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.

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