Friday, 30 November 2012

VP - A launch and a celebration

Action for Children invited me to the official launch of the Junior ISA.This scheme has been jointly promoted by AfC, Barnardo's and Sharefound, together persuading government to give £16.7m to close a loophole created when the Child Trust Funds ceased to receive state funding in 2010. This left young people, leaving the safety of the care system at 18, very vulnerable. e.g. how to find a deposit for a rented flat? Govt is providing £200 for each young person in care to set up individual ISAs; and the charities are now asking all of us to add what we can to these individual pots in order to give youngsters, such as the two who spoke so movingly on Wednesday at the launch, a chance to succeed. This is surely something that churches might like to focus on when charitable donations are discussed in church councils. Straight from there, across the Thames to Lambeth Palace to take part in Evensong and a special reception for leaders of Churches in England and other ecumenical partners to mark Archbishop Rowan's ten years as Primate. The Archbishop's short address centred on hearing God in the quiet places, and the importance of listening carefully to each other in ecumenical circles; loud noise is not usually God's way of communicating. Somewhat ironically, Evensong was followed by a rather noisy reception, which included a gift, in the form of an icon, from Churches Together in England. The varied conversations that I was involved in included bishops and women, the ecumenical dimension to future Methodist training, how to offer appropriate spiritual support to Christian financiers involved in the City of London, and the costs involved in running institutional Churches of all denominations. It's always good to hear and share different perspectives amongst friends.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

28th November 2012 President at Swanwick
I’m on my way back from the City Centre group of the Methodist Church where I’ve spent the last 24 hours.  It’s a gathering of those, rather obviously, who have a ministry within the centre of our great cities – from Edinburgh to Plymouth and wide on either side.  It was really encouraging.  I started my ministry in what was then called a ‘pre-collegiate’ year living in the Birmingham Central Hall with my very new wife, Judith. I was a youth worker and it was an adventure!  I learnt so much from the likes of Alan Francom, Michael Wildgust and the Superintendent Alan Broadbent who recently sadly died.  As I lived on the premises and was about to be trained as a Methodist Minister, I would get all the drunken, lost, bewildered, sad and simply odd members of the City Centre community of Birmingham.  I truly loved the job.  Meeting ministers and lay people who work full time in such areas is simply inspiring.  They do a great job.  I was most inspired by a Fresh Expression in Swansea, Sean and the ‘Zach’s Place’ project will rekindle all your longing for ministry as it should be.  Google it and pray!
I had the privilege – and believe me it was, to share some thoughts with the 50 or so people in the Conference.  Obviously I felt a right old fraud with such front line ministers!  However I asked a question that has been bugging me.  ‘What if the church was more than simply for the poor, confused, sad etc., and instead did the ‘Jesus thing’ and was ‘OF’ the poor and odd etc.  I really don’t have a clever answer – but I’m pretty sure it is a good question.

28th November 2012 Pioneer  Connexion
Here is something dear to my heart.  I may be hopelessly wrong about it but I sense a real God moment,  a real KAIROS moment whenever I meet the immensely charming Billy Kennedy who is the leader of the Pioneer Network.  They have a real ‘servant heart’ as Eunice (X VP) put it – she’s right.  They work with Churches in Southampton and elsewhere to continue and not replace the Methodist mission of years back.  They grew out of the Charismatic renewal of the 70’s and 80’s, a network of churches for whom God had made a real impact under the leadership of Gerald Coates.  They are now, in the words of Billy – ‘approaching middle age’.  Things have changed.  They have recognised that there was a deal of difficulty in their birth –  but things have moved on.  I have been overwhelmed in recent years with the sense that the Methodist Church needs simply to repent of the troubled way we coped with a new movement of the Spirit in those days, and I was very much part of that.  Not in a spirit of abject guilt and wretchedness – but simply in a spirit of hope and confidence in a God who lets you move on.  Pioneer and groups of similar holiness and groundedness have held for the Christian Church something of Wesley’s vision for the Nation.  My own belief is that we should, where ever possible, seek ways of encouraging them, praying for them, partnering them and expressing a true humility and love.  Martyn Atkins (General Secretary and my x Boss) has played a key role in the relationship and now I’m out of the scene I’m encouraged that this is something that won’t be lost in the majorly slimmed down leadership group of the Church.

