Friday, 27 June 2014

The bright succession

Thank you for this year, for your prayers and for all that many of you have shared with me. It has been a privilege to serve as President.

Tomorrow afternoon Revd Ken Howcroft will be inducted as President for 2014-2015 and Gill Dascombe will be inducted as Vice-President.

And so the bright succession runs.

Please pray for Ken and Gill.

God bless.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Marsett - Bicentenary thanksgiving and the nettle and the donkey

Outside Marsett chapel - just look at that view!
On a beautiful sunny Sunday (June 22nd) I drove through the stunningly beautiful Yorkshire dales to Marsett, a hamlet near Hawes. We were celebrating the bicentenary of the Methodist Church, or to be accurate of the existence of Methodist Chapels - Methodists were there earlier.
View out of the chapel door
 We were also celebrating the completion of their development scheme which had been to provide a water supply to the building, convert the porta loo to a properly equipped toilet and to provide ramp access to the chapel. This was a big challenge for the small congregation (membership below 10) made no easier by being in a National Park.

They were commited because on of the young people who attends every week is in a wheel-chair and it was becoming impossible and unsafe to carry him up the steps into church. But they have a bigger vision as well of being a place of hospitality in this beautiful place. I am told that, though the church is small they have the youngest age profile in the upper dale. The photographs will not reflect this as I cannot show pictures of children!

A packed chapel

Barbara and Stan
The chapel was full and overflowing for the service, some were sitting in the gazebo outside hearing the service through loud-speakers. The Young Singers took part in the worship under the direction of Barbara, a Methodist from nearby Gale. When Barbara took early retirement from her teaching job the children were keen to carry on singing with her and so the Young Singers began. At first, the group was small enough to meet in Barbara's home but now they are far too many for that. They sang magnificently, accompanied by Stan.

After the service there was abundant food served - true dales hospitality - and the weather was good so we could eat outside.
Tea in the gazebo
 This was my last preaching appointment as President and it was good to be in this beautiful part of the Darlington District where the numbers are not high but they are sustained and they have vision and hope for the future.

And the nettle and the donkey?
Marsett is the only place in the country where caraway grows wild. The story is told that this is because of a mischievous Marsett boy who put a nettle under the tail of the pedlar's donkey. The donkey reacted as you would expect and the caraway seeds were spread all over the green.
The caraway certainly grows here and is used by the villagers.

Keith and Mary, Keith is a Church Steward
Elaine and Tom who brought water to the chapel in a milk churn before the mains supply was connected. Tom is the treasurer and Elaine has played organ here for 50 years.
Jane with family and friends
Queueing for tea after the service
Jane with Rev Janet Park, after Janet was stationed here they discovered they had been at the same junior school (for just one year).

The Tour de France is coming to the Dales - yellow bikes everywhere

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Celebrating the 40th anniverary of the ordination of women

What a great day it was!
The sun was shining as people arrived at Wesley's Chapel for the service of celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women to the presbyterate in the Methodist Church. Its a bit of a mouthful but it is important to be accurate. Presbyters are Ministers and so are deacons but this anniversary is one for presbyters.

It was in Bristol in the Conference of 1974 that the first 17 women were ordained as presbyters. Three of them were with us for the celebration and they presented a bible to the Methodist Conference that will be used in our worship.
Receiving the Bible from Revs Jennifer Lunn, Marjorie Hopp and Elizabeth Hodgkiss

Others who had been ordained that year but were not able to be present sent their greetings. Among them was Rev Irene Morrow who is now living in Ireland, she sent her greetings to us along with her bible.
Greetings were brought from:
The World Methodist Council - Gillian Kingston,Vice-President
The United Methodist Church - Bishop Mary Ann Swenson
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) - Christine Elliot
The Church of England - Revd Canon Jeremy Worthen
Women and the Church (WATCH) - Rev Emma Percy

I had the great privilege of presiding and preaching and should you wish to read my sermon (or a close approximation to it) you can find it here

Rev Michaela Youngson, who had prepared the liturgy also wrote a hymn for this occasion. The music was written by Rev Nicola Morrison and we were led by a small choir as we sang it together. the words of the chorus are:
We are worthy by your Spirit
we are worthy, by your Son,
to proclaim your gospel story,
of a world in Christ made one.
By the grace of God - we are worthy!
Rev. Siperire Mugadzaweta from the Swansea Circuit wth her husband. They travelled to London for the service.

