Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Churches Together and Notts/Derby

I was part of the group that represented the Methodist Church at the Churches Together in England forum from Tuesday to Thursday at Swanwick. There were some inspiring contributions, especially for me those of David Cornick, Mary Tanner and Peter Whittaker; also an excellent Bible Study on I Corinthians 12 from Judith Lieu."What does love require of us?" was the theme, and the underlying question was what things the Churches might need to give up in order to achieve visible unity. It was a useful time of personal reflection concerning how much has been achieved over the last 30 years, but also what still needs to be done. There seemed to be a real tension between wanting to sit lightly to structures in order to join in with God's mission; and the need for any church partnership to have clear and explicit intentions. As so often in these conferences, the conversations outside the hall were fascinating, and I especially enjoyed talking to Deacon Ellie Griffin about her Loughborough and Leeds experiences. On Saturday I was back in the Notts/Derby District for a morning at Toton with a group considering further work in the Church; pm at Stapleford with the Church and Society group; and an evening with a world church theme at Mapperley, with a splendidly arranged Ghanaian and English meal. The photo is of members of the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship in Nottingham
and behind them are, amongst others, Tim and Hannah from Sherwood. Over the meal they shared some very exciting developments about their Venture FX work, outside the mainstream Church. Sunday morning was sharing in the service at Christchurch, Grantham - followed by a bring and share lunch. We really do this kind of thing very well indeed! It was a very happy and informative District visit.

Monday, 22 October 2012

VP - Much to celebrate and ponder

Back from Bethlehem and the next day it was joining the wonderful celebrations for Westminster Central Hall's 100th Anniversary. A lovely celebration supper on Saturday evening with excellent speeches; and joining in an uplifting act of worship on Sunday morning. So much going on at WCH at present, and sobering to remember how close the Conference decision was about keeping it open, not so long ago. Monday at Church House to be part of the farewell to Mark Wakelin and John Ellis as they leave the Connexional Team. Two very different people and their varied gifts were rightly celebrated. Both will leave big gaps in the overall leadership of the Church and Connexional Team. Mark and I were together again at Queen's, Birmingham on Tuesday for the annual visit there to welcome the Scholarship students from around the world, and also the new Methodist students in training. After leading sessions for the two groups, and after the obligatory photo with staff and students
we were involved in a vibrant and meaningful Communion service in a packed chapel. It was a very happy day; but staff at Queen's were also very aware of the significance for other training providers of the Fruitful Fields decisions at Conference. Wednesday to Friday were spent at Methodist Council in Sutton Coldfield, the first afternoon and evening jointly with the URC Mission Council. David Cornick of Churches Together in England reminded us of our different histories, but also of our present similarities. It was good to be reminded about what we do well as denominations, but also what we could do even better together. Thereafter, the enormous range of work and reports that is the Methodist Council. I mused more than once about how previous generations provided large representative committees that spent hours looking at specific areas of work; and now it is the responsibility of a relatively small Council of generalists to exercise the scrutiny role on behalf of Conference. It is a heavy responsibility which needs the prayers of all Methodist people, not least David Gamble who now chairs the Council. It was a week to remind me that, in the life of the Church, bold decisions need big vision and broad shoulders; but constantly underpinned by prayerful discernment.

Monday, 15 October 2012

VP - Birmingham to Bethlehem

On Monday and Tuesday it was off to Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) had again enabled the joint-Churches group to meet politicians such as Eric Pickles and Dominic Grieve, Attorney General. I also had time to hear Jeremy Hunt in the Hall extol the virtues and significance of the NHS. No time in a blog for analytical comment, but the Tory view on coalition government was different to the LibDems two weeks ago. I was also given the opportunity to take part in the devotions at the Prayer Breakfast, which led to some interesting conversations afterwards. Upper Boddington's Church Council on Tuesday evening was a welcome change! Very recently I had been asked to represent the Church at the opening of the Methodist Liaison office in Tantur, near Jerusalem. So on Wednesday it was off to Luton Airport for Easyjet's flight to Tel Aviv. Evening in Bethlehem. At 5 am on Thursday morning I was being herded through the 'cattle pens' with all the Palestinian workers trying to get to Jerusalem to their daily work. It was my first time of crossing the wall and I found it a de-humanising process - but those around me did it every day. I marvel at their patience. The Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAPPI) were splendid people from all over the world, including 19 year old Alex, a Methodist from Brazil (see photo), and clearly all were deeply moved and troubled by what they were experiencing day in and day out.
Later on Thursday we moved to Tantur Ecumenical Institute where the new Methodist Liaison office will be housed, two rooms financed mainly by the UMC, with British help, on behalf of the World Methodist Council. Its main purposes will be to provide balanced information on what is happening in Israel/Palestine; to enable Methodist Churches to connect with local ecumenical initiatives in I/P; to encourage theological reflection and dialogue; and to facilitate visits for the increasing number of pilgrims and volunteers to I/P.
At the opening, to which about 100 people were invited, Theophilus, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem attended - rather unexpectedly! It was therefore appropriate that he should bless the offices. Also in the picture are Bishop Hope Ward (UMC) and Thomas Kemper (Gen Board Global Ministries). It all demonstrated the sensitive ecumenical approach that has been made so far with this new venture for the worldwide Methodist family. Thanks are due to Janet Lahr Lewis (a UMC missionary) who has been working in the Jerusalem area for the last 20 years.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chaplains and Churches

My programme for the Leeds District!

