Saturday, 22 February 2014

Trampling the head of the poor into the dust of the earth

It wasn't acceptable in the time of Amos (8th century BC) and it isn't acceptable now.
This isn't about party politics.
This isn't about scoring points.
This is about basic morality.
This is about according respect to human beings.
This is about feeding the hungry.
This is about facing up to the fact of our divided society, recognising inequality and injustice and doing something about it.
This is about truth and justice.

The society Amos described was one where the wealthy were complacent, more concerned about maintaining status and power and improving their own economic security than about those who were losing out, When I read Amos I recognise what he describes because I have seen it and heard about it all over Britain.

Wherever I have travelled this year I have asked the same two questions:
Do you have a food bank here?
Have you seen increased need for it?

Wherever I have travelled the answers to both questions have been 'yes'.  I am not hearing about small increases in need; I am hearing about huge leaps in demand and food banks that are struggling to keep up.
I am hearing about generosity of giving in terms of time and food.
I am hearing about, and talking to people who are falling into debt for the first time in their lives because of the 'bedroom tax'.
I am hearing about, and taling to people losing benefit payments because they have not been able to make a phone call, because they have no credit on the phone, because they have no money.
I am hearing about, and talking to people put into accommodation that has no heating and no furniture and no lighting because they have no money to put into the meter.
I have talked to women being exploited because they need money for their families.

Once, when I was a teacher, a colleague described me as a bad tempered Old Testament Prophet when he heard me reprimanding a student who had failed to give in work on time - yet again.
Now, I really am like an angry Old Testament Prophet.
This is not acceptable.
In a country which the Prime Mnister has described as wealthy, we cannot continue to ignore the needs of those who have the least resilience.

I see those affected by poverty becoming poorer.
I see the failure of those in power to acknowledge the facts.

We are trampling the heads of the poor into the dust of the earth and pushing the afflicted out of the way (Amos 2:7).

It isn't acceptable, it is iniquitous and we will continue to challenge political leaders, whatever their party allegiance, because that is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus who was anointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim the release of captives and to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18).

Friday, 21 February 2014

More than Pork pie and stilton

Melton Mowbray claims the title of the rural food capital of England and is the home of pork pies and stilton cheese. I sampled both when I visited the circuit last Monday (February 17th) and both were delicious.

I began the day by meeting with Revd Jane Carter and Revd Kevin Ashby. Jane is the Superintendent Minister of the Circuit and Kevin is the Rural Dean, they work closely together in the area and as we talked it was clear that working ecumenically is the only way to further mission in this rural area. This was no surprise to me, as you may have realised I am committed to ecumenical working and it was good to see it here. The models of working differ according to context and in some places it is easier than others. The important thing is that in this circuit and deanery they are seeking to plan and to work together and with other churches to make the best use of human and material resources for the kingdom.
Sage Cross Methodist Church, Melton Mowbray
 After the conversation with Jane and Kevin we went to Sage Cross Methodist Church and Community Centre in the centre of Melton Mowbray. Here I was given lunch and I sampled the local produce and enjoyed the hospitality of the circuit. I met with members of the Circuit leadership Team and talked with them both informally and in a question and answer session. Among those present were Deacon Dawn Canham who has been stationed in the Circuit from September 2013,  supernumerary ministers who continue to play an important part in the life of the circuit and lay leaders including Local Preachers and Circuit Stewards.
Lunch-time in Melton Mowbray
From Melton Mowbray, Jane took us to visit Upper Wreake Methodist Church which has two centres in the villages of Frisby and Hoby - one church with two buildings each of which are important centres in the community.
Methodists and Anglicans work together i the churches of the Upper Wreake

Hoby Centre
I went to the Hoby Centre first where the refurbished church is a centre of worship and also the meeting place for the Monday Club children's group, a weekly craft class and a fortnightly coffee morning and internet cafe. Ivy Woodford is one of the Church Stewards and is well known in the village, she was able to tell me a lot about the history of the church and also about the ongoing mission here.
At the Hoby Centre with Janet, Margaret, Jane, Ivy and Peter
Frisby Centre
We then went to Frisby where another of the Church Stewards, Janet Norburn, is also the family and youth worker. Lay leadership is vital in our rural chapels and also, I believe, in our urban and suburban centres. It is so important that we train and support our lay leaders well and when I meet them I am often reminded of the excellent training scheme for lay pastors in Bolivia which I wrote about in my blog in August. So much can be achieved when circuits are commited to training and supporting lay leaders to work in partnership with ordained colleagues so that all can use their gifts appropriately.  In Frisby the disco lights were still illuminating the worship and community area from the disco that had taken place at the week-end.
Inside the Frisby Centre, you can just see the disco lights shining on the front wall
In Upper Wreake we were joined by Vic Allsop the County Ecumenical Development Officer for Leicestershire. One of the things Vic wanted to say was that often it is the Methodist churches that have the better buildings for community use in rural areas and that he hoped that we could work together to realise the mission opportunities they offer. In Upper Wreake the partnership is working well.
Another question and answer session in the Frisby Centre. On the left is the vicar, Revd Peter Collins, on the right is Revd Peter Hancock (District Chair) and next to him is Vic Allsop County Ecumenical Development Officer. Deacon Dawn is in the centre front and Revd Jane Carter (Superintendent Minister)in the centre back.

