Tuesday, 19 June 2012

VP Blog for Manchester and Stockport District, celebrations and the Irish conference

Visit to Methodist insurance - we were in Manchester so thank you for the brollies
Manchester and Stockport is a neighbour, and I was already familiar with some of it. It was good to go into the city and meet with two important administrative groups that serve the Church well, Methodist Insurance and TMCP. Little sung heroes, they play a vital role in protecting us from the ill-advised actions of others and ourselves. And in the latter case, invest our money for us. It was good to know that some of the staff who previously worked for Resourcing Mission have been integrated into the team, though sad to meet the ever dwindling remaining staff from that office – all will be gone in a very short time. Their loyalty to Methodism through difficult years has been immense. Thank you.
Staff of TMCP
We stayed on the premises for lunch with a group of district lay workers who are enabling Fresh Expressions, and had a useful conversation before going downstairs to the Nexus Art cafĂ©. Here’s a very creative fresh expression of church, well worth a visit. Local artists work there and display their art, and there is a very spiritual feel to it all.
We managed to fit in a quick visit to the John Rylands Museum, where the tiny, awe-inspiring oldest fragment of John’s Gospel is now on display amongst many other ancient documents. Do go!
That evening, it being Ascension Day, we travelled to the village of Mellor  where Leo was to preach at an ecumenical service was held in the Anglican church of St Thomas The church is situated within the boundary of an Iron Age Fort and is a fascinating place to visit. It has stupendous views over Cheshire.
Friday was a day for touring projects: starting with a cup of coffee at The Mustard Seed in Chapel-en-le Frith, then on to find Grace Murray’s grave (see Leo’s blog) then to Buxton where Deacon janet heads up a team that has bought a Spar shop and is in the process of converting it to ‘The Hub’ community centre. These two projects are fragile, but attempting important work. Then lunch in Buxton at the Dome, a walk to fill up our bottles at the local tap supplying Buxton Spring water (free) before visiting the MHA at Bowdon, and then to Hale to see the almost completed new build which incorporates chapel and housing accommodation. Quite an adventure for the congregation.
Well, we weren’t tired at all after all this, so completed the day with an evening speaking and listening to circuit leadership teams.  And a buffet supper!
Saturday was the day for interactive Bible study at Poynton Methodist Church, which was an energetic morning, and I was back there the next day for their morning worship, thereby being excused from participating in the Manchester 10K Run which a number of colleagues were doing!
The visit closed with a District service at Cheadle Hulme which was a fitting climax to the very full and interesting visit. Thank you to all!
London highlights and other celebrations.
Susanna Wesley's grave
London has some opportunities that other districts just don’t have, and two of these have been special during May. The Wesley Day (24th), commemorations of John’s conversion, start with choral evensong in St Paul’s Cathedral (we sang ‘And can it be’) and then there is a pilgrimage beginning at JW’s statue in the grounds of St Pauls, where a liturgy includes the laying of a wreath and the singing of the ‘Daughters of Susanna Wesley’ choir; moving on to the Flame in Adersgate St (another wreath, more singing and praying;  then to Bunhill Fields Burial ground where Susanna lies – incredibly moving to sing and pray here, and then into Wesley’s Chapel for a service which culminates with a procession to the graveyard and a final ceremony at John’ grave. (we sang And can it be.) I think that it should be compulsory for every Methodist to do this once in their life time – it is just the most marvellous experience. Thank you Leslie and Jennifer for this treasure. I forgot to say that prior to that I had witnessed the hanging of the John Wesley nameplate from a high speed train power car on the wall at Methodist Church House. It had been rescued from a scrap yard!