27th November 2012 President  ‘Do Your Best’
I was a Cub Scout – not a good one -  but a Cub Scout.  My mother tells  me  that I came home one evening and proudly announced that I would be ‘Unroled  next week’.  I had my very own woggle and scarf and I was number 12 out of 12 in the foot ball team.  My Sixer, Robin Copeland is now a very important surgeon, I think in the Red Cross who specializes in reducing the damage inflicted by weapons of war.  My only skill – really my only skill – was to carry a six inch block of wood on my head without any effort at all.  This I put  down to my Mendi childhood in Sierra Leone where my friends carried everything on their heads – books, ink bottles, lunch – you name it.  Foot ball, however, was a complete mystery to me, and I remember the humiliation of failing to make the Team at a local Sports Event – and then the further humiliation of being called up and wandering around in a complete confusion as to what was expected of me.  A missionary childhood has its benefits, but becoming a sporting hero ‘aint one of them.
With such memories I entered the hallowed grounds of the fine offices of the Scout Association.  I do get on with people as a rule – but not usually quite so quickly.  I loved their passion, their vision, their practical application.  In the last few years they have turned themselves around as an organisation in  ways that should make us gulp with admiration.  I’m hoping we can find all  sorts of synergy and joint projects together and learn from the Association.  I did,  of course, mention the Boys and Girls Brigade, from whom, quite honestly they nicked  some of their best ideas, and they were most graceful and supportive!
If you don’t have a Uniformed Group in your church then get one . . .  times have changed and it is increasingly the in thing to be doing!  Hunt down the woggle.  Seek out the Scarf.  Try and remember why you DYBed and DOBed – and boys and girls are both welcome.

Monday, 26 November 2012

26th November The President at the BBC Daily Service

I’m sitting on a train after an early start in Manchester for the Daily Service – it goes out on Radio 4 Longwave every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the year. On Friday there is a slightly different service but broadcast at the same time.  The service has already had its 50th birthday and is one of the oldest broadcasts of any kind in the world.  Of course it’s changed over the years – 20 years ago they moved from their traditional home of All Soul’s Langam’s in London to Emanuel Didsbury.  The Religion and Ethics studio paving the way for the more recent exodus of the BBC to Media City.  Essentially though it remains the same, a short Christian act of worship with a significant number of folk who regularly tune in at home and around the world.
I first led the service when in the Manchester and Stockport District – and it was always a refreshing and challenging part of the richness of circuit life.  It’s fun to do – the service is live and with live music normally. There is a Daily Service group of professional singers but often, as today with the Manchester Chorale, very good amateur choirs.  I love singing – and know enough to realise that I could never sing at that standard, but perhaps enough to really appreciate just how good these groups are. It’s always a shame to me that the broadcast is on Longwave (and now digital as well) and not FM – so most people don’t hear the service at its musical best.
If you present the Daily Service you are sent a little while before a briefing sheet with the hymns and songs to be sung, a reading and both a weekly and a daily theme.  Today, following the Lectionary for yesterday was ‘Christ the King’ for the week and ‘King of the Jews’ for the day.  The knack of writing the script is to get all your thoughts and prayers into about 1200 words, and to somehow link the music, what’s happening in the news, and the theme together.  Because the service is broadcast live, timing matters!  The continuity announcer introduces the Daily Service and you are in at 10.45 and you have to be ‘out’ at 9.59 and 50 seconds dead our you will either crash the pips (too long) or leave a Radio 4 horror – a space without anything at all!!  The key to such close timing is the back times after the run through.  With the aim of 9.59 and 50 seconds you know, for example, that you must begin your blessing at 9.59 and 40!  To help there are several pages of blessings in case the timings have gone wrong – you’ve spoken too quickly or the choir have got carried away and expanded in the last hymn.  The blessings are not listed in a thematic way but according to how long they take to give.  I reckon the shortest should either be, ‘O dear’ or ‘Sorry’ as you land the service right into the pips before the next programme.
Today I explored the radical nature of ‘Kingship’ that the crucifixion forces us to notice.  A Saviour King without the pomp and circumstance of the every day sense of royalty and majesty.  It is a bit strange to be doing a BBC service as a Christian without the usual BBC stance of ‘not doing religion’.  The dominant secular orthodoxy of the last 50 years or so isn’t known for its tolerance or balance, something I’m afraid they probably learnt from the faith communities.  I’m sure there are few who strongly object that the Christian Community is allowed to do such things, but we are, and what a privilege it is something I suspect we must use more or lose.  Here is a little space in the day when we can stop and think of the great reality in which we all live, and not have to pretend that we don’t in case we upset our secular friends.  Here is a chance to let the King rule, the King of an eternal Kingdom which puts all of life into perspective.
If you haven’t listened – have a go – not that it matters, but there are a remarkable number of Methodists who are on the DS Team.  Google ‘Daily Service’ and you can catch up on their website after the broadcast if you miss it live, or, as many do, get ready at 9.45 with your retuned radio and perhaps a lighted candle to join in the prayers.  It’s no good going through iPlayer you’ll never find it.  I’m not sure the high ups in the BBC are aware of this wonderful gem, or if they are, are that proud of it!
If you like it – tell the BBC and as my aunt used to say, ‘use it or lose it!’
With thanks to the BBC for this opportunity, to their wonderful producers, technical, administrative and musical people.