Wesley Study Centre - past, present and future

Last Wednesday evening (June 18th) I went to the leaving service for the final cohort of students for ordained ministry from the Wesley Study Centre in Durham. Afterwards we had a lovely meal in the undercroft in Durham Cathedral - a great setting! Please pray for all those going into circuit appointments in September as they move on from the community in which they have been trained and where formation for ordained ministry has begun.
Leavers - Helen, Steve, Suzie and Tim all candidated from the Darlington District
I have visited the Wesley Study Centre twice during my year as President. On March 12th, I spent a day in Durham which began with a conversation with the Director, Calvin Samuel and the other teaching staff - Jocelyn Bryan and Andrew Lunn.

The Wesley Study Centre has always worked in close partnership with Cranmer Hall, (the Anglican training institution), the University of Durham and the Cathedral. I met with representatives from all these places and we had a fascinating and stimulating cross-disciplinary conversation together around the relationships between academia and the church.

In the afternoon I met with the Cranmer Hall and Wesley Study Centre students to share reflections on women in leadership.
After the session with the students, I went with Calvin to meet the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University. He spoke of the importance and high value to the university of links with the church, this is a relationship that thrives in Durham.

My second visit took place on June 17th when I was invited to take part in one of the sessions of a conference with the theme 'Formation for the Future', arranged by the Wesley Study Centre and held in St John's College, Durham. This was the second day of what had clearly been an excellent conference with contributions from a wide range of scholars and practitioners. Unfortunately I was unable to attend most of the conference because of other commitments but I arrived towards the end to take part as one of a panel.

After lunch many of us went to Elvet Methodist Church where we were joined by others for a service of thanksgiving for the work of the Wesley Study Centre in which I had been invited to preach.
Music was provided by some of the very talented musicians among the students and the liturgy enabled us to give thanks, to acknowledge sadness at ending and to look forward to the future of the Wesley Study Centre as it moves into a new phase within St John's College.

Candles were lit to represent past, present and future. As we looked towards the future, the Chair of the Wesley Study Centre Committee, Professor Peter Howdle, commended the continuing work and witness of the Centre to St John's College.

This was a service which included sadness, thanksgiving and hope for the future, it was a privilege to be part of it as President and as Chair of the Darlington District.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Moving Out Together - The Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland

I travelled from Belfast to Dublin to attend the Methodist Conference along with Daleep, Jonathan and Jenny. The train was running late but I was met at the station by Rev Donald Ker, the Secretary of the Conference and he took me to Rev Andrew Dougherty's manse where Andrew and his wife welcomed us warmly and we shared a lovely meal together. These were just the first of the whole series of warm welcomes I received for the next few days.

The next morning as I ate breakfast in the hotel, I was greeted by the President Designate, Rev Peter Murray and his wife, Liz. I went with them to the Ministerial session of the Conference.
The Conference was held in a church building owned by the Church of Ireland, that had been the home of the Methodist congregation for a few years and was now the place of worship for the Romanian Orthodox Church. It was a fitting ecumenical setting in the year when intrchangeability of ministry has become a reality between the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland.

