Sunday, 29 November 2015

Ecumenical Treat of a Week

On Monday night, Steve and I were invited by Angus, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and his wife Marian, to a dinner at the Caledonian Club. There were just eight guests, including the former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Bishop of Chester, and a representative of the Bishop of London. 

It was a wonderful evening. The meal, which started with haggis and neaps, was followed by a discussion on Mission and Evangelism. It was fascinating to share experiences. The differences were not denominational, but geographical – urban and rural.

On Tuesday we were off to Westminster Abbey, for the inauguration of the 10th General Synod of the Church of England.  As Ecumenical Guests we processed in (which I have to confess was an amazing experience) and I sat almost opposite the Queen (and Gareth Powell!).  You can just see the back of my head!
The address was given by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household. His theme was ‘Rebuild my House’, from Haggai 1.1-8.  He had some wonderful things to say about going back to the basics of the gospel, as well as a call for unity.
‘Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.’
It was a moving and thought provoking sermon, and it even inspired me to preach on Haggai!
Then it was a quick change and into the Assembly Hall at Church House for the Opening Ceremony.  In her speech, unity was again the theme, and the Queen even mentioned the covenant with the Methodist Church.
Peter with colleagues from Chester: David Goodwin, Neil Stacey, David & Anne Speed, and Christine Dutton
Back in Cheshire, on Thursday it was off to Chester Cathedral for a special Choral Evensong to install Revd Peter Barber, Chair of the Chester and Stoke-on-Trent District as an Honorary Ecumenical Canon (and yes, I did manage to find time to sew his special badge on!)
Just to add to all this ecumenical activity, on Wednesday and Friday I was back at Englesea Brook Chapel of Primitive Methodism, where we had the first in our series of Advent lunchtime ‘Soup and Study’. We are looking at Pioneers of our Faith, and this week it was John the Baptist and John Wesley (next week will be John Nelson, the Yorkshire evangelist).  There were 15 of us, and yes – they included Methodists and Anglicans!

Friday, 27 November 2015

Where is God? 'Having a Voice' at 3Generate

Discovering her cousin is moving from London to Wales, my 3 year old granddaughter Evie bounded into the room, full of excitement. ‘Edwin lives in London, and Edwin lives in Wales – Edwin lives everywhere – like God!’  Out she ran, only to burst back a few seconds later – ‘Where does God live?’  ‘In our hearts’, said her wise Grandpa. ‘God is love’.

Children are great at asking questions about God.  Do we provide spaces in our church for them to ask their questions, and even more important – do we provide space to answer them?
I have just spent three days at an Adventure Centre in Swindon with 600 children and young people, aged 8-23, at 3Generate, and 200 helpers.  60 youth workers met alongside in The Well, with their own space for sharing and encouragement.
‘Having a voice’ is at the heart of 3Generate’s vision. Through logins, speak-outs, sofa chats, panel debates, and numerous creative ways, children and young people get involved, find their voice, and get their voice heard.
I was really impressed that while this was ‘fun’, at the heart was a personal encounter with God, and how to grow in personal discipleship.  Questions about God, and issues from sex, self-esteem and loneliness, to politics, war and conflict and immigration, were all discussed in a context of non-judgmental listening to each other. 
My only concern, especially being involved in a workshop on politics, wonderfully led by Rachel Allison, is that some really important questions were raised, and some views expressed that clearly need much longer to explore and discuss in the light of the gospel.
Can our churches take up the challenge, and become safe spaces for young people to talk about faith and moral issues in our world today?  Especially when their views might be poles apart from the views of the majority of us wrinklies - and perhaps we are the ones who need to be challenged! 
One of the most moving spaces at 3Generate was a prayer installation, a quiet space which individuals could enter and engage with different prayer stations.  On a table where young people could write their questions for God, I was struck by the raw and honest responses to the Paris attacks, resonant with the Psalms.  Current events have affected young people, making them feel insecure and adrift in a hostile world.  Where is God in this? 
Well done to all those involved in organizing this amazing event – something we as the Methodist Church can be so proud of.  Craig Gaffney, our Youth President, is a fantastic role model for young Christians. His personal faith in Jesus Christ shines like a candle in the darkness.  His honest sharing of his own testimony, reflects the love of God for each one of us, and draws others to know Jesus for themselves.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Paris attacks - 13 November 2015

By 9.00am we had the following statement on the Methodist web site
Statement from the Methodist Church in Britain
The President and the Vice-President of the Conference have issued the following statement about the attacks in Paris: 
"We, and all the Methodist people, pray for all the victims of the attacks in Paris on Friday night.  We hold in our prayers all those who seek to offer comfort and support in the days and weeks ahead."
The Revd Steven Wild, President of the Conference, and Dr Jill Barber, Vice-President of the Conference. 
on Saturday evening I was at Bow Road Methodist Church for their 150th Anniversary event, before we began our worship and celebration the Revd Cameron Kirkwood lead us in a minutes silence followed by Ms Sarah Grimshaw (circuit youth and children worker) who was born in France and has worked as a missionary,  prayed in French for the situation 
To stand with people who are in a state of grief and who are hurting was great privilege.

