Thursday, 31 October 2013

Reflections on a personal retreat

From October 29-31 I was on retreat. I went to Holy Island and spent two days being me and being with God. Here, I share just a few reflections from that time. It is not a complete account because retreats are deeply personal, but it is my attempt to share some glimpses of glory.


Coming to the causeway in the early morning. Thankfulness at the arriving and hopeful expectation of refreshment, challenge and time to be. Recognition, as always, that I am not in complete control, I will live by the rhythm of the tide for the next two days.

Psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord,
he inclined to me and heard my cry,
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
Out of the miry bog, 
And set my feet upon a rock making my steps secure

These words from the psalm resonated with me and stayed with me during the day.
My feet were firmly on the rock as I looked at the sea below

Held secure in the rock

Clinging to the rock and in the shelter of the rock


I had also listened to the musical setting of a Celtic blessing in my morning prayers. These words also stayed with me:

May the road rise ever before you,
May the wind be ever at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

A pool of tranquility - held in the hollow of God's hand
It was a beautiful and very windy day. For much of the time the wind was at my back. Then I came to the North Shore and looked down on the beach.
North Shore
The sand was blowing in a fine cloud over the beach, the swirling patterns were beautiful and strange. The land looked fluid.

Moving sand
The wind was now blowing at me and walking became hard work.
Eventually I walked as far as the causeway and began the long walk home. The pole marking the pilgrim's way, showed me that I was reaching the end of the journey and reminded me of the need for direction.

The last pole on the pilgrim's way.

O taste and see how gracious the Lord is
The evocative sight and sound of the sea
I dipped my fingers in the sea and then tasted the salty water. The scale of the North Sea a reminder of the magnitude of God's love. O taste and see.

Lindisfarne castle from the harbour
The castle is a tourist attraction, a reminder of the history of this place. The harbour is a working harbour. God is present in all places.

The fisherman returns home
Eternal Father, strong to save. The sea is perilous, thank God for this fisherman's safe return to harbour.


The colours at the end of the day
The shadows lengthen

Lighten our darkness Lord, we pray

A curiosity

These heifers came down to the beach and drank from the sea - I've never seen that before.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Mossley Methodist Church celebrates its 225th anniversary

This week-end I was in Lancashire at Mossley where we were celebrating the 225th anniversary of the Methodist church in that place. The present building is just 50 years old and is well used by church and community. On Saturday evening it was used for the celebration dinner shared by 56 of us and followed by an entertainment. Robert and I went to bed well fed that night and slept soundly, thanks to the hospitality of the minister, Julie and her husband Neville.
Enjoying the celebration meal
On Sunday a congregation aged from babies to 103 joined in an act of worship that included the story of Webster the Preacher Duck (well worth reading it if you don't know it already), a sermon from me and the celebration of communion. Worship was led by Julie, Revd Keith Davies (Chair of District), and an excellent music group and choir. We had a great time with God.
The music group
Several of the past ministers of the church joined us and family members came from near and far. As always, I enjoyed talking with people who shared something of their faith journey with me and, as always, that was a great privilege.

Here I am with Annie aged 103 (on the left) and her friend Joan who she taught in Sunday School.

Visiting Cliff College

Last Friday I visited Cliff College and met with staff, students and members of the Learning Network who are now based here. I was warmly welcomed by the Principal, Revd Dr Chris Blake and during the day met with several other staff members. They were all clearly committed and enthusiastic and Cliff is offering a variety of courses, ranging from the highly academic to short courses, summer school, sabbatical studies and retreats. I met with students on the BA and MA courses over coffee and lunch, this is clearly a friendly, supportive and well supported student community.
Meeting with students and staff at coffee time
 Among those based, or with bases at Cliff are Tony Moodie, Meg Prowting and Ed MacKenzie; all staff in the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network.

Chris showed me the newly developed en suite residential accommodation. Who wouldn't want to stay here in modern, comfortable rooms in the beautiful surroundings of the Peak National Park?


