Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Diaconal Convocation and the Southampton District May 8th – 14th

Like buses, VPs often come in threes!
 It was good to be able to share in Diaconal Convocation, and experience the feel of a religious order. Inevitably much of the business concerned that of the Order, plus bible study by guest speakers, and an evening celebration for Amy, the administrator, who is to get married shortly. The deacons moved from hilarity to solemnity with ease. It was a privilege to meet up with Merl Wilde, an active 91 year old, who served in Kenya for many years and with whom I have mutual friends. Some of the Supernumerary deacons have led lives of amazing risk taking, in times and places which had poor communication (or indeed any other) facilities. We need to honour them.

Two train journeys then took me to Winchester where I was met by my host for the next few days, Bryan Coates. We probably met as teenagers, as his Youth Club, Questors, used to stay with us in North Harrow for MAYC weekend as what was known as Operation Friendship. We found we have several friends in common.  During my sunny visit to this district I visited the Chaplaincy at Portsmouth University, where the Chaplains are valued and financed by the university.  The coordination between all the student support services is impressive, as is the participation of students in assuring the welfare of other students.  Nevertheless, some students, whether through stress or folly, die, and the chaplains play an important role in supporting family and friends.
On from the Uni to the Navy, visiting HMS Portland where training takes place. Revd Janice Honey is known as ‘Bish’ to the sailors, and held in a great deal of respect. Often away at sea, she is unofficially escorted on land in a foreign port to ensure she is not pestered by any strangers!  And strangely, she deals with fewer deaths then the University Chaplain.
That evening I visited the Friday Fun Club at Weeke  MC in Winchester and ended up playing ‘Port and Starboard’! For those who have forgotten it involves scrubbing the decks and climbing the rigging, both of which were a lot easier when I was a lot younger. Great fun was had by all at this lively club. Then a sudden transition to a Bible study on the healing of Bartimaeus, which was well participated in by those present.
Youth presidents, ex- and designate.
Saturday was Synod day – lots of sunshine of course. It’s always interesting to see how others do Synod and compare with my own district. Well, for one thing we don’t have a view of a harbour, nor do we sit at tables. Leo and I did a double act on the State of the Church, which seems to go down well. The bright yellow T-shirts helped – we were the ‘on your marks’ of the Olympic theme. (see photo in Leo's last entry)
After a meal on Portland, we returned to visit Tolpuddle on the way home and had a time of quiet reflection. This is what makes me proud to be a Methodist: the empowerment of ordinary people who learned how to speak and act for justice. 
Tolpuddle martyrs

On Sunday I travelled to Whitchurch  to help them celebrate their 200 anniversary. I was welcomed by the Mayor and Mayoress who were both members of the church, and when I looked at the photo exhibition, there was the Mayor, first as a babe in arms, then as a Youth Club leader and now as a community leader working out his faith in the complex world of local politics. Then I was asked to present a long service certificate to a Local Preacher who was accredited 60 years ago, and who spoke with passion of God’s call on his life as a teenager and his subsequent journey of faith. After the service I unveiled the first blue plaque to be installed in the town in recognition of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – it commemorated John Wesley preaching in a local field in 1759. The field became known as Hebrews Field, as he had preached from that book. What a morning!
That afternoon we took a Ferry trip to Isle of Wight to share in a Circuit service at Ryde. In the church hall there was a drop in for vulnerable adults before the service. The church itself had just been beautifully  renovated and we had a great service. Then, after refreshments, a dash back to the ferry and a lovely journey back across the water.
The rain came just after I had got on the train to Reading next morning, thus confirming the rumour that I had brought the fine weather! I had asked to visit the group known as REinspired, which works in collaboration with local schools to deliver parts of the RE curriculum. I sat in the church as a participant to experience a lesson for 7-8 year olds on Symbolic language in Christianity! It made me realise how we can underestimate the capability of children in our churches. They explored Jesus as Light of the world, Lamb of God, and the Vine. The local schools are very pleased with what’s provided, and there is good input about the Christian Faith, but no proselytisation. A visit to a local primary school for lunch enabled a conversation with six of the pupils who told us how much they learnt through these kind of lessons. Other churches could well adopt this approach – which is ecumenical. See www.re-inspired.org.uk for more details.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Well I am Wesleyed out!  Since I last blogged I visited Grace Murray’s grave (the Newcastle lass he should have married!) preached on Wesley in Manchester and Durham, am now setting off to St Pauls Cathedral, Aldersgate Street and Wesleys Chapel here in London and tomorrow will be at the New Room in Bristol!  I reckon I have travelled faster and further than the Olympic torch!  To top it and tail it I have also been to Tolpuddle (of Martyrs fame) in the Southampton District and on Sunday will be preaching at Gwennap Pit in Cornwall!