Monday, 19 November 2012

VP - Being reGenerated

I was privileged to be at two wonderfully life-affirming events over the last seven days. The first had nothing to do with being VP, but our niece was playing in the Youth Music Festival at the Albert Hall on Thursday evening - so lots of family pride! More than that, it was so good to see such talent in the youth of this country, from rap to jazz to inspired singing to concert bands. Absolutely brilliant atmosphere. And being at the Albert Hall, lots of green and yellow memories too. But things move on, and the youth event, 3 Generate, held this year near Lichfield, was excellent. 320 young people, loads of excellent (and exhausted) leaders, a brilliant venue with outdoor activities on site, and all in a context of getting to know God more - and especially looking at 'justice' issues. Mark has written more on the subject on his blog too. I spent the day with some of the leaders 'GeneratePlus' under the guidance of Piers Lane; sharing ideas and good practice, visiting the next door National Memorial Arboretum and linking it with justice issues. And on Sunday, joining the young people directly for the election of the new Youth President to follow Hayley Moss. Five excellent candidates (Anna, Hattie, Paul, Sian, Tamara) and unfortunately only one could be chosen - Tamara. We wish her God's blessing on all she does next year. See the photo to get a 'feel' of the energy.
This was followed by a Communion service in small groups, a very meaningful way to end what was obviously a very happy week-end. The 'problem' is that the venue is too small, so how to keep growing and still keep all these young people in different age-groups happily engaged in a God-centred event? Answers on a postcard please to 3Generate!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The future is going to be so much better than the past

I haven't quite got this blogging thing yet. So far I've kept a diary and then sent stuff to the wonderful David Webster which he cleverly puts in to date order in my beloved brother's, the Vice President, far more regular contributions!.

 Here goes though. I've got some older blogs to post, but this is my latest. I was at the 3Generate - Youth Assembly - Youth Conference - depends exactly how old you are. I was at the first Youth Conference at a Night Club near London in 1995.

We emulated Methodist Conference. There were loads of people there, and some very committed young people and youth leaders. It was good.

 At the time some 17 years ago MAYC was still a large organisation. I was the new National Secretary of MAYC and the Connexional Secretary of the Youth and Community section of the Division of Education and Youth.

The Youth Conference had been set up by Dave Martin - an excellent and inspirational National Secretary in a long line of excellent and inspirational National Secretaries. I was passionate about young people's involvement in the Church, I was part of the implementation group of Charter 95, I had been involved since the early 80's as a volunteer with London Weekend with David Winwood as part of the worship team for the Albert Hall.

 Honestly - I've been there, done that, and shared the pain, hope, joy, anger, frustration, and delight of being part of the youth work of the Church. But I don't want to look back, I want to say how great 3Generate is.

Well done Jude Levermore and her team. well done the young people who did a great deal of the work. Well done the churches, the youth workers, volunteers and youth leaders who brought young people and children to 3Generate this year.