A once in a lifetime opportunity for me on the last day of May was to sit next to the Archbishop of Canterbury firstly at evening prayer in the crypt at Lambeth Palace and then next to him for a meal and conversation on the relations between our two churches (with another nine people I hasten to add!). That was a special privilege which will certainly stay in the memory.
Between these two days in London, I enjoyed some ‘me time’ at the annual Methodists for World Mission Conference, which this year focussed on Africa.  As you might imagine, it was joyful, colourful and informative, for we celebrated the energy and creativity of Africans whilst acknowledging the pain of so many of them suffering illness and poverty. Organisers: you did a wonderful job!
The original building at Woodhouse Grove
I then made a visit to Woodhouse Grove School which is celebrating 200 years in operation. It now has two sites, catering for the learning needs of children from 3 to 18, with a most impressive suite of premises, curriculum and ethos. I was shown round by the Head Girl, and had a stimulating lunch time session with some sixth-formers. They were articulate and thoughtful, and it seems likely that they will make worthwhile contributions to society. 
The following weekend it was the annual Cliff College celebrations, which despite the weather were also joyful, colourful and informative! So much happens now in marquees that the weather was only a spoiler on a minority of events, which people could still enjoy if suitably dressed! It was good to be back at a place where I had enjoyed my postgrad study.

The Irish Conference
What exactly is a ‘Peace Wall’? Apparently not what I thought. In Belfast it’s what still keeps apart some of the Protestant and Catholic areas of the city and is a huge and horrible symbol of the disease which still marks certain parts of the city. Under the guidance of Revd Inderjit Bhogal Sylvia (my PA) and I visited places with names infamous for atrocities of bigotry and hatred. We walked through a gateway on the Springfield Road from the desolate looking Catholic side to the neat housing estate on the protestant side and we gasped -it was like going into a totally different world. Nearby is Springfield Road Methodist Church, whose front entrance is in the Catholic area, back door in the Protestant. It is the base for a community project working for community integration but sadly the worshipping community, after years of faithful witness which included having the inside destroyed by a bomb and rebuilt, has now ceased to meet there. It’s hard to comprehend the sacrifice of that kind of witness.

From Belfast, we travelled to the Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle, where Inderjit is Leader. The contrast couldn’t be greater. Perched on a cliff top, with peaceful, magnificent views to the Western Isles, Corrymeela provides programmes about peace and reconciliation. A party of school children from Enniskillen (site of an atrocity on Remembrance Day in 1987) had just arrived; it is an integrated school, unlike the majority of schools in Northern Ireland which are ‘faith’ based (yes, protestant and catholic). Volunteers from all over the world come to spend time here, and the sense of the peace of God pervades the whole site. See www.corrymeela.org for more info.

We made a quick sightseeing trip to Giants Causeway, a world heritage site, and an incredible geological experience. And how strangely warm those basalt rocks are! Then, we made our way to Enniskillen  for the Irish Conference.
Enniskillen War Memorial
Enniskillen is really an island surrounded by water. Also lots of water continually comes from the sky! But the people are warm and friendly and we are made very welcome. And in stark contrast to what we saw in Belfast, the ecumenical relationships are good too. The installation of the incoming President, the ordination service and all meals are held in the nearby Cathedral, St. Macartins, whilst all business sessions are in the Methodist Church. Observers from a variety of denominations including Orthodox and Roman greet us, and the Bible Study is led by a Benedictine, Dom Mark. A brave (his word – audacious) invitation in a town where Catholic- protestant relationships for some people are still fragile. But the church must be prophetic.
The business passes quickly – our own conference could learn from it – much trust is shown in the decisions presented and there is no attempt at micro-management. Trust in those who present the business is immense.
Enniskillen Methodist Church
Sunday morning, and I take the service at Ballinamallard MC. It doesn’t start till 11.30 so no wonder people don’t hang around afterwards (or didn’t they want to tell the preacher what they thought of the service?). Then back to the Conference ‘business’ associated with affirming people, which included a tribute to those ministers who are ‘sitting down’ as well as reception into full connexion of the ordinands. Then the most amazing service in the cathedral where the ordinations took place, each ordinand giving an inspiring testimony as to their call. I think the roof might need to be examined for safety after the singing of more than 600 Methodists nearly raised it. What a great way to end the Conference.

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