Monday, 27 January 2014

Celebration and hope in Hertfordshire

On Sunday January 26th I spent the day in Hertfordshire as part of my visit to the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District, and it was a day of celebration and hope.

In the morning I preached in Carpenders Park and South Oxhey Church. The new church building had been officially opened on Saturday in a service led by Revd Christopher Jones, former minister of the church and attended by other former ministers, the Superintendent Minister (Revd Linda Woollacott) and the Chair of District (Revd Anne Brown). On Sunday the congregation were joined by others from the circuit and by South Oxhey Chritian Fellowship, a Pentecostal congregation who also worship in the building. The Pastor of South Oxhey Christian Fellowship took part in the service and spoke afterwards of the warm and growing relationship between the congregations.

The Minister, Revd David Goodwin led the worship and the blessing was sung by members of the community choir. This choir was started by Gareth Malone and is still going strong. The choir really has been important in the building of community cohesion in South Oxhey.

During the service we learned that the plans to build a new church on this site had first been made 60 years ago. Over those years the congregation had met in the chapel on adjoining land. There is a vibrant Messy Church here and before leaving the old building they were given the freedom to paint pictures on the walls - we saw a colourful picture of Noah's Ark.

As the congregation worship they look through large windows into the streets of the community in which they serve and people walking down the road look into the church to see people praising God. The pentecostal Pastor told me that two people have already walked into the church from the street and have received a warm welcome and appropriate care and support.

WIth Pauline Rogers (Senior Steward), Revd Margaret Millar (former Superintendent Minister), Revd David Goodwin (Minister of CPSO and Pastor Gerald Poorman (Oxhey Christian Fellowship) all of whom took part in the service.

With Revd David Goodwin and evd Anne Brown (Chair of District).

As I spoke with people afterwards I had a real sense of one vision achieved and new work beginning in this area.

In the afternoon we went on to Hemel Hempstead. Here 5 churches have come together and are still travelling towards their home. Originally they worshipped in Bourne Methodist Church, then the decision was made to demolish that building and build a new church on the site so they moved to Marlowes Methodist Church. As so often happens, the building is taking longer than expected, Marlowes Methodist Church has been sold and so they are now planning to move into the community centre just up the road from the new Hemel Hempstead Methodist Church. They will worship and meet there until the new building is completed.

I met a wandering travelling race in Hemel Hempstead. I met a group of people who have built a strong relationship with one another, perhaps even helped by the fact that they have no building to identify with. I met a group of people who are engaged actively in mission, they have not waited for the building before they start Messy Church, fellowship groups, coffee mornings and other activities. They are already developing strong links with the school that will be their neighbour; the minister, Revd Vindra Maraj Ogden, is chaplain to the school and is well known in the community.

It would be easy to be discouraged by the delays in building but these people are excited at the opportunities that will be offered when they move to the community centre and begin to establish their mission in the community.

The people of Hemel Hempstead Methodist Church
I went to see the building site and as we stood looking at the work so far a rainbow appeared in the sky. For us it was arching over the new building - a symbol of the promise that will be fulfilled. The people who were waiting for us to join them for tea in Marlowes Methodist Church had seen the rainbow from a different angle - arching over the community centre with the promise of new beginnings there.

They're  a travelling wandering race, they're the people of God.

Celebration in Carpenders Park and South Oxhey Methodist Church.
Hope in Hemel Hempstead.
Expectant people waiting for glimpses of glory and reminded of the sure promise of God by a rainbow arching over the place where they will worship and witness.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Clacton

Clacton on Sea - a seaside resort with promenade, hotels, amusement arcades and candy floss. A place to retire, a place to relax and have fun. All of this is true and I saw it today as I was driven along the sea front by Anne Brown  (Chair of the Bedfordshire, Essex & Hertfordshire District). The sun was shining, the wind farms glowed on the horizon - a typical resort in late January.

Trinity Methodist Church
We drove into the town centre and went to Trinity Methodist Church where the Grub Club is open every Monday at lunch-time. Just inside the door was Liz, the manager of the Christian book shop in the church which is open every day. She was with a man who was very interested in the beautiful cross I was wearing - the Presidential Cross. We talked about the symbol of the bowl and towel and he said that he had once owned a shop in Colchester, so knew about precious metals.

Revds Anne Brown, Andrew Bell, Ruth Gee
One of the ministers of Trinity (and Superintendent Minister of the Circuit), Andrew Bell took us through to the hall where the Grub Club was just opening. There is also a deacon on the ministerial team who works in the Clacton area (Deacon Janet Jenkins). Each week up to 80 people come to the Grub Club for a 3 course cooked meal.