 The Old MAYC was a wonderful creature. I'm overwhelmed with pride that I was there - but in today's world, today's church - the challenges we face now. I know that Jude and her Team of Connexional Staff, volunteers, young people, youth leaders, and above all children and young people - are stunning.

 We explored spirituality and justice, fun and fellowship, worship and wonder at God's continuing call. I would like to see this event grow and grow. I would like to see God's will for young people, the longing, hoping, loving and calling that God has for us growing and growing for us.

We will not return to the 'glories' of the past - the future is so much better than that. But each year things are getting better and better - and I long with all my heart for the Church to hear and learn, accept and value the most precious gift God gives us of young people in the Church.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

VP - in Lancashire

What an encouraging week-end! A Thursday evening meeting with some of the emerging leaders that I was with at the Birmingham week-end in September, now planning their own 24 hour event in the District. A morning with Methodist Action NW, a new charity looking to respond to needs in the community not presently being met; acting on local authority referrals mainly; in partnership with local churches, using church buildings/space not being fully utilised. It was imaginative, creative, risky. I visited the hostel for homeless men in Fox Street, Preston and work with asylum seekers/refugees in Blackburn. "When Lord did we see you...?"(the photo shows the Methodist Action team with Rev Yvonne Pearson)
A couple of hours in Brinscall joint Methodist/CoE junior school was a life-affirming, joyous visit. An excellent assembly led by Year 6 on 'Remembrance', clearly dedicated staff led by Annette.Then on to Clitheroe Church for Together on Fridays, an all-age (3 weeks to 90+)event, held every other week, starting at 4 with activities and games; a sit down meal (with a wondrous choice of puddings!), and then an all-age activity (see photo)
and finish at 7. We felt very much included in the 'family' nature of it all. Saturday morning was a prayer breakfast, focusing on praying for the World Church. This was followed by a discussion with some of the District mission teams going to Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and Uruguay in 2013. A longish morning was rounded off by a visit to Deepdale MC and the end of their coffee morning/lunch. Couldn't quite fit in a visit to Ewood Park to watch Birmingham City play, but the evening entertainment was excellent. Stephen and Myrtle Poxon had obviously put on a District party for my visit, but Joseph (newly 18) clearly thought all the presents and guests were for him! It was such a happy evening, young and old playing ridiculous games! Great fun, excellent food. Sunday morning I was planned for the joint RC/Methodist Church at Nelson, just getting there in time to bring greetings to the RC congregation, before coffee, before the time of Remembrance and the Methodist service. A brief talk over soup and rolls before heading off to Pilling which, I was told, is the second largest village (I presume by area) in England. What is the biggest? We had a wonderful spread for tea, over which about 30 of us had a discussion about the importance of 'rural ministry'. Some very helpful thoughts. And then a Circuit service in the church itself, proudly coming up to its 200th anniversary. A District visit exhibiting lots of life, some excellent ideas and innovation; in a context of faithful witness over many years. Stephen and Myrtle's leadership will be reaping benefits for many years to come.

Monday, 5 November 2012

VP - Connected Worship at Warrington

Travelled on Saturday, with my wife Isabel and fellow lay worker Hazel, to Warrington to be with preachers and worship leaders for the Connected Worship week-end. We met some lovely people, had excellent inputs, and experienced inspiring worship - interspersed regularly with good food. Now that's a great way to spend a Saturday! In the morning I attended the preaching strand led by Ron Willoughby and learned a lot. It was also good to meet at the same venue an old friend, Margaret Parker, an ex-VP who has been preaching for 50 years! There were other groups for worship leaders and those interested in prayer. In the afternoon, we were led by Roger Walton and then, after tea, by Jackie Bellfield (see photo of Jackie in the worship coffee break) who is a minister in the Sankey Valley Circuit.
Jackie has introduced an informal Sunday evening worship in Warrington around tables once a month, called New Song Cafe - and it does what it says! Six songs (mostly very new), short input, informal prayers; tea/coffee break; six more songs and short drama/input/meditation. Some excellent musicians too helped to lead inspiring worship. After which we headed in a conga (in a very Methodist way) through town to a Chinese restaurant with good natured staff and some excellent food. The journey back to Banbury was spent discussing the three different morning inputs we had been to. Thanks also to Jo Cox, Helen Cameron and others on the organising committee for such a good event - and regular tea and cake.