The Ministerial Session was chaired by the President, Rev Heather Morris. Heather was the first woman to be President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and we have met on a few occasions during the last year. I have enjoyed being with Heather and have valued her inspirational ministry and leasdership.
The ex-President, Rev Heather Morris with a colleague
That evening the representative session of the Conference opened with a service of thanksgiving and the induction of the President. As in our tradition, the President handed on the Presidential cross to her successor. fter this there was a significant difference as two archbishops and a bishop of the Church of Ireland joined the President, The Secretry of the Conference, the Lay Leader and myself for the induction of the President. As we stood around him and commissioned him, I was deeply aware that history was being made.
Discussion groups in progress

On the following three days, each day's business began with a Bble Study led by the Archbishop of Armagh. The theme for the conference was 'Moving Out Together' and built on the theme of the last year which focused on the warmed hearts, wet feet and tough hands of the people of God called to mission. We all agreed that the Bible studies were a highlight of our time together. During the days of the Conference we met in formal sessions to do business and at other times were facilitated by Diane Clutterbuck as we worked in groups considering the mission of the church.

The ordinands with the President
The final event of the Conference was the ordination service and I was honoured to be invited to preach and to take part in the ordination of Sam, Ken, John and Ruth as presbyters in the Church of God. They are worthy!
Daleep with Azra

Thursday, 19 June 2014

When you've massaged some-one's feet, you can't kill them

On Tuesday June 10th I flew from Newcastle to Belfast, arriving just after 8.00am for a visit to the Corrymeela Community. I was met by  Pádraig Ó Tuama, a member of the Community. Pádraig drove us to Ballycastle along the beautiful coastal route and as we travelled we talked about Ireland, the work of the community and various issues of justice and inclusivity. 

Pádraig is a poet and I was fascinated by some of the things he told me about the Irish language. There are no words for 'yes' or 'no' in Irish, you cannot affirm or deny in the abstract but always have to include yourself in the statement, for example you might say, 'I will' or 'I may not.' In a similar way there is no single word for love, love has always to be grounded in experience and relationship. You have to tell the other what they mean to you. I find something very appealing in this grounding in relationship, it is incarnational.

The Corrymeela Centre at Ballycastle is in a very beautiful setting and the community is rooted in peace-building and reconciliation. 'Reconciliation is  a place, where something happens that gives space for encounter, learning, acceptance and change.' (The Corrymeela website) 
For me, this day spent at Corrymeela was extremely significant and important bot because of the conversations I had with community members and volunteers and because of the time I spent simply being there. Towards the end of a year where much of my focus has been on issues of justice and peace, this was a good place to be. No simple answers were offered; pain was recognised; the requirement for justice was stated; complexity was not ignored, neither was it an excuse.

Rachel, one of the community members told me of her work.  People are brought together to share an experience as 'me' and not as a member of a group or faction. On one occasion she had been working with women from the Falls Road and Shankill, enabling them to encounter one another. They were massaging each other's feet when one woman looked up and said, 'When you've massaged some-one's feet, you can't kill them.'

You can read more about Corrymeela here

Celebrating 200 years of Methodism in Desborough and the inauguration of a new diocese

After returning from Scotland I had a day of catching up in Darlington before travelling to Desborough in the Kettering and Corby Circuit on Saturday. I was preaching at a service of thanksgiving for over 200 years of Methodist presence in the town. The first Methodist Church was built in 1814 though Methodists had been meeting in a house before that.

In 1969 the Methodists formed a partnership with the Church of England which was the first of the kind in the country and still continues. Anglicans and Methodists share the Parish Church of St Giles and the Methodist hall and rooms.

The Chair of District, Peter Hancock was present as was the Bishop of Brixworth. The Superintendent Minister, Revd Margaret Eales welcomed us all and we celebrated Methodism and ecumenism looking forward with hope. After the service there was a barbecue, so I returned home well fed and having enjoyed a good time with the people in Desborough.

On Sunday I went to York Minster to attend the service confirming the election of Nick Baines as Anglican Bishop of Leeds and inaugurating the new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. It was a great celebration of Pentecost and of new beginnings for the diocese.