Premier Christian Radio asked me to speak on the prayer programme and I did this and prayed on air. You can listen to the programme here - starting at 2:48.

Monday, 16 November 2015

4 Curries and No Toilets!

‘It’s a different world’, I said. ‘No it isn’t’, said Tim, ‘It’s the same world – we are One World.’

Now I am back in a manse that has no less than 4 toilets, I am reflecting on my visit to Jharkhand, in India, where only 20% of people have access to a toilet of any kind!

Life for women is particularly difficult. I saw men relieving themselves by the side of the road and squatting in fields, but the women are only allowed to go out of the house to use the fields as a toilet first thing in the morning, and after dark at night. Not only do they have to train themselves not to go to the toilet during the day, but going into the fields in the dark leaves them vulnerable to sexual assault.  Sorry - too much information – but toilets loom large when you haven’t got them!!

I flew to Ranchi with Tim Baker, from All We Can, to see the work of the Srijan Foundation. All We Can is supporting a project to empower women among the ‘Scheduled Tribes’, who rate even lower than the Dalits.  One of the ways women are being supported is through Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and I met some of the women from the SHGs who were standing for local elections.  It is fascinating to discover that men are interested in large projects like road building, while women are interested in more community based projects, like – you guessed it – toilets!

Other issues the women were concerned about were child marriage, gender violence, growing alcoholism, and education for girls.
In one village I helped prepare a ‘feast’, and stirred the pan of curry on a clay stove, with my eyes stinging from the wood smoke.  

Curry, usually vegetarian, as meat is not available to the poor, was definitely the staple diet, and on one day I actually had four curries, including curry for breakfast!

Many of the families are dependent on illegal coal mining to feed themselves, and one of my most abiding, and haunting, images will be the cycle pushers – men with vests blackened with sweat and coal, trousers pulled above the knee, straining every sinew as they push cycles laden with 10-20 bags of coal to sell in Ranchi, a journey of 40km which takes them a day and a half.  The only solution is to develop alternative sources of income, and Srijan is helping women, through the SHGs, to set up co-operative goateries, piggeries, poultry and vegetable growing.

Reducing women’s drudgery is another aim, and I was delighted to see simple tools that really make a difference to women’s lives and well-being.  The women laughed at me when I couldn’t work out how to use a corn-on-the-cob stripper.  They showed me how quickly this simple tool worked, and pointed to their thumbs and forefingers, indicating how painful it was to do this work by hand.   
I have been so privileged to experience something of the lives of women whose opportunities and prospects are so incredibly different to mine.  It was saddening to know that for them, life outside the village is an unattainable dream, but moving to see that for their daughters, thanks to All We Can, there is real hope of change.

I have so much more to tell you – you will have to ask me to come and talk about it!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday 2015

The last conversation I had with the Revd David Gamble was when I was questioning him about his year as President and any advice that he could give me. As you can imagine, he had some great advice and was really helpful, but told me that the most memorable part of his year was the Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph, he said he found it incredibly moving - I can endorse that. My middle daughter Phoebe accompanied me and say on a balcony with wives of politicians and diplomats. I had to wear my robes which were kindly donated to me by Bishop Peter Stephens and proved to be very warm for standing outside in. I prepared myself
spiritually for this by spending time and remembering not only our sailors, soldiers and airmen but also the civilians who were killed. An aunt of mine was caught in a bombing raid in Manchester and survived, her friends were not so lucky. I also remembered preaching in the Bath Circuit where on the chapel wall was a plaque with names of men, women and children, when two streets were bombed just by the church. This day people all across the nation have some thoughts about God and I trusted that he would be the comforter on this day.
My eldest daughter, Lois, got herself to Whitehall for 7.30am, so she could have a good place in the crowd, and see me; alas soldiers in great coats came and lined up in front of her alas she saw very little. But it was a unique e
xperience anyway! I had to wait in the Locarno Room in the building in Whitehall with other dignitaries and military personnel, I love meeting people and talking about the Methodist Church. So I went around the room, I shook hands with David Cameron, our Prime Minister, and had a conversation with him. I took his photograph with one of the diplomats, who is a Methodist. I was then able to converse with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition. He was followed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, posed with some of the ladies. It was a very interesting time, everybody had heard of Methodism and said complimentary things. As I always pray for our Queen and government, I was able to tell them all that I held them in my prayers and all were appreciative of this. Then we had to get into line, wreaths are collected and then we stood in a corridor for what seemed quite a long time. then very quickly we went down a red carpet staircase and out of the door, the band playing and wow - it was my David Gamble moment. My throat tightened and I quite forgot that this was the moment when for 5 seconds I was on national television. Standing in my place, I then participated in this national act of
remembrance. The chimes of Big Ben, the firing of the cannon, all made for a very intense moment. I have been involved in closures of local churches and questions asked about the war memorials, they are all over the connexion. When I recently visited St John's Methodist Church in Sunderland, they had a whole wall of memorials, their own and those from closed churches. All these names matter, everyone is precious in God's sight and the feeling of God's care and agony over our wars and fighting came very clear to me. After the service, there was a light lunch, the Bishop of London made his way over to me because my Bishop, Tim Thornton of Truro, had told him I would be there and we had a very warm conversation. This was a day that I shall never forget.