The meal is made by a team of people from food donated by a local supermarket. Of course, they can only decide on the menu when they see the ingredients they have been given. Today there was a vegetable and lentil soup, Pasta in a savoury sauce with the most wonderful roast potatoes and fruit crumble with custard. Also on offer was cheese and biscuits (it was Wensleydale cheese with figs) and Danish pastries. Everyone was served at the tables and everyone had plenty. Left-overs were put into tubs for people to take away with them.
The church is near the town centre

It was a good, nourishing meal and it was free. The diners included many who are homeless or living in poverty for whom this is the one guaranteed meal of the week, among them are often people with mental health issues or disabilities. The streets of Clacton on Sea are home to many who are housed in hostels or in converted victorian hotels where they have to leave their room in the early morning and cannot return until the evening.

Let me share two stories with you.

One regular attender was not at the Grub Club today because he has now found work. The church have subsidised him to pay his fares for travel until he has been paid otherwise he would not have been able to get there. A few weeks ago he lost his benefit because he had not attended a medical on the day of his mother's funeral. In order to reclaim the benefit he needed to make a phone call to another part of England, premium rates were charged and the music that was played while on hold lasted 10 minutes. Fortunately the church was able to help with the phone calls - few people on benefits could afford these rates.

Another young man was in the Grub Club for the first time. He had been placed in a room - an unfurnished room with no electricity. After 3 days of sitting on his own in a cold dark room he had plucked up courage to come along to the church, just to find some-one to talk to. He found company and also enjoyed a meal.

The Grub Club, a branch of Food Cycle, is just one of the ways on which the church in Clacton on Sea is serving the community.

On the way out we visited the book shop, often the first port of call for people seeking a listening ear or other support.

As we left I felt angry that there are so many in leadership roles in local and national government who deny people their dignity when they find themselves in difficult circumstances.
I also felt huge admiration and gratitude for those who willingly give much of their time to listen and support others.

In the Grub Club those who are eating are served at the table with respect and listened to with care.

Did I glimpse the glory of God here? I did. I glimpsed glory as I met the volunteers, as I talked with Andrew and as I talked to some of those who were eating their lunch.

The streets of Clacton on Sea are not paved with gold but there are caring Christians to be found there who accord others proper dignity and respect. Glory indeed. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Stronger together in the York and Hull District

On January 18th I arrived at York station to be met by my colleague, Revd Stephen Burgess, Chair of the York and Hull District. We went to Pocklington Methodist Church where I was joining Circuit Stewards from around the District who were spending the day together. Circuit Stewards exercise an important ministry, giving generously of their time and talents as they serve God in the Church. I was grateful for this opportunity to talk with them about a whole range of issues in the life of the church. We recognised the good things that were happening, the opportunities for mission that were being developed and we acknowledged some of the difficulties we encounter along the way. Most important of all, we prayed and worshiped together.
Later that afternoon we went to Copmanthorpe where the Methodists and Anglicans were entering into a Local Ecumenical Partnership. We processed from the Methodist Church to the Anglican Church. The worship was lively, accompanied by a large music group made up of adults and children, Anglians and Methodists. The Archdeacon preached, The Chair of District led the congregations as they committed themselves to partnership and I brought greetings from the Methodist Church and gave the blessing. This was the celebration of a long-standing relationship that has grown deeper over the years and it was significant that the prayers of intercession were led by the longest standing joint group - the contemplative prayer group.

That evening in the District Manse, we shared a meal with invited ecumenical guests and enjoyed the hospitality offered by Stephen and Barbara.

Ripon Cathedral
At 7.00 on Sunday morning I was at the radio studio for  interviews with Radio Tees and Radio York. They were especially interested in my preaching appointment that day as I was both preaching and presiding at the morning eucharist in Ripon Cathedral.

This was the Sunday in the week of Prayer for Christian Unity and it was a great privilege to be invited to be in Ripon Cathedral, not least because part of the Darlington District where I serve is within the boundary of the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds. It was good to stand alongside my colleague, the Bishop of Knaresborough as I presided. There are photographs of this service and a report on the Diocesan website, which you can find here:

After lunch in Ripon we travelled to Pocklington again, this time for a service marking the beginning of their 150th anniversary celebrations. I was preaching at a circuit service, the church was packed and the singing raised the roof.