Saturday 6th. October Arrival at 11:43 in Harrogate.  1pm. – Signing of the Area Partnership with the Ripon and Leeds Diocese, Trinity Methodist Harrogate, Act of Worship followed by refreshments.

Sunday 7th. October 10:30am – Morning Worship Wesley Chapel Harrogate, 150th. Anniversary, followed by lunch and early afternoon talk.   6pm. Pontefract Central Methodist 60yrs, Jubilee Celebrations

Monday 8th. October 10am – 3pm – Leeds Bradford International Airport Chaplaincy Visit.  7:30pm – District Forum Night at Oxford Place

Tuesday 9th. October 12pm – Lunch with the Supernumerary Ministers from the District at Guiseley Methodist Church

Hardly drawing breath from Kingswood School in Bath I found myself travelling North to the Leeds.  Those familiar with trains will have their favourite routes, and it’s a good journey to Leeds from London.  Liz Smith the Chair is currently off duty, poorly and so I was met by the Acting Chair, Julian Pursehouse.  Our first task was to be part of a covenant signing between the Anglicans and Methodists.  It was a short and excellent service – and to everyone’s delight Liz was able to do the Methodist part of the signing – a fitting thing given how much work she had put into the process.  Our hopes and prayers are with the District and the Diocese as the new mission possibilities this careful diplomacy will release.  www.leedsmethodist.org.uk

Below  - The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds (John Packer)and the Chair of the Leeds Methodist District(Liz Smith) sign the agreement. Behind them stand the Bishop of Knaresborough (James Bell), the Acting Chair of the Leeds District (Julian Pursehouse) and your friendly blogger.

I was preaching in Harrogate www.wesleychapelharrogate.org.uk/htdocs/Pages/htlm/specialevents.html and Pontefract www.centralmethodistchurchpontefract.co.uk/ for two Church Anniversaries. 

I think every President sees Methodism at its best, positive people in good numbers, but despite the obvious, it is heartening that we can still do both.  We had a lunch together in Harrogate where I was the ‘after lunch speaker’.  I can’t help feeling that they had heard quite enough of me by then! It was great to see the famous minister behind the hat at Conference without his hat at Harrogate and the minister at Pontefract all the way from Meru in Kenya where I was a little boy.

Reverend Jacob Kaiga

I had an extraordinary day at the Leeds Bradford airport – with Nick Baker – which I’ve written about in the Recorder.  Chaplaincy ‘works’ – in that we not only ‘serve and make contact’ with people we simply don’t see coming through the doors of our church,  but that we empower and enable others to be involved in a distinctly missionary activity which honours those among whom we serve, and encourages some of the values, hopes and dreams of the Gospel to flourish.

The District Forum on Monday evening was a good way to bring together all the various groups that have to meet, and there was time for reflection and questions to each other about where we are all going.  I have kept playing with the idea that it’s not the ‘summer that is over’ with all the good things in the past, but the ‘winter that is over’, with the first signs of spring.  I’m not there yet and each time I explore this idea I’m given new insights.  I’ve found it helpful though – and some others have said, ‘that’s exciting’.

There was a good turnout at Guisley on Tuesday for another excellent lunch and service. Among our Supernumerary ministers there are a number of concerns about ‘where the church is going’, not least issues around a recent rise in rents for the Methodist Minister Housing Association houses and of course the radical decisions of Conference.  I think my main job is to listen and promise to feed back to those who might have a say in such matters.  However, besides the anxiety about where things are going, there is also an incredibly passionate belief in the Church and the possibilities we face.  Ministers who have officially ‘sat down’ are often an increasingly important part of the very ‘un sat down church’.  There is a need, I suspect, to reflect on this more – and create space in our thinking that allows continuing ministry to be recognised and honoured in a more coherent and consistent way. www.guiseleymethodistchurch.co.uk/

Mark Wakelin

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Drove over to Hinckley this afternoon to intercept the 'No drones peace walk' from Shenstone to Waddington, taking place over the next week. The Methodist Conference had passed a resolution on the subject of drones in July, and it felt important to me to show solidarity with those who are prepared not just to talk about such an escalating development in warfare, but who are prepared to make such a public statement. Although others had started the walk yesterday, I met with five peace walkers over a cup of tea at St. John's Methodist Church in Hinckley - including the Revd Bill Anderson, Chair of the Birmingham District.
The photo shows both walkers and the hospitality team at Hinckley - together publicising the need to be active about peace.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Privilege and Grace

It is always chastening to go back to old places, and I found my trip back to Kingswood School in Bath suitably chastening.  It was and remains a very good school, though much changed, and I was given the warmest of welcomes by both the pupils I met and the staff, especially the Chaplain, Michael Wilson and the Head Master Simon Morris.

