Thursday, 21 February 2013

VP - Ash and Beach

One of the joys of living in the village of Hornton, near Banbury is the close ecumenical working between Anglicans and Methodists. Last week I was invited to lead the Ash Wednesday service for the village in the Methodist chapel, which was a real privilege. A couple of days ago, in another village, I was asked why Christians don't do more together as, from an 'outsider' point of view, this seemed like illogical disunity. I agreed. In between, I spent the week-end in Somerset, preaching in the morning at East Brent, a small chapel where my parents worshipped for many years. It was good to see old friends from some of the surrounding 'link' chapels too - Brent Knoll and Brean. It was just as good to meet people new to me, now new friends, who have recently given fresh impetus to those small village causes. In the evening I joined Robert Channon (Superintendent) and Ward Jones (Chair) in a Circuit service at Milton, Weston-super-Mare. During the day I picked up some anxieties about the way the Methodist Church was moving; but much of this was based on one-sided reporting of recent Conference decisions. There are different ways of addressing communication breakdowns, but the PR role of President and VP is one very important part of the strategy. Perhaps the Church has underestimated this PR role of senior Connexional leaders lately. It is difficult to put 'time to listen' in a job description and how would you assess, quantify, appraise or target-set such an objective? But it's nonetheless vital for a Church that values connection so highly. Just as Lent is a good time to listen to what God wants to communicate to us.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

VP - Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

A delightful and informative Friday evening with Val (DDE Cornwall) and Peter was followed by an early morning flight from Newquay to the Isles of Scilly. The Revd Charlie Gibbs met us with Circuit Steward Beryl and then off to the manse to meet Mary. The walk around Hugh Town, the Old Town and the Garrison took most of the morning as our pace reduced and conversations increased. A pastoral visit in the afternoon and then Isabel and I met with folk from the Methodist Church; a 'Grand Tea' followed by questions large and deep. Sunday was a busy day, first attending an early 'Contemporary worship' before a preaching appointment at an ecumenical service in the Parish Church on St Mary's. A quick lunch, then a speedy launch (called Lightning, see photo)over to St Martin's for an afternoon service; before returning for an evening service with an emphasis on connecting people with the world church. It is so important for the President and VP to embody connexionalism, as so many of our churches feel remote from national decision-making. On Monday an early flight to Newquay, exchanging fields of daffodils for... fields of daffodils, and on to meet local church stewards in town-centre Redruth,trying hard and impressively to redefine their mission in the midst of some acute poverty. Not an easy situation at all. Lunch and early afternoon at the Carpenters cafe in the company of the District deacons - Helen, Michelle, Tom and Geoff. It was fascinating to hear of their different ministries, their joys and challenges; before Evensong in Truro Cathedral and meeting up with Steve Wild and Mark. On Tuesday morning Steve drove us down to Penzance to meet with Pamela Luke (ex-VP) before visiting Langholme (Methodist Homes) at Falmouth (as per top photo) in the midst of their redevelopment plan. It was a wonderfully varied District visit, and what a privilege to share with so many different Christians, in such varied settings, over the course of a few days. We met some very committed people.

Monday, 4 February 2013

VP - Justice on the agenda

During last week I travelled to both Queen's in Birmingham and Cliff College, having been aware that a lot of comments in Methodist circles about Fruitful Field could be read as implied (at best) criticism of the two centres. This seems to me to be grossly unfair both on Cliff and Queen's; but also on so many who were involved in the long decision-making process, not least those involved at the Conferences both in Southport and Plymouth. Anyway, on Saturday morning it was a change of 'justice' gear, and I met with a group (some of whom are in this photo at Bloxwich)
from the W+S District who will be going out to Rwanda in July to work alongside local Church and reconciliation groups. We looked at a number of issues, joys and difficulties that tend to accompany such visits, but I found the whole morning inspiring. The afternoon was spent with some young people from around the District who had been given the opportunity to tell the Vice-President how they felt about the Church. The whole time was led by a group called 'Alive and Kicking' emanating from Kinver,
who were excellent leaders of worship and discussion. So my thanks to Tom, Jake and the two called James. One of the issues that was raised was the lack of good teaching in church groups for young Christians relating, in everyday situations such as school, with friends from other faith backgrounds. Just one of many challenges expressed! On the theme of justice, John Howard (District Chair) left at 5am on Sunday morning to get the Heathrow flight to Tel Aviv; and then begin a couple of months of his sabbatical as an Ecumenical Accompanist for Israel/Palestine. Now there's a country that needs to find justice and peace - has it ever, in all the time I have been preaching, been off my list for intercessory prayer? It certainly was again at St John's, Wolverhampton where I led worship on Sunday morning as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations. Such a good spirit was evident. Good worship followed by some fascinating conversations about their involvement with the local community and all its changes over half a century. Later that afternoon in Bridgnorth a chance to meet folk from the Telford Circuit over a lovely afternoon tea (with fruit cake!) prior to their time of prayer for new mission planning in the area. The service that followed was in the joint URC/Methodist Church, also 50 years old and the first LEP in the country.
It was good to spot another VP in the congregation - Leon Murray(1985) and compare notes afterwards! Lots of energy in the worship and I hope and pray that it is repeated in the mission outreach; and one venture which began today (Monday) was the ecumenical Food Bank in Bridgnorth. Another justice issue for us in Britain in 2013 - and we probably wouldn't have foreseen that 50 years ago! Tomorrow Mark and I will be at the House of Commons for an all-faiths reception to discuss the jubilee campaign for debt cancellation and its continued relevance today. Mark is one of the main speakers at this Jubilee for Justice event.