With Rev Sue Pegg, Rev Neville Simpson (Superintendent) and Rev Stephen Burgess (Chair of District)
With the Superintendent, Rev Neville Simpson
With Joyce Simpson

I traveled home that evening but only for a brief visit before going, on Monday to the Briery Retreat Centre in Ilkley where I was leading the retreat for those in the early years of ministry in the York and Hull District. It is so important for all Christians to take time to reflect on their journey of faith and time to be consciously in the presence of God. Regular retreats are part of my own spiritual discipline and if they are not yet part of yours, I commend them to you.

These few days were relatively close to home but soon I will be going further afield again to visit the Bedfordshire Essex and Hertfordshire District.

Friday, 17 January 2014

A Potpourri before Christmas Day in Durham

I left Guernsey on December 13th and flew to Exeter where I spent the day with staff and students of the South West Ministerial Training Course. It was a very good day as I heard about the course and spent some time with the 2 Methodist students who are completing their ministerial formation here.

Gathering for the service
 I arrived back in Darlington that evening to unpack after an eventful couple of weeks and to prepare for a service in Windlestone Methodist Church where they were celebrating their centenary. Windlestone is in the Darlingon District and it was good to be able to preach and to share with them on this very special occasion.
The music group

 A crowded entrance vestibule
Enjoying mince pies and conversation

On Monday December 16th I was on the train again - this time to Leicester. I was presenting a paper at De Mountford Law School at a conference on the issues of faith and belief and the donation of body parts for transplantation and research. My paper was entitled 'Donation as Gift'. It was a fascinating and engaging day with speakers from the fields of law, medicine and theology.

On Tuesday I was in London to record my Christmas message which you can still hear at That evening Daleep and I attended a reception in St Martins in the Fields at the invitation of Action for Children. We were there to celebrate the work and to say good-bye and thank you to Dame Clare Tickell who was leaving her post as Chief Executive of the charity.

I was still in London on Wednesday to be interviewed by Barry Weetman for the Methodist Recorder and to take part in the Carol Service in Methodist Church House. This was my first Carol service of the year and it was good to look forward to Christmas with the staff who do so much to support the work of the church.
At lunch time I met other women who are in leadership positions in faith communities: The Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, The General Secretaries of the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union and the Senior Rabbi to the Movement of Reform Judaism.

December 19th was the beginning of a Christmas break, time to celebrate the birth of Christ, time to be with my family and time to rest.

On Christmas Day I went to Durham Prison where I preached in the morning communion service. It was the right place to be, a challenging place and a place to remember the reality of God with us, with us wherever we find ourselves.

Guernsey Gâche and Christmas lights

We travelled back from Sark to arrive in St Peter Port in the late afternoon on December 10th. That evening we went to the Methodist Chapel at Les Adams where I was to share in the Local Preachers Meeting. Before the meeting began I was welcomed by members of the congregation at Les Adams. This was the first time they could remember being visited by a President of Conference and they welcomed me with tea and gifts of Guernsey Gâche (pronounced Gosh) and a small silver Guernsey milk can. I had never heard of Guernsey Gâche but discovered that it is delicious spread with Guernsey butter and eaten either as it comes or toasted.
With the people at Les Adams Methodist Church
After this I was invited to speak to and with the Local Preachers and was reminded once again of the commitment, variety and dedication of this group who are so essential in the church.
The Chair of District and Circuit Superintendent, Rev David Hinchliffe, leading worship at the Local Preachers Meeting

Maison L'Aumone
On my final day in the Channel Islands, I visited two of the MHA Guernsey homes. Maison L'Aumone is a residential care home and the adjoining Maison de Quetteville is a dementia care home. Between the two is a bridging unit for those residents who are moving from one to the other. We were shown around by Moira Boyd, the Care Manager for the two homes and Rev Mark Street, newly appointed as half time chaplain to the homes. I was hugely impressed by the way in which the dementia care home was designed to offer security and stimulation to the residents. The beautiful gardens were designed in such a way that all the paths would lead to a door back into the home, all the signing was clear and helpful and the residents were clearly happy and comfortable here.
Maison de Quetteville

We then shared in a service of Holy Communion with the residents. The service was led by the chaplain and I gave a short address and had the great privilege of serving the wine. After a short break for coffee, I met with the circuit staff.

In the afternoon, David took Robert and I to see some of the sights on Guernsey. Here are some photographs.

Robert and David looking out to sea near La Table des Pions, a stone circle also known as the Fairy Ring

David exploring one of many tunnels from the time of occupation
There are several memorials on the harbour wall in St Peter Port which are a reminder of those who were affected in so many different ways during the occupation.

