Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Christian family, far and near

To be present at the Archbishop of Canterbury's enthronement on Thursday was a real privilege. The Methodist Church in Britain was officially given one ticket and I was graciously offered the opportunity. Those processing needed to arrive early, but I admit that I didn't need the hour allotted in the Crypt 'Robing Room' merely to adjust the VP cross! Nevertheless it was good to meet up with an old friends, including Ivan Abrahams who was representing the World Methodist Council, before the procession began. The seat allocated in the Cathedral was in the front row between the Quire and High Altar, which felt very special. Wasn't the Ghanaian drumming and dancing electric (I'm probably biased!)? And I thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic mix of hymns and songs, exemplified by the 'Saranam' from India and Charles Wesley's 'And can it be' to finish. There was a sincerity, humility and grace in the words of Archbishop Justin, very much echoing the first words of Pope Francis; both have spoken of their confidence in the people of God, which Christians in the global north so badly need to hear. Over a tea for a great multitude, it was lovely to see other Methodist chums - Steve Lindridge (Fresh Expressions) and Harvey Richardson (ecumenical officer for Kent) - and to know that Methodism's strong ecumenical leanings were being acknowledged. Transported by coaches to the University campus in the early evening, a celebration dinner was laid on, mainly for the benefit of ecumenical, other faith, and overseas guests. It was good to renew friendships with people such as Sammy Azariah (Bishop of Pakistan), and the Anglican Bishop of Colombo (from our involvement in the WCC consultation on reconciliation in Sri Lanka). I also had a fascinating ten minutes with the leader of Zoroastrianism in UK, then sat down to the meal opposite a troubled Bishop of Tanzania and next to Brother Paolo of Taize. It was that kind of evening! On Friday I returned to Banbury, to an afternoon Bible study group in the village of Adderbury with another lovely group of Christians. To round off a wonderful couple of days, our daughter-in-law Hilary gave birth to a rather large boy (England need a decent front row succession policy after the Wales defeat!) and Tim later said that he would be named Alfred. I assume, as they live near Wilton, that it's the royal Wessex connection! Isabel and I are, as one might imagine, delighted.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

It was good to be in my home Circuit for Mothering Sunday, leading worship at Easington, complete with a traditional and scrumptious Simnel cake! Last Wednesday I attended the launch of the Horsefair Project at the New Room, Bristol, which is a really imaginative scheme to build new educational and office space adjoining John Wesley's chapel. A place to study Wesleyan thinking in the middle of a busy Shopping area. Potentially very exciting! On Saturday I was asked to take part in a BEH District day conference for small chapels at Harlington, Bedfordshire; and it was so encouraging to have a good turn out, but also to hear the imaginative and creative ways that members of small urban and rural chapels were responding to the spiritual needs of the present age. A sort of theme emerged, in my own mind at least, about possibly 'too many chapels, but too few churches' - a feeling that the actual buildings and their upkeep can too often drain energy away from being a vibrant Christian presence (or church) in all our communities. That community presence is vital, notwithstanding the need of others to worship with a bigger, better resourced, group of people. After Anne and Andrew Brown's gracious hospitality, on Sunday morning I led a section service at Boxted, north of Colchester; a number of the congregation could not cross the Colchester Marathon route very easily, but it was a warm fellowship and we were well looked after. After lunch with an old Chester House inmate, flatmate and football chum - Jon Bloom - it was off to Tendring Circuit and the largest village green (43 acres, I was repeatedly told!) in England, or UK or even Europe - Great Bentley. If you disagree with the last sentence, please contact Great Bentley, not me! The welcome and the quality of tea certainly matched the size of the green. It was a week-end when rural Methodism definitely demonstrated life, care and grace in large quantities. Monday and Tuesday was spent with the District Chairs at Northampton for the Connexional Leaders' Forum, and in my short association with CLF I have found it such a knowledgeable and insightful group. It has been a privilege to be associated with it.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Appreciating what is essential

Monday to Thursday was spent a 'Connecting Disciples'layworkers' conference at High Leigh. The broad theme was 'reconciliation' and the Connexional Team had pulled out many stops to get an excellent range and quality of workshop leaders. Dr Lia Shamada gave an outstanding address on reconciliation, drawing especially on her experiences in Northern Ireland and the East end of London; and how we might strive for a final product, but that reconciliation is actually a journey. One of the joys of the time together, not least over mealtimes, was to hear stories and experiences from fellow lay workers. It was wonderful to hear how God is using a variety of people in so many transforming ways. But I also came away with a slight sadness, having heard that many layworkers feel unsupported, taken for granted, not included in Circuit staff meetings, not even an annual appraisal of their work. Giving layworkers some encouragement would be appreciated; but giving them an opportunity on a Circuit agenda to tell others publicly what they do each week, that would be even better! From there I went north to Wesley House, Cambridge a pastoral visit to be alongside staff and students. Jane Leach and the staff were so gracious in the midst of such a difficult time for the college. The time with the students was a mixture of sharp questions and good fun in the common room, and having a listening ear in private. Given the whole context of WH at the moment, the morale was better than I could have expected and much credit must go to the leadership of WH. To maintain such a good atmosphere and sense of purpose next year will, in my opinion, require special consideration from the Connexion both for WH and Durham.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Branches and roots

The week-end visit to South Wales was preceded by a meeting with the Belonging Together Ministers Group in London. Ministers originating from our Partner Churches have different insights, experience and wisdom to offer the British Church and this group is an important aspect of that sharing. To re-inforce the point, the first engagement on Saturday in Wales was to join in with a gathering organised by Rev Irfan John in Roath, Cardiff. He brought together a singing group from a neighbouring Methodist church, Urdu speakers, others from South Africa and South India,leaders of nearby churches of various denominations, including an Ethiopian priest; and a couple of English people who strayed across the Severn Bridge! It was a lovely start to the visit, followed up by a meeting with Will Morrey and Vicky in Cardiff. The Sunday was spent in the Gwent Hills and Vales Circuit. My mother was born in Blaina, so leading worship at Cwmcelyn was special. And then Lin and Jack Healey, hosts for the week-end took us to Six Bells to see the miners' memorial and statue, close to where my grandfather and uncle mined coal (see photo). Then on to the Circuit Big Sing at Blackwood MC, a gathering of 300 on Sunday afternoon - great singing by a 'scratch' choir, an excellent sketch about evengelism from the young people, and some very sensitive prayers. A great way to finish the week-end visit.