Cliff is one of the two Network Hubs and offers a wealth of scholarship, skill and expertise to the church. I enjoyed my visit, look forward to being there again for the Festival next year. and

came away wanting to sign up for several of the things on offer!

Visiting the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield

Last week I was invited to take part in the dedication of the new learning suite and library for the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield. UTU has now moved into the Victoria Hall in the centre of the city and the new facility is open and welcoming and, to my great delight, contains many, many, many books.
Gathering for the dedication of the learning suite

 UTU will not be training students for ordained ministry after the end of this year, but it will continue to offer academic and less formal courses with a particular emphasis on urban theology and discipleship in the city. Its new location means that UTU will continue to be a community of study and commitment, based in the inner city.
We gathered in the learning area for the rededication and then moved upstairs into the church for a service of thanksgiving in which I preached and which was led by the Director, Revd Dr Noel Irwin.
After a generous and very tasty lunch we gathered together again for a conversation between Noel , Revd Dr John Vincent and Revd Dr Ian Duffield.
It was a day when we marked a new stage in the journey for UTU, gave thanks for the past, looked with hope to the future and engaged in stimulating discussion.
If you are in Sheffield, do visit UTU in their new home.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

East Anglia District

This morning I am using the gift of an extra hour to write about my visit to the East Anglia District last week. It was a visit that included two meetings with retired colleagues - Supernumerary presbyters and deacons, their wives and husbands and ministers widows. We met in Lowestoft and in Huntingdon and on each occasion I presided at communion before we shared lunch and conversation. I really enjoyed and appreciated these opportunities.
Gathering for communion in Lowestoft

This is Vivi who has recently been appointed as community worker in South Lowestoft. The church here wants to make closer and better links with the community in which it is placed and already are seeing the difference that is being made as Vivi, who lives in the community, is making important connections.
On Saturday I was in Hethersett where there was a District gathering of Children's and Youth Workers. Those from Hethersett Church told us about "The Bethlehem Experience" which they had performed last Christmas for 450 children and adults from local schools and the local community. We saw examples of the costumes and the scenery which had been used and some video clips of the production. After the success of last year, the church are repeating the Bethlehem Experience. The Children's and Youth workers then shared their experiences and examples of good practice in small groups. We left before the afternoon session where they were to hear about creative prayer in schools from Sarah, a schools worker.

On Saturday afternoon, Graham (District Chair) took me to visit the Julian Centre in Norwich, I have found Julian of Norwich inspirational and so this was a special visit for me. We also went through the market in the city centre and then visited the beautiful Norwich Cathedral.

Sunday began with morning worship in Swaffham Methodist Church. This was the final event of their bicentenary celebrations and, in my sermon, I referred to some words from Julian of Norwich about God's desire to be seen, sought, expected and trusted.

The Congregation at Swaffham
 In the evening we were in Berkley Street Church in St Neots, where there was a circuit service. It was the church anniversary and we celebrated that. During the service we also received Angie Barnes as an authorised local preacher and I was able to read out the letter I had written, and to present her with a Bible. Local preachers are presented with a Bible as that is the symbol of our authority to preach. It was a joyful service in which we also welcomed a number of supernumerary ministers and ecumenical colleagues into the circuit and celebrated Revd Vivian's 61 years of ordained ministry and 66 years as a preacher.
Gathering for worship in St Neots
It was a day of celebration and a day of worship, recognising the many and varied gifts of the people of God.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Persecuted and Forgotten

Persecuted and Forgotten is the title of a report launched today and available on the web at I was invited to the launch which was hosted by Lord Rowan Williams in the House of Lords. The guest of honour was the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch who lives in Damascus. Also speaking was Sister Hanan of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Beirut who have been assisting thousands of refugees fleeing from the Syrian conflict into neighbouring Lebanon. 15,000 people of all faiths pass through their dispensary each week. Sister Hanan said that the majority of displaced Syrians coming to Beirut are women and children and she described the apalling and dangerous conditions in which they are living.