Visit to the Newcastle upon Tyne District

I returned to Heathrow from Hong Kong and after breakfast at Kings Cross, I caught the train to Newcastle (and slept most of the way). I was met by the Revd Elaine Lindridge who is the district Evangelism Enabler and is married to the District Chair, Stephen. After the long flight, and something to eat I was ready for a bath and should have gone to bed but I was so excited to be in the District at this time of the "Together Mission", I couldn't sleep and went with Elaine to a mission centre for youth outreach. I got talking with one of the mothers, who had been reading from the Letter of the Ephesians that morning. I was able to lead her to Christ and pray with her. She took a cross and smiled a lot. I then went back to the Lindridge's house and slept for three hours. Each day I was blessed to lead someone to Christ and the mission was so varied I spoke after dinner, in two places, I was
interviewed for Premier Radio, saw how one team had shown practical love to tenants of a rundown housing estate and cleared people's gardens into a skip. There was a football mission with a young Christian footballer who met a gang of lads each morning for football and gospel. I was impressed to join Methodists doing street evangelism even in the pouring rain and whilst in Stanley, doing my own prayer walk - in dog collar - a couple of young people asked me what I was doing and there began a fascinating conversation about prayer and faith on the pavement. I had never been to Seahouses before, former Vice-President, Mrs Gill Dascombe, knew this place very well, her father was minister here and she was born and baptised here. It was wonderful to see her and Michael. I joined in with Messy Church and even had my face painted. It was great to see ministers from different circuits working together for mission, one of them said to me "my circuit has freed me up to come and work with our friends in the next circuit, I am loving being on mission, this is what ministry is all about". Methodism is alive and well in the Newcastle upon Tyne district, where I discovered mission to be at the heart of their work.

Visit to Hong Kong

I was very blessed and privileged to visit the Methodist Church in Hong Kong and represent the Connexion at a special service to mark 40 years since the American Branch of Methodism joined with the British Branch and so I was invited at their expense to be the guest of honour. It's very wonderful and providential that our mission partners out there are my best friends, Revd Dr Howard Mellor and his wife Rosie. So it was a joy to stay with them on the 16th floor of a tower block. For my morning run, I went across the road to the place where other joggers are. It was nearly a mile walk up the steep road on the mountain until I got to the track most people used. I was nearly exhausted by the time I got there and usually I am a solitary jogger on my little routine in Truro. Here there were lots of other joggers doing exercises, and Tai-Chi, some brave souls were running backwards downhill! But enjoyed my runs and prayed. This is in training for the All We Can sponsored run next year. I was the
guest speaker at a retreat on a little island, this was followed by a visit to the International Methodist Church (British speaking) the 9 o'clock service had 100 people, including one Cornish boy and a bloke from Liverpool. After this, I had a drink and then preached to nearly 1000. The challenge was to take up the cross on this anniversary and almost everyone did, it was deeply moving. After lunch I was taken to another part of Hong Kong, this service was in Chinese and I was given earphones to listen to the translation. I followed the cross and banner into the service with everyone singing "O for a thousand tongues to sing" in Chinese. This service was two and a half hours long and I was able to speak to the assembly on your behalf. I kept to my time! The Lord's Supper was very special. This service was followed by a banquet which I am very grateful that they invited me to such an authentic experience. School children played music and we witnessed the Dance of the Lion which is
all about welcoming us. Then between the 12 courses, there was musical and other entertainment. All done to a very high standard. The faith of the Hong Kong Christians was very impressive. They have just demolished the International Methodist Building and are going to build a skyscraper building with a chapel on top. It is a massive scheme, costing millions, the project manager is a man of prayer called Matthew. The Mellors are to leave in the Summer and so far have not found a replacement for them in Hong Kong. I promised them that British Methodists would hold them in prayer at this time of change.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Catching up with the saints in Christ Jesus who live in Petts Wood

With Rev Juliet and the stewards Nana and Nadia
It was a real joy to lead and share in worship at Petts Wood Methodist Church last Sunday.  It brought back so many memories. I was three when I moved to Petts Wood with my Mum and Dad. The church wasn’t yet built. It started in a shop, and we met in the Lakeswood Hall. My Dad, Norman Smith, was very involved in the plans for the new church. He was particularly excited when he managed to get hold of an old cinema organ (he always like a bargain!).  Peter was 21 and I was 22 when we got married here - Peter’s godmother played the organ and she found it very confusing – we kept getting unexpected bird whistles!  (The organ is still there - but sadly its eccentricities have been modified!).

Lunch after the service with Daphne Beauchamp, Alan and Margaret Tompkins, Brian and Heather Neville.
One of my abiding memories of being at school, Newstead Wood in Orpington, is the Annual Prize Giving, which always began with the same reading:  ‘Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.’ (Ecclesiasticus 44.1)  It didn't occur to me at the time, but what an astonishing way to inspire 600 girls