Those who died in an air raid.
 Those who died during forced labour.
Those who were deported from Guernsey and Sark to civilian internment camps in Germany and France and those who died there.
Three Jewish women deported from Guernsey who later died at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Children and adults evacuated prior to the occupation leaving scarcely a family undivided.
The beautiful coastline in the early evening

Christmas lights in St Peter Port

The Parish Church

Angel banner

There was an exhibition of artistic representations of angels in the Parish Church. We met some of the congregation and enjoyed a warm fruit punch (non-alcoholic).

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A visit to Sark

The harbour at St Peter Port
The morning after we arrived on Guernsey (December 10th) we left the Island on the ferry for a visit to Sark.
The Ferry arriving at St Peterport to take us to Sark
Arriving at Sark
I was delighted to be going to Sark, an island I have wanted to visit for many years and we had a fascinating day there with Karen Le Mouton, a student presbyter who many will have seen on "Island Parish"
Karen is doing great work on the island and it was good to hear about it from her. There can be nearly 40 children in the Messy Church run by Karen and others from the church, there aren't many more children on the island.

The Methodist Church on Sark
There are plans to develop the church to better enable the flourishing work here.

With Phyllis and Werner Rang
We met Werner and Phyllis Rang. Werner came to the island with the German army during the war, met Phyllis and after the war they were married. Werner has lived on the island since then and drove the ambulance (pulled by tractor of course as there are no cars on Sark). He and Phyllis are both Methodists and it was good to hear something of their story.

Werner Rang
We also met Nellie Le Feuvre who is Church Steward and has her own story to tell about being deported from Sark during the war years. This picture shows Nellie signing a copy of the book she has written about those years.
Our final visit on the island was to the Pottery, where we met Lorraine Nicolle. Lorraine runs the pottery and is also training as a local preacher. Tourists are invited to make their own pot here and are told the story from Jeremiah 18. The pot, when fired, is posted to them along with a book-mark that reminds them of the story. Unfortunately we didn't have time to make a pot as we had to hurry to catch the ferry for the journey back to Guernsey.
The Pottery

Saturday, 11 January 2014


This is the first of 3 long overdue posts about my visit to the Channel Islands in December. It has taken a long time to write but I couldn't miss doing it because there is so much to talk about!

Robert (my husband) came with me and we flew to Jersey from Gatwick on December 7th. Sadly we were caught up in delays and so did not arrive in time for me to meet with Local Preachers as had been planned. Our hosts were Graeme and Elaine, the Superintendent Minister and his wife who is also a minister in the circuit. Later that evening we went into St Helier and went out with the Street Pastors. It was a relatively quiet evening but the streets were full and lively. It was very clear that the Street Pastors were known and trusted and that here, as elsewhere, the work they do is transforming the streets and offering support and security to vulnerable people.

On Sunday morning we went to Ebenezer Methodist Church. The morning service was a section service for St Martin's, Eden and Ebenezer Churches. This group of churches are exploring their way forward in mission and I shared lunch with the leaders and the Minister, Rev Liz Singleton, to hear more about their ideas for the future.
Ebenezer Methodist Church

On Sunday evening we were in Georgetown Methodist Church where I had the opportunity to meet with people from around the Circuit, share something of the year so far with them and respond to questions. We had a good time together talking about many different subjects.
People gathering in Georgetown Methodist Church
On Monday morning Graeme and I went to St Helier where I met the Deputy Bailiff, we spent a good time together and I learned a lot about the island. As we left, I was shown the Royal Mace which was presented to the Island by King Charles II in 1663.

John Wesley was in St Helier in 1787 and he blue plaque commemorating this is on the building from which he preached.

This is the building where Mr Wesley preached
We went on to  the St Helier Methodist Centre where there is a lively worshiping community and a variety of activities during the week including the Paradise Community Cafe. Here you see me with the two ladies who run the cafe which is an important and developing community service.

With staff at the Women's refuge
After lunch and conversation with the Circuit Staff, I went on to visit the women's refuge in St Helier. Here is a place of safety for women which is well supported by the community and well used. Here, as in many communities women who are victims of violence need a place of safety.

The final visit of the day was to the Sanctuary House where there is work developing with men who find themselves without a home. Here I am with the Methodist Minister, Rev Billy Slatter and with the manager.
On the final morning of my visit to Jersey, I visited one of the two MHA Jersey care homes. Here I met the residents and then we had lunch with the staff and Directors before leaving for my final appointment, a meeting with the Governor, Sir John McColl.

Then to the airport for the flight to Guernsey in a very small aeroplane. It was an exhilarating and beautiful flight on a calm and clear evening and we were met at the airport by Rev David Hinchliffe, Chair of the Channel Islands District and taken to his home where we were to stay with the family for the next few days.