In the report is a world map showing the areas where Christians are being persecuted and/or oppressed. This is undoubtedly a real and significant issue - if you want the details look at the report.

Among those present at the launch were church leaders, MPs, and members of the House of Lords.
What I heard today needs time for further reflection but I share with you some quotations from Patriarch Gregory.

From Patriarch Gregory who is living and working for peace in Syria:

"There is no safe place left in Syria."

"No war can be won in the whole world with weapons"

"Please Europe, don't send more weapons, it means more victims."

"Please give us not weapons, give us peace."

"If we are now the church of martyrs we will be the church of resurrection in the future."

"We must be together and remain together, Christian and Muslim,
for the good of Syria and the Arab world;
It is possible to be together and remain together, Christian and Muslim,
for the good of Syria and the Arab world;
We will  be together and remain together, Christian and Muslim,
for the good of Syria and the Arab world."

Gracious God,
We pray for those who are persecuted and oppressed;
We pray for those who have had to flee their homes;
We pray for those who are violated and abused.
God who reaches into the depths;
      Touch them with your comfort,
      Touch us with your love.
God who sees all creation;
      Look on them with pity,
      Open our eyes to their need.
God who hears the cries of the poor;
      Hear them when they call,
      Open our ears to their weeping,
that the church of martyrs
may become the church of resurrection.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Gloucestershire - Cornerstone and Cinderford

Today I have been in Gloucestershire Circuit where I have shared in an augmented staff meeting, visited the ecumenical Cornerstone Centre in Cheltenham and travelled to the Forest of Dean to visit Cinderford Methodist Church where long-awaited work has begun to transform the building in order to resource mission.

The Gloucestershire circuit is one of the largest circuits in the Methodist Church in Britain. It is large in numbers of churches and members and large in geographical area as it encompasses nearly all of Gloucestershire. When I joined the staff and members of the Circuit Executive they shared some of their visions for the circuit and I was able to share my theme for the year - Waiting expectantly for glimpses of glory. It was a good time of fellowship in which we were joined by the Chair of District, Revd Ward Jones.

We then went to another area of Cheltenham to visit the Cornerstone Centre. This centre was opened 10 years ago having been built after the nearby Whaddon Methodist Church was destroyed in a fire. The Centre is attached to the United Church of St Michael, an Anglican/Methodist Local Ecumenical Partnership. This is a centre which serves the community in many ways.

 Among the facilities and activities here are a laundrette which is well used by local people, a computer room, the chiropody service, and the community room. Lunches are served here and there are regular cofee mornings.

Here you can see the Manager of the Centre in the laundrette at Cornerstone
 Care and Share is a good as new shop which has been run for about 20 years; it began in Whaddon Methodist Church and continues at the centre.

Jerry and Pat are volunteers at the centre and run Care and Share
The centre depends on the many volunteers who commit their time and energy here. I talked with them and we shared lunch together. These are people who seek to represent the presence to Christ in their community.

The volunteers gathered at Cornerstone. In the front row is Revd Ward Jones (L),  Revd James Tebbut, Superintendent Minister (R) and Revd John Turner minister at St Michaels (2nd L)

Next we went to Cinderford Methodist Church in the Forest of Dean. It has taken 9 years for the people here to get the necessary permissions for the essential work that needs to be done to make this building fit for purpose. But the work has started, the scaffolding is up and inside has been stripped out, leaving a blank canvas full of potential and possibility.
Rays of hope inside Cinderford church - A glimpse of glory
Inside Cinderford Church - ready for new beginnings.

We gathered in the church hall to eat tea, to talk and to share in a brief act of worship.

The sunlight came in through the stained glass window and transformed the piano into a rainbow of promise.
It was a special privilege for me to be able to greet two local preachers for whom this is a special time. Ken Sollars celebrated the 60th anniversary of his accreditation as a local preacher earlier this week and Adele Garner is to be authorised as a local preacher on Sunday. We owe a great deal to our local preachers and these two had wonderful stories to tell, their faithfulness shone out - another glimpse of glory.

