Tuesday, 30 April 2013
No two District visits have been remotely the same this year, so it was with great anticipation that we made our way to Trinity Church, Ellesmere Port on Friday afternoon. An extraordinary journey over the last decade, helpfully documented on Friday by different speakers, has resulted in a church space being opened up every weekday to serve the community, with 50 volunteers a week serving healthy snacks and drinks, working with NHS well-being professionals and the local council - but still keeping the Cross central to all that's going on. Great vision and drive - community and Circuit - alongside huge grace from the senior members of the church, as they seek to meet community needs. We were hosted by Steve and Suzanne Cooper, and on Saturday Steve took us to Hoylake for Synod, where we met up with Jim Booth and Mark Wakelin. The day was largely taken up with discussion about mission (local, national, global) and it was both a privilege to be part of it, as well as extremely stimulating. I look forward to seeing what happens in the next 12 months. On Sunday morning I was planned for Prescot and Whiston, arrived about 50 minutes prior to the service to be greeted by a large number of the congregation! I have rarely seen such a large proportion of worshippers gather so early, but it created a lovely warm atmosphere; and was carried on afterwards, not least by some of the young people proudly showing me their Sunday room, one that they had been allowed to decorate, and awaiting its official opening in two weeks' time. The church was a good example of what can be achieved by two congregations joining together and drawing on each other's strengths. A delicious, if hasty, traditional Sunday lunch with Carole and Jim in Mossley Hill was followed by a journey to the seaside at Southport. At Leyland Road, in cafe style, the three ordinands, Ruth, Ruth and Jan, gave their heartfelt, sometimes emotional, testimonies to a full church of all ages. It was a meaningful end for me to a full week-end where so many, directly and indirectly, spoke about getting out of the church buildings and into sharing and meeting the needs of the communities around them.
Wednesday, 24 April 2013
The 70th Anniverary of Methodist Homes took place in the grand surroundings of Coventry Cathedral on Wednesday 17th, where Keith Albans led the service and many voices were heard, including Susan Howdle, an ex-VP. Baroness Kathleen Richardson preached a sensitive and powerful sermon, and many friends made it a very happy occasion. On a personal note, I think the Joshua 14 reading that I was asked to read was not my easiest assignment of the year! On Friday we were off to Sheffield and an excellent question and answer evening with Methodist Women in Britain, chaired by Mary Jefferson, mainly with a world church theme. This subject was further explored at Synod the next day; and there were also impressive contributions from Ian Bell on Pioneer Ministry (see photo).and Steve Hucklesby (JPIT) opening up a very good discussion on the use of drones in warfare. Vernon Marsh led us purposefully, and Ric Stott's thread of meditative prayer centred us on God's grace throughout an excellent day. The day was rounded off perfectly for me by wins for both Birmingham City and Warwickshire - the sun shone! On Sunday I was planned for Loundsley Green in Chesterfield, at the LEP there. With Diane still in hospital, I was impressed by just how much ongoing work was being continued and developed by a faithful and prayerful fellowship. A day in the Banbury circuit was followed by an evening ride up the M1 for Isabel to attend a family funeral in Leeds on Tuesday, and for me to continue to Durham and the Wesley Study Centre. Calvin Samuel arranged a very full programme which enabled me to meet many of the Methodist tutors (including Jocelyn Bryan, Julie and Andrew Lunn) some of the diaconal and ministerial students, and also staff from Cranmer Hall and St John's College (notably David Wilkinson). It was also interesting to attend a postgraduate seminar led by Joel Edwards on prison ministry. It was a day primarily for listening. Time and again this year I have heard, both expressed and not spoken, the tension of the Covenant Service prayers - with God apparently calling us from where our inclinations might naturally lead. Not easy at all. Altogether, another week of being with lovely, gracious and committed people in Cathedral grandeur, representing Circuits and Districts, engaged in first-class ministerial formation, and working tirelessly at local mission. What a privilege!
Monday, 15 April 2013
Methodist Council at High Wycombe was a very good meeting. Embraced in Nigel Hardwick's prayers there was real quality in the papers, considered questions and comments that showed careful study of an extensive agenda, and moments of real inspiration. I was so impressed by the contributions of the younger reps, including Hayley Moss, our Youth President. The Church has been so blessed by the YP postholders over the last couple of years. Council still has a tendency to micro-manage on occasions, perhaps understandably re the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network (resulting from the Fruitful Field report); but no one present at Council could doubt the thoroughness of the examination of a subject that is still proving contentious to some in the Church. The same degree of scrutiny was afforded to a variety of papers, all of which are in the public domain via the Methodist website. Personally, I am pleased to see the progress being made by the MMS Working Group, as well as for Council to have been involved in shaping the legacy of the important Belonging Together project team; lots of synergy in these two reports re the local/global links in our understanding of mission today. This morning Paul Morrison introduced the work that JPIT have done since Conference on Poverty and Inequality, and it was so pleasing to hear Council affirming that we are a Church that can still speak prophetically and boldly. There will be many reading this who have never been to Methodist Council and I would want to reassure those people that Council treats the subjects seriously and carefully; and that the Conference continues to be served by a Connexional Team with ingredients of intellectual quality, theological underpinning, hard work and grace.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
On a bitterly cold Palm Sunday I made my way, extremely cautiously, to a church anniversary at Trinity, Leicester West circuit. My friend Joseph Suray had invited me. The church had also invited the mums and tots group to the worship, specifically to help distribute the palm crosses - and several stayed for a delicious lunch. Holy Week itself was in my home circuit; a tenebrae service at Adderbury, Maundy Thursday at Greatworth, Good Friday at Hornton and a new ecumenical walk of witness at Boddington. Then Easter Sunday at Chacombe where, because the chapel heating wasn't working, we turned it into a cafe-style worship. It had the feel of the room where the disciples were huddled together, wondering just what was going to happen next! It also enabled some deep sharing over coffee. On Tuesday it was off to Scarborough and ECG, and the expected good mix of vibrant worship and teaching. It was a privilege to be asked to lead three seminars this year and we explored the 'Kingdom of God is...' through conversation with three Methodist presbyters - Eunice from Kenya, Francis from Sierra Leone and Adolf from Guyana/St Vincent. The Methodist Church is blessed to have such talented and dedicated ministers and lay people to enable such an event as ECG to be such an inspiration every year. Now Isabel and I are having a few days of holiday near Salisbury to get better acquainted with Alfred Wlliam, our newest grandson. Or it could be recharging the batteries before Methodist Council starts on Saturday!