And it is not just me who has “done Wesley” recently.  He is featured on Sunday Morning Worship (Radio 4), Sunday Half-hour (Radio 2) and Choral Evensong (Radio 3)!  Seems that some of the things that Wesley was about resonate with 21st century spirituality and discipleship and I have been glad to have been a party in celebrating that.

But it also has been good to see some of this being worked out in many and various ways this past fortnight – partnership with new churches, in cafes, drop-in centres, allotments and new housing estates and in preparing to welcome Olympians and their families and visiting the office of the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes and Methodist Insurance has made me realise how they make much of this possible having as much of a desire that our heritage that serves the present age has no one else but realising that it is not always as easy as we might suppose.  But then as Wesley discovered nothing ever is yet it is always worth persevering!  Which is where we come in.

See you in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

In this merry month of May Joseph the Hymnographer’s words often came to mind during my visit to the Channel Islands District.  “Safe home, safe home in port, rent cordage, shattered deck, torn sails, provision short and only not a wreck”!.   Yes it rained and blew a bit so flights and especially sea crossings were “interesting” and David Hinchliffe, the Chair of District and I were marooned on Sark for 24 hours longer than expected but in God’s  providence it proved to be a particularly valuable time as did the visits to each of the islands – excluding Jersey which The Vice-President had already covered.  I was particularly inspired by The Jeremiah Project on Sark , where folk  were invited to help make a pot and then have it sent to them free of charge providing opportunity for the potter to recount the story (Jeremiah 18).  I suspect my pot will need a lot of work done on it!  (The gory details may well be seen on An Island Parish starting next year on BBC2!)

Celebrated my 60th birthday in Norfolk with family and friends, worshipping and partying together.  A good occasion and I’m more encouraged by my hairdresser who couldn’t believe I was a day over 45 (but then he only sees me from the back!) than the person who said I looked much older “in the flesh” then on the prayer card!

Regrettably I’ve only been able to spend 24 hours with the Deacons at Convocation as I’m now in the Southampton District for a visit but as usual I was inspired by the variety of service and the richness of ministry that our Deacons offer.

By the time I write next I shall have “passed through” Southampton, Manchester and Stockport, Sheffield (for my nieces wedding), Wesley Study Centre Durham, London, Bristol and will I hope have safely landed in Cornwall.  “And only not a wreck” I trust will still be the case!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

VP visit to Wales and Shetland


My district visits resumed on 20th April with a train journey to Cardiff for a weekend in Wales. Cardiff has been transformed since I was last there in 1990, and the magnificent sea front development is impressive. On the Saturday I had an enjoyable day at St. Michael’s College co-leading with Rev Stephen Adams a Myers-Briggs workshop on leadership. We had a great time and I was very grateful to Stephen Wigley, District Chair, for enabling me to do one such workshop during the year. 
Following that we went on to an event which was fun in a very different way: Trinity MC was hosting an Urdu Convention, led by Rev Irfan John.  Irfan and his family fled from His home country under threat because of their faith, as did many of the families present that day, some of whom had travelled four hours to be there. It was inspiring to be amongst them, from babes in arms to grandparents. Entertained by juggler Peter Cole, who used his art to present bible stories, and led in gospel singing in their own language those present had a day that fed them in many ways – including of course delicious food. Trinity has a particular ministry to those who have been forced to flee their home land, and is a wonderful example of wider Methodist hospitality.