The people in Cinderford have waited a long time for their plans to come to fulfilment and now they are waiting expectantly to see where their journey with God will lead them.

Tomorrow I will leave the Bristol District to travel to London and then to East Anglia, I will travel expectantly.

Bristol & South Gloucestershire Circuit

On Tuesday morning I left Wiltshire and travelled to the Bristol and South Gloucestershire Circuit. Revd Andrew Prout met me at Hanham Methodist Church and took me from there to Hanham Mount. In his journal entry for Sunday 8th April 1739 John Wesley wrote: 'I preached to about fifteen hundred on the top of Hanham Mount in Kingswood'. Wesley was following in the steps of George Whitfield as he 'consented to become more vile' and to preach in the open air. The view over the valley was very fine this morning though it is likely that Mr Wesley was facing in the opposite direction when he preached. The Circuit still hold open air services here, most recently they gathered here for messy church, re-enacting the story of John Wesley in imaginative and fun-filled ways.
The view over the Avon Valley from Hanham Mount
We left Hanham Mount and went back to Hanham Methodist Church where I met a group of people from the circuit. After some informal time together we gathered in the church where I was interviewed by Andrew and then questions were invited from the floor. We talked about ecumenism, religious education in schools, the importance of connexionalism and the position of women in the Methodist Church.
The people gathered in Hanham Methodist Church
The worship area in Hanham Methodist Church
ISR-Churches for Work and Social Justice is an ecumenical body which supports churches as they engage with the world. You can read more about ISR on their website
I met with the Chair, Dr John Savage and with some of the commited people who work for ISR, including workplace chaplains, the co-ordinator of B.friend which supports asylum seekers and refugees, administrators and co-ordinators. There are over 100 volunteers engagrd in different aspects of the work of ISR. At the heart of all the work is the expectation of glimpses of the glory of God in every part of the world and the call to enable others to know the love of God wherever they are. We ate lunch and talked together before I went to meet one of the chaplains at work.

Matt Albury is chaplain at Rolls Royce. I met him there and he took me around the workplace. Here Matt works in many different environments, quiet office spaces, large project rooms, design and manufacturing areas. Matt exercises a ministry of presence here. He makes himself known and available for those who want to talk with him. As we walked round Matt never missed an opportunity to greet people. This is a ministry that requires patience, perseverence and the conviction that God is at work here. Amongst the desks, the robots and the engine parts, I glimpsed glory thanks to Matt.
With Matt at Rolls Royce

With chaplains and students, Alice is on the left
Another place where chaplaincy is important is in the University of Bristol and my next visit was to the inter-faith chaplaincy. The chaplaincy is a meeting place, a place of safety, a place of friendship and an important base for students and staff in the university. Each week 200-300 students come to the chaplaincy where there is always a chaplain available to talk with them. There are two full-time chaplains who are supported by a number of volunteers and part-time chaplains who provide links to faith groups. Alice is employed by the Methodist Circuit as their link person in the chaplaincy and she took me to meet others there. We drank tea and coffee together and talked about the importance of this work. Again, the chaplains spoke of being present in order that those they meet, in the chaplaincy or elsewhere, can be invited to meet God. Glimpses of glory abounded today.

My time in this circuit ended in conversation with Jayne and Andrew about the circuit review and the vision for the future. This is a circuit that has determined to work with God in God's mission for the world and is reshaping itself as a discipleship movement shaped for mission.

It had been another inspiring day.
Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wiltshire Wonderland

Yesterday (Sunday October 13th) I arrived in the Bristol District where I have spent the first evening and day in the Wiltshire United area. This is an ecumenical area (Methodist and URC) formed just 4 years ago from the joining of two former ecumenical areas, both of which were formed in the 1970s.

