morning dawned bright as I made my way to Doncaster, to the lively church at Cantley. I found this to be a church that knows what its mission is and sets about it with determination and good humour. Careful planning before the service ensured everyone knew their part, and the service was recorded not only for those who were housebound but also to be available on their website. I found that a bit daunting – I had planned a conversation rather than a sermon and you can’t predict what may emerge! I was intrigued to see they had handwritten John’s gospel for their own use, and it is much treasured.
Home, then, tired but happy. Many thanks to Vernon and Anne from the district for all the care put into making the visit memorable for all the right reasons.
Just enough time to sleep before setting off to connexional leaders forum in London.