Walking to York Minster

We were given a picnic to take away with us after the service in York Minster. all those carrying yellow bags had been in the Minster!

Inverness and pioneers from Wesley to today

After the Cliff Festival I moved into a week of meetings including a morning spent with a delegation from Pakistan. We heard about the realities of life for Christians in Pakistan, they shared concerns with us and helped us to reflect on the ways in which we respond to these issues and read and write about them. I cannot show photographs of this meeting or report in any detail but it was a morning that challenged and enriched me. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have shared in this. You can read a report of the meeting here

On Saturday May 31st I travelled to Leeds to meet with members of Outcome. I presided and preached at the communion service and then listened to and shared with my sisters and brothers in Christ.

On the following Tuesday I travelled north to Inverness where the Methodist Church is celebrating the 250th anniversary of John Wesley's first visit. When Mr Wesley arrived Methodism was already established having been brought first by military men and then by the first Methodist preacher to cross the border into Scotland, Christopher Hopper. Christopher Hopper came from County Durham, so I felt as if I was treading in his foot-steps, though my journey on the train was considerably easier than his. It was Christopher Hopper who brought John Wesley to Inverness and on the day they arrived it was pouring with rain. The storm was so heavy that they thought the meeting planned for the afternoon would be cancelled. They went to worship in the Old High Kirk and the minister gave them  lunch and then invited Mr Wesley to preach in the kirk, which he did both that day and the next. It is worth reading the whole story and you can do so here

Dave Saunders
On Tuesday afternoon I met one of our pioneers, Dave Saunders at Breathe. Breathe is a meeting and gathering place, set in the heart of the community. The building was once used by those who were drinking and taking drugs and then it burned down. It was given to Dave and he rebuilt it with help from others in the community who saw that something was happening and came to join in. Now it is a welcoming place for various people and Dave speaks of those who have met with Christ there and helped him to do so too.

The garden at Breathe
It is a special place but it is not the physical building that makes it special it is the relationships that have developed there enabling people to discover more about themselves and God as they garden, talk, carve wood or drink coffee. This is mission in the community and of the community. Breathe is definitely embedded in this community but is also different from it; definitely incarnational.
 In the evening the Proctor hosted a civic reception and dinner for the Methodist Church. It was a great occasion in the Town House, an historic building in which the first Cabinet Meeting outside of London was held. Speeches were made and John Wesley's visit to Inverness was celebrated by the civic authorities who have always been supportive partners of the Methodist people.
The proctor greeting his guests
On Wednesday I went to the coffee morning in the church and here met Christine and Menzies. Menzies is an active member of the church at 103 years of age, what an interesting conversation we had!
Christine and Menzies
Visitors from Florida
I was taken to lunch by Loch Ness and as we arrived a Hercules aircraft flew past and dipped its wing. My hosts told me they hadn't arranged it specially!

Old High Kirk
In the evening we gathered for worship in the Old High Kirk where John Wesley had preached 250 years ago. It was a real celebration both of Methodism and of the good links with of the Church of Scotland which continue to this day. I preached from the pulpit in the Old High Kirk to a congregation of Methodists and ecumenical friends including two visitors from Florida who happened to see that there was a service taking place and came along to join us.

After preaching in Inverness, Mr Wesley said, 'Were it only for this day, I should not have regretted riding an hundred miles', words which are written on the stained glass window in the Methodist Church.
Finally here is a great picture of the Youth President, Tamara. She was talking to one of the members of the delegation from Pakistan.

Saturday, 14 June 2014


On Tuesday I saw another wall...the peace wall in Belfast.
It is a wall that has stood for many years. A reminder of complex realtionships. A reminder of the intransigence of some differences. Also a reminder of the need for peace.
The human urge to write on it, to paint on it, to photograph it is evident both from my observation and from my own action.

Inevitably I was reminded of the separation barrier in the land that so many call holy.
There are many important differences between the walls - but both are walls.

