Monday, 14 April 2014

Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District

Rainbow over Wolverhampton
My visit to the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District began on Thursday March 27th when the Chair of District, Revd John Howard and Mary, his wife, welcomed Robert and I into their home. That evening we talked with the Assistant Chairs of District and shared a meal together.

On Friday morning we went to Mount Pleasant Church in the Vale of Stour Circuit and here, I spent a couple of hours with presbyters and deacons who are in the earlier years of ministry. Our conversation was wide ranging and we shared many of the delights and the challenges of ministry. There are not often easy answers to the challenges but naming them and sharing them is important. I have had many such conversations during the year, always with the assurance of confidentiality but common themes are emerging, which I will share at the end of the year.  Of course, there are challenges but there are also delights and we shared and enjoyed giving thanks to God for these.

After leaving Mount Pleasant we drove to Wolverhampton Station and met Daleep as this was, in the main a shared visit. It has been good to share with Daleep in many ways this year. We went together to visit ‘Shared Care’ and Action for Children Project in Shrewsbury and I have already blogged about that visit (March 28th). Vitally important work is being done here and I am glad we were able to spend a good amount of time with Faye, the project co-ordinator and the other staff.

On Friday evening Daleep was in Wolverhampton but I went to Wellington to meet with chaplains from around the District. In the group were chaplains in education, in the workplace, in pubs, prisons, and throughout the community. There is much imaginative work being done and huge enthusiasm from those engaged in chaplaincy. In the majority of cases this work is done ecumenically and this usually enriches and strengthens it. All the chaplains expressed the hope that the churches would recognise chaplaincy as part of their mission and encourage others to work in this way.

Cleobury Mortimer
On Saturday, while Daleep concentrated on the urban areas in the district, I went to the rural areas. You may be surprised to learn that the greater part of the wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District is rural. My morning began in Cleobury Mortimer where the Methodist Chapel has been refurbished and now provides space for a good number of groups in the village. Working ecumenically with the Anglican Youth Worker has meant that the chapel is the base for youth work in the village. This is a small congregation but they understand what it really means to be a Christian presence in their community, they understand and do mission.
Talking with people in Cleobury Mortimer
They understand mission and presence in Melville too. I went here to meet some of the people and to share lunch with them. Among those I met was Ruth Downes, community Chaplain in this part of the Shropshire and the Marches Circuit. Ruth has lived in the village all her life and so is known by the local people, a great benefit when working in a group of settlements where there is no obvious community centre. If the gospel is going to be shared here it has to be through living and working within the community, it has to be through presence. But this is not an excuse for keeping buildings open; this really is about being a living and vital presence. So, in this very small chapel the congregation includes all age groups and people from the surrounding area gather here on special occasions.

In the afternoon I went to Ludlow where I met with David Gwatkin, the co-ordinator for rural chaplaincy in the borderlands. David is a local too, he is a farmer and so knows what it is to live and farm in these remote areas. He works for the District and the Anglican Diocese and helps the church to relate meaningfully and positively to those who are struggling to make a living and often struggling because of isolation.

Next, I met with Revd Neil Richardson, a past President of the Conference and the group from Churches Together who have published the report “Ludlow under Pressure.” This is a challenging report and the churches are responding to it by working alongside those under pressure in the community and by challenging the policies which lead to increasing poverty and hardship for many. The report can be read here.

We were joined by many from this large circuit for an open meeting in the evening when I spoke on the theme - 'Glimpses of glory in meadow, marsh and muck'

Sunday was a day that was personally significant for both Robert (my husband and I) as it was Mothering Sunday and we were visiting churches that had close family links.
In the morning I was leading worship and preaching in Chasetown Methodist Church, celebrating its 150th anniversary. My father had grown up in this area and as a teenager had gone with his friends to the Methodist Church in Chasetown. It was there that he grew in faith and he and my mother worshipped at Chasetown in the early years of their marriage. The chapel they knew is no longer there but the congregation now worship in the building where I was preaching. My father went on to become a Methodist Local Preacher and his love and influence were and still are very important to me. Although there was no-one there who remembered my mother and father it was very moving to be worshipping in that church on Mothering Sunday.
Chasetown Methodist Churh
In the afternoon we went to Springhill Methodist Chapel. This was where Robert had grown up and we met with people who had known him as a child and teenager. We talked together and shared in a short act of worship and it was wonderful to have this opportunity.
Robert with David and Christabel at Springhill Chapel
In the evening, I preached at a circuit service in Brownhills Methodist Church. We were joined by a local male voice choir and I was privileged to presenr long service certificates to two Local Preacher, both of whom spoketo us affirming the joy they had in their calling.

With people from the District in Springdale MC
On Monday morning Daleep and I were together again to meet with presbyters, deacons, lay employees and their partners in Springdale Methodist Church, Wolverhampton. We were joined by Revd Anastase who was visitng the District from Rwanda. The Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District has a well established partnership lik with Rwanda and it was clear from talking with Anastase that this is greatly valued. It was also very clear that the partnership is valued in the District and that those who have contact with the people from Rwanda or who visit Rwanda grow and mature in their faith as a result. This partnership benefits both the Rwandan church and the District. Anastase spoke to the meeting, sharing deeply with us about his own experiences and the situation of the church now. Daleep and I both spoke to the meeting and then answered questions on a wide range of subjects.

Darlington Street MC
After lunch the final visit for Daleep and I was to Darlington Street Methodist Church in Wolverhampton. Darlington Street was in the news recently because of a major fire in the building. Although the fire did not spread throughout the building and did not spread into the church the whole building has been smoke damaged. The fire happened on a Saturday night and 6 fire tenders and about 60 firefighters attended the blaze. The damage was severe but the work of feedingthe homeless continued the following day and by early the next week meals were being cooked for those needing food. It is remarkable and due to the hard work and commitment of those involved that this essential work is able to continue. 

There was still a smell of smoke throughout the building when we visited and we saw the extent of the fire damage. This is amajor challenge for the circuit. I am very pleased that one of the ordination services will be held here in July because the church and ancillary rooms will be completely suitable for this by then. 
Fire damage in Darlington Street MC
This was another visit which held important memories for me as Robert was ordained in Darlington Street in 2002 and I was the assisting minister at his ordination. That was a great privilege and joy and it was good to visit the church and to know that others will be ordained there later this year.

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