Llanyrafon MC
Next morning it was up to the valleys, to Llanyrafon in the Cwmbran circuit, for morning worship, where two of the young people who had recently returned from Spring Harvest gave an account of the inspiring time they had there, and the music group led us in some newly learned songs. 

Wrexham Methodist Church
Sunday dinner was provided by two local members and then Stephen drove me for nearly four hours through beautiful Welsh scenery to Wrexham, venue of the evening service. Minister Richard Sharples has been running a Youth Emmaus course and had asked if we could aim the service at the group of young people, plus their parents and any young at hearts, and it was a pleasure to do this. David (my husband if you remember) joined me there to take part and we did reflections on the crucifixion and resurrection from the points of view of Peter and Mary Magdalene. Supported by a superb music group I think the service went well, and the young people led conversation groups on the theme. Afterwards we joined them for their session. It’s been encouraging to see the work that is enabling young people to grow as disciples. But what a long day!


Why the butt of so many Methodist jokes? What a wonderful place! And the weather is consistently sunny (though people have asked if we have brought it with us). It’s easy to fall in love with these Islands, and the Shetlanders are very welcoming people – everyone David and I meet wants to start a conversation. It’s not all  holiday though, we have to remind ourselves, and so an evening has been held on growth through small discipleship groups, an afternoon with the District Leadership Team on strategy re manses and churches and three services on Sunday.
Some of the members at Lerwick MC
Lerwick MC is the biggest in Shetland, and being in a port regularly receives visiting mariners from other countries. Fortunately they have a member, Derek, who speaks more languages than there are days in the month, so visitors can soon be made to feel at home. He gets called out as translator when medics are called to emergencies on ships. The warm fellowship at Lerwick MC enables a number of people with complex needs to contribute fully to the life of the church.

Culswick MC is very different. A tiny chapel on a hillside overlooking a few dwellings, it is only open once a month in the summer, and for a Christmas carol service. It’s always  unlocked though, to offer a dry space for walkers to shelter (apparently it does rain sometimes). Perhaps there is potential to develop this hospitality? Anyway, the church was nearly full and afterwards sandwiches and ‘homebakes’ (a regular feature of church occasions) were consumed eagerly by the congregation. It’s a good job they don’t weigh passengers as well as luggage on planes because we two were certainly carrying excess personal weight when we came home.

We just had time to get to the evening service at Scalloway, where the local worship group led us and then I ‘took us to Kenya’ giving my MRDF presentation.   Afterwards – guess what – more homebakes, but also the first time I have been offered ‘pigswill’!  Well I guess it was Dream Topping or the like, but Messy Church that day had focussed on the Prodigal Son so ‘pigswill’ was an obvious choice of food! It was a long day for the folks at Scalloway, but they, like so many others, have found Messy Church a very helpful outreach tool to local families.
Add to that the visit to the most northerly MC at Haroldswick where we checked that they had a photo of Samares (the most southerly, visited in Jersey), lunch at the church cafĂ© in Walls, a check on progress at North Roe where the old building is being beautifully modernised, and tours around various islands surrounded by cobalt blue sea. It’s a land where there are few large communities, and some chapels appear to be in the middle of nowhere, with a handful of faithful members. There are challenges to be faced, as in many other areas of Methodism, in order to be mission focussed. But we found the people to be in good heart, with an openness to new ideas.
Finally, a trip to an old mill, a drive down narrow lanes where new-born lambs explore their new environment, and a walk up Sumburgh Head to see the nesting seabirds, including some puffins. This was a lovely end to a lovely trip; thanks to our gracious hosts, Jeremy and Sheila.