In Bolivia I visited a home which was one among many built behind a security wall. There was a keeper at the gate, for the protection of the residents. They were securely enfolded from the insecurity of the surroundng area, others were not so (un)fortunate on the other side of the wall.

In Salisbury the magnificent Cathedral spire reaches to the skies and Elisabeth Frink's walking Madonna strides puposefully towards the city. At night the gates of the Cathedral Close are locked and it becomes a safe place, a place set apart - and Mary cannot get out.

Walls are everywhere. Some more obvious that others. Some more threatening. Some more clearly built on injustice.

Some walls are invisible but no less real for that.

I remember the the day that people began to break down the wall in Berlin.

I pray that walls of division and injustice will fall, I pray for the will and commitment to words and actions that work for justice and freedom.

I have become very aware of walls -

Remind me Lord, that no wall can keep you imprisoned for nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Wesley Day and Cliff Festival

On Saturday, May 24th Daleep and I celebrated Wesley Day in London.
First there was the service in Wesley's Chapel. Daleep preached and I presided at the Communion service.

 We went from the communion to John Wesley's tomb where we sang a hymn and placed flowers. It was now raining heavily so it was just a few of us who walked to Susannah Wesley's tomb to hear the words John wrote about his mother after her death and to lay a wreath.

A little later we walked to the Aldersgate Flame where we heard the words from John Wesley's Journal recording the events of May 24th 1748, when he felt his heart strangely warmed. Here Azra, Daleep's wife placed flowers before we walked on to St Paul's Cathedral for evensong.

I found it very moving to attend evensong and hear the same readings that Mr Wesley would have heard before he went to that meeting in Aldersgate Street. I read the gospel and brought brief greetings from the Methodist Church. At the end of the service we went out to the statue of John Wesley and sang a final hymn.
At St Paul's Cathedral before evensong
There is something very powerful about remembering John Wesley's experience on the date and in the places where it took place. It was and experience that confirmed for him the reality of God's grace just three days after his brother Charles had a similar experience which he described in his journal, saying that that the Spirit of God “chased away the darkness of my unbelief.”

On Sunday I preached in the morning at Archway Methodist Church and in the afternoon went to Dalston Methodist Church where they were celebrating their centenary year.

I left London very early on Monday morning to go to the final day of Cliff Festival. I joined the people who had gathered there to take part in a huge variety of activities and to celebrate together. Daleep was here too and during the day I preached in the Celebration service, Daleep led a seminar, we both shared in conversation with a group and finally I took part in the chat show with the Principal, Chris Blake.
Gathering for worship in the big tent at Cliff

Friday, 6 June 2014

We pray for peace

On the Day of Pentecost followers of Jesus were meeting together and they recognised and responded to the presence of the Holy Spirit. The events described in Acts chapter 2 are powerful and dramatic but at the heart of the story is response to the love of God revealed in Christ and it is a response shared by people from many different nations. 
How appropriate then, that we expect Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas and others of many faiths to meet for prayer with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Sunday. The invitation is simply and profoundly to pray together.
 Methodists will be celebrating Pentecost on Sunday. We will be praying together and with ecumenical partners and we will be praying individually. Please pray for peace in Israel/Palestine and for peace in other troubled areas of the world. Peace goes hand in hand with justice and justice and peace rely on the willingness of people to respect and listen attentively to one another. True peace and justice are the gift of God to those ready to receive it but being ready to receive the gift is not easy where conflict is deep seated and people are traumatised.
We do not yet know exactly when the prayers in the Vatican will take place, that is not important. But how powerful it will be if, on Sunday, people from many nations pray for peace.  To help me in my prayers I will turn to Alan Gaunt's hymn which begins with these words:

We pray for peace,
but not the easy peace
built on complacency
and not the truth of God.
We pray for real peace,
the peace God's love alone can seal.

(Singing the Faith 719, Hymns and Psalms 413)