Methodist Schools are an important part of the life of the Connexion.  Most Methodist Schools are state maintained, over 60 in number and growing.  A smaller number are ‘private’ schools where the majority of pupils are fee paying.  As a missionary child I was destined for Kingswood from an early age, and went even though we had as a family returned home.  I was very troubled by being in such a school when younger, but over the years increasingly grateful and less clear about the ethics of it all.  I know far too many better off people, or ‘able to choose people’ such as ministers, to know that most of us will choose the best for our children within the means we have, even if it’s simply a matter of living as close as possible to ‘good schools’.  We will also spend as much as we can on space, books, and kit as well as give as much expertise and support as we can.  None of it exactly ‘fair’ when so many children in our country let alone the wider world have none of these advantages.  My gratitude, which might just as easily be given to teachers in the state sector, is the care and commitment of Kingswood and my parents to my education.  Wesley was passionate about learning and founded Kingswood upon some very modern concepts of what would constitute an all around education.  One of my favourite rules, though no longer kept, is that children shouldn’t play sport, but do gardening.

Kingswood today is an excellent school by any measure.  It does get good ‘results’, and it has a good sporting, music, arts, drama and world development/peace tradition, the Chaplain also encourages an open and intelligent approach to faith, and the staff are able to give full measure and shaken down in their jobs which for many are their vocation.  I know full well that this happens in the state sector as well – my son Ben is an equally enthusiastic teacher in an infant school in Surbiton, and Judith is wholly committed, and passionate about her role in Finsbury Park . . I could go on!  However, I visited Kingswood School and preached to the seniors, had supper with Simon and Mike, and was so proud that a Methodist School could be so good at what it does, so distinctive in its Christian ethos, and so grounded in the Wesleyan tradition.  With such schools as these, both in the private and maintained sector, Methodists have an important contribution to make to a wider discourse on education that needs rescuing from a simple focus on success and grades to turn out ‘economic units’.  Because we do what we do so well we can offer a little support to the thousands of teachers of all faith and none who work extraordinarily hard because, like Wesley they believe in children as whole human beings!

Mark Wakelin

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


The LibDem Conference in Brighton last week was my first experience of a political party gathering. Being part of an inter-church group (with URC, Baptist, Quaker and Salvation Army)was a helpful sharing of differing expertise. Meetings with people such as Lord David Shutt (ex Chief Whip in the Lords), Steve Webb and David Laws enabled the group to voice concerns to ministers. It genuinely felt like a conversation in which the views of the Churches were being listened to. Clearly, it was a difficult Conference for the LibDems, so unused to being disliked; an unexpected reward of being in power and taking decisions! Leadership isn't easy, of course, especially so as instant universal knowledge is available to everyone via the internet and other media; giving rise to the tendency for too many to become armchair experts. Fortunately the Methodist Church is blessed by having young people who are willing to take leadership positions. An initiative that Stephen Poxon and David Walton began during their Presidency year was followed up on Saturday and Sunday in Birmingham with the Emerging Lay Leaders Conference. Nearly every District sent reps and it was inspiring and energising to share with a group of young people with so much to offer(See the photo). An NHS manager, Andrew Bennett gave a helpful opening address on Servant Leadership.
What will be so important now for these young people, so keen to follow Jesus, is to go back to church and circuit situations where they can be nurtured and encouraged into leadership. I wonder if as a Church we give enough thought or resources to mentoring programmes which allow leaders at all levels to grow into positions of authority in the church at an appropriate pace? Learning through example was, after all, what the early disciples did.

Monday, 1 October 2012

“Surprising truth about politicians”

I’ve met a number of politicians over many years from all parties and of all the ‘types’ of people you meet, (how unfair putting people into types!) I must admit to liking politicians the most.

They are energetic, enthusiastic, committed – and usually not driven by money or power for the sake of it.  They really want to make a difference.  I know we need to keep an eye on them, and sometimes the difference they want to make is very far from the difference I want them to make, but still – for an energising conversation over a cup of tea, choose a member of the House of Commons (or indeed ‘The Other Place’.

This visit to the Labour Party conference was all about meeting politicians and I have to admit my expectations of how fun they are was were fully met. I went with a party organised by JPIT and the Salvation Army and though we had some areas we were interested to explore, we were mostly  there to listen, encourage, and try and give a good impression of the Churches.

It was impressive how much the various people showed knowledge of the Churches, and how important they felt our conversations were.  Two things come to my mind at the end – one is to try and articulate a more positive story about politicians than we sometimes get, and secondly to resist the increasingly common desire to blame the poor for their poverty.  These politicians at least would find life much easier if there was a more sophisticated attitude to people’s need than, ‘they deserve all they get’.

A couple of pictures

David Lamy and Hilary Benn

Trying to make what is not doubt a very important Methodist point to
Stephen Timms (right) with colleagues from the Churches.

We saw between us:  David Lammy, Hilary Benn, Stephen Timms, Paul Goggins, Jack Straw, Stella Creasy, Jack Dromey, and after I had left Kate Green. 

All thanks and much praise and thanks to the Salvation Army and of course JPIT – and of course the MPs who found time from insanely busy schedules to talk representatives from the Churches.

Mark Wakelin