Melton Mowbray is so much more than pork pies and stilton cheese.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sunday in Crowland and Leicester

I have really enjoyed preaching in many different parts of the connexion and lst Sunday (February 16th) was no exception.
Crowland Methodist Church
In the morning I was in Crowland, a village near Peterborough. Here, the Methodist Church was celebrating its 99th anniversary and people joined the congregation from other churches in the circuit

Liz, Mick and Margret

 We had a great time of worship together including an excellent and very funny sketch performed by Liz, Mick and Margaret, three of the members.

Revd Peter Hancock enjoying the exhibition
There was an exhibition of the history of the church which many people found fascinating and which included a photograph of a former President, Amos Cresswell, visiting the church and the personal diary of a minister who served there in the 1860s.

We shared lunch together before I left to go to Leicester and to preach in a service in Oadby Methodist Church in the Leicester Trinity Circuit.

Peter Hancock &Langley Mackrell-Hey

Enjoying lunch together

One of the banners in the church

Oadby Methodist Church is in the centre of the town and very near to major shops. In fact, the church opens onto the shoppers car park and they have made the most of this opportunity. The premises include a commercial cafe which is very popular and the Mission and Outreach Worker employed by the circuit has helped the church to make contact with those who come to the cafe - a very successful outreach.
Oadby Methodist Church with the cafe on the right hand side of the picture
 It was good to meet Rachel Parkinson here, the last time I saw her was at Conference where she does a wonderful job of co-ordinating the worship along with Paul Wood.
With Rachel
I shared in leading worship with Rev David Vale, the church was packed and we raised the roof with our singing!
With Revs Peter Hancock and David Vale

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Gospel in action in High Wycombe

I arrived at High Wycombe station this morning and was met by Peter Hancock, Chair of the Northampton District, who took me to Wesley Methodist Church which is in the centre of town. I was given coffee and then had the chance to chat with people who were there for the regular Saturday coffee morning. Yesterday night this had been the town church offering night shelter for the homeless. A group of volnteers came in to cook a meal and then some stayed through the night and served breakfast in the morning. This work is shared by the other churches in the town so that shelter and food are offered each night.

Wesley Methodist Church
 There is also a food bank based here and, like so many others it has been increasingly needed over the last year. Deacon Ruth Richey told me that in the year ending December 2012 the total number of food parcels issued by all the distribution points across the town was 672. In the year ending December 2013,  2012 parcels were issued. Everywhere I go I am being told the same story of a rapidly increasing number of people suffering the effects of 'austerity' policies - thank God for those who are willing to help and we must not stop challenging policies that are causing people to suffer poverty.

Wesley Church serves the community in many ways, its situation near the town centre helps but the key thing is the recognition of the people here of the imperative to share the love of Christ.

I spent the rest of the day with Deacon Ruth and she took me into the town centre to talk about the work she is doing here. Ruth is a member of the town centre chaplaincy team and regularly visits the businesses in the town centre. We went into one shop where Ruth wanted to talk with the owner and it was very clear that she has built up a supportive and trusting relationship.

Deacon Ruth Richey ouside the shop we visited together
Recently closed
Internet as the way forward
As we walked through the town the difficulties being faced by many businesses were obvious. Some are closing in order to estabish a web-based business, others are simply closing.

This delicatessen and health food shop has recently closed and in the shopping centre there were several shops boarded up.
Wycombe Homelessness Connection

Ruth works alongside several partners in the town including Wycombe Homeless connection which is a Christian charity.. This is their centre which is leased from All Saints Church.

Ruth told me about her work with Wycombe Womens Aid which offers safe accommodation and assistance for women who are victims of domestic abuse. An outreach service is also run by this group and, as part of that, Ruth runs sessions called 'Open Door' in which women support one another in the context of the Christian gospel. Ruth has also responded to a need to care for women who are caught up in various aspects of the sex trade including those working on the streets and in clubs.

Ruth's work in all these areas and the involvement of other Christians has led to an increasing respect for the churches and the Christian faith and a willinness from local groups to workwith the churches.

This is the gospel in action.
Deacon Ruth Richey

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Going for growth in Cumbria

On Saturday February 8th I drove across the Pennines from Darlington to Penrith. It is always a beautiful journey, even when it is raining and cloudy. On Saturday it was sunny most of the way which was a bonus.

I was going to Penrith Methodist Church where there was a District day on the theme of going for growth. The three sessions were led by Graham Horsley and were challenging and full of ideas and information. We were encouraged to talk to one another and to respond to the input given by Graham.