Yesterday evening I preached in an area service in Trowbridge United Church. It was good to share with Revd Ward Jones, the Chair of the Bristol District and Revd David Ellis, Superintendent Minister and Chair of the United Area. After worship it was good to meet many people and to discover some who knew the Wiltshire village where I had grown up. The evening finished with a meal with my hosts, David and Ceri who have been generous with their friendship and hospitality.

With Beth in the community cafe
Our first visit this morning was to Market Lavington where the new community cafe is a place where there is always some-one to talk to and a warm welcome waiting.  We were  warmly welcomed and served excellent coffee by Beth. We were joined by others from the church in Market Lavington which now meets for worship in the village hall, having sold the church building 6 years ago. The community cafe is proving popular with residents in this and neighbouring villages, for the food and drink and for the friendship and care that is offered in many ways. It is early days for this new venture but already the people here are looking for ways to develop this outreach. I managed to resist the cup cakes but the enthusiasm and commitment was irresistible and infectious.

People from Wiltshire United Area in St Andrews Devizes
From Market Lavington we went to the centre of Devizes, to St Andrew's Church where they have just completed the second stage of refurbishment of the building. Here I met representatives from the leadership of the United Area and learned more about the ways in which they work together. The premises here are inviting, light and well used throughout the week. This afternoon one of the Toddler sessions was taking place, James was the first to arrive and was busy driving his tractor and trailer around the hall. Messy Church is proving popular here and there is a clear commitment to serve the local community and to share faith.
We had lunch here and this time, I didn't resist the cake.

Our next stop was Whitley Methodist Church. The people in this church have realised their dream and have just completed the buiding work that will enable them to develop mission in this village. If you come to the monthly book swop here you will find up to 80 people swopping their books, drinking coffee and buying cakes. On the last Thursday of each month another group meets for Craft and Chat and on the second Tuesday there is a games afternoon. There will soon be a regular lunch club and all of this has been done after careful consultation with the people living in the village who are now keen to get involved. The official opening is in December, when the decorating will have been finished and the carpets laid. The people here are rightly excited about possibilities for mission in the future. The building work was funded through sale of property when three churches came together, grants from the denominations, a landfill grant from the Hills Group Ltd and of course, fundraising by the members. We were served tea in the newly refurbished hall and lovely cake - I didn't resist!

Inside Seend Church
Next, we drove to Seend Methodist Church. This church was opened by John Wesley in 1775 and has been in continuous use for worship ever since. Next to the church is a row of cottages that used to be called Factory Row, the people who lived and worked in these cottages were weavers, once a major industry here. Inside the chapel is an engraved stone which was once in the wall of a nearby cottage where John Wesley first preached in the area. This chapel is an important and living part of our Methodist Heritage. The congregation is small in number but large in faith. (Here too we were offered cake - reader, I resisted).
The engraved stone rom the cottage where Wesley preached
Monks Chapel
 Our final visit of the day took us to Monks Chapel near Corsham which was built by Quakers in 1662. In that year the Five Mile Act was passed by parliament whereby any minister refusing to consent to the new Book of Common Prayer was not allowed to come within five miles of any town or borough. In 1690 the Independents came to Monks Chapel and now it is a United Reformed Church. Services are held every Sunday afternoon with a regular congrengation of 10-20 and the chapel is packed at Harvest time. It is also packed for the Christmas Carol Service which is held in mid June because the steep path to the chapel can be icey and impassable in the winter.

Inside Monks Chapel
Inside, the box pews are original, as is the high pulpit and the window from which the congregation kept watch for approaching militia. If there was any danger to the preacher there was an escape route through a door at the base of the pulpit and it is said that there was a secret tunnel, though it has not yet been discovered. The original stone floor is uneven, not least because of graves in front of the pulpit where early preachers are buried.

The pulpit with door below throughwhich the preacher could escape
There are some places where the prayer seems to have seeped into the stones and Seend and Monks Chapel are among them. If you are in the area, you should visit.

After a varied and enriching day David drove us back to his home where I was again made very welcome and very comfortable. Tomorrow I am going to Bristol as this District visit continues.