 I led the worship at the beginning and end of the day together with the worship band who had come from Barrow. They were a newly formed group and were brilliant.
273 people came from across the District and it was good to meet so many and to see that they were enthusiastic to come and spend the day together as they do every year.

Sunday morning began with an interview on radio Cumbria at 8.00. After a quick breakfast Richard (The Chair of District) took me back to Penrith Methodist Church to preside and preach at the 9.00 commuion service. After a short break and a cup of coffee I was then preaching in the10.45 service, a well attended contemporary style of worship.

Lunch was in MHA Woodlands in Penrith where I met again some of those who had been at worship in the morning. I was also able to visit Doris Brown, a minister's widow who is resident there. It was a real joy to meet her and talk with her.

We then drove to Grange over Sands and to Westerley, which is the LWPT (Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust) home. Among the residents was a Local Preacher who featured in a recent edition of the Methodist Recorder having been awarded a degree at the age of 98. He is now studying for another degree and thoroughly enjoying it. I preached here before going on to Barrow after a brief call into Thornleigh, the Christian hotel next door to Westerley.

With Rev Martin Williams &Rev Richard Teal
We arrived at Trinity Church Centre in Barrow which is in the South West Cumbria United Area (Methodist and URC). I was preaching here at a United Area Service. In the congregation were two people I knew well. Rachel had candidated for the ministry from the Darlington District and trained at the Wesley Study Centre before being stationed in the Cumbria District, it was good to see her and catch up on her news.
Also in the congregation was some-one who has been very important to me. Revd Phil Rigby was the University Chaplain when I was in Hull and it was he who confirmed me and brought me into membership of the Methodist Church. The Methodist Society meetings, many of which were held in his manse and hosted by Philip and Anne, were an important part of my growth in discipleship. MethSoc was also where I met Robert and when we were married, Phil was one of the ministers and preached at our wedding (the other minister was Revd Kenneth Waights). Then, when I was ordained, Phil was the assisting minister who laid hands on me alongside the President and representative of the world church. It was an unexpected pleasure to see Phil there and it has been one of the real delights this year to meet many friends in many parts of the country.

It  was a short but full visit to Cumbria, which of course is an ecumenical county and includes within its boundaries hugely diverse communities.

Monday, 10 February 2014

A message from the Youth President

Tamara asked me to attach this to one of my blogs.
I think it deserves its own blog!
Do encourage support for this.

The Street Child World Cup kicks off in less than 60 days!! No child should ever have to live or work on the streets. The Street Child World Cup is a global movement for street children to receive the protection and opportunities that all children are entitled to. The Methodist Church has committed to support two Nicaraguan teams and send them to Rio for this unique international event. We aim to raise £30,000 to send both the girls and boys team to take part. To send our team to Rio we need your help and donate here:

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Returning and retreating - Sherborne and Yeovil Circuit and Launde Abbey

Cheap Street Methodist / URC Church
Last week-end I returned to Sherborne and Yeovil Circuit. Returned, because we lived near Sherborne for 9 years and it was here that our children attended the Junior Church. It was also while I was a member of Cheap Street Church that I responded to the call to ordained ministry that I had first heard 20 years earlier. It was very moving to preach in Cheap Street, Sherborne on Sunday morning and at the Cafe Worship in Preston Road Methodist Church, Yeovil on Sunday evening.

At lunch with friends
Another view of lunch with friends

On Sunday afternoon I met friends from church and from the school where I taught. Some of them, I had not seen since I left nearly 19 years ago. Robert was with me on this visit and it was special for him as well.

Some of the churches we knew have closed but in others there is growth and in this circuit, as in many others, Messy Church is proving very successful in reaching families  (in Sherborne it is called Sticky Church).

Gathering in Cheap Street in the morning

Cafe Worship at Preston Road MC, Yeovil
With Revs Christina Le Moignan (Past President) and Linda Barriball (Superintendent) Linda noted that 50% of the female President's of Conference were present in the service - Only 4 in all these years!
On Monday I was invited to visit Sherborne Girls School where I had been Head of RE for 9 years before being stationed. This was one of three schools where I had taught, the other two being in Oxfordshire. I led prayers in the morning and then enjoyed taking part in 2 lessons. I still love teaching and enjoy being challenged by the perceptive questions asked by young people. These two classes were studying sexual ethics (Upper VI) and environmental ethics (Year 11) it was great to talk with them.
With the UVI

From Sherborne I drove to Launde Abbey in Leicestershire where I am currently leading a retreat for Ministers from the Lincolnshire District. Retreats are private spaces so I will not be blogging about the content or showing photographs of the sessions but here are some pictures of the beautiful grounds of Launde Abbey.

View of the Abbey from the grounds - the chapel is on the right

The Stew Pond (fish pond) which has been here since the 16th century

A morning view from my window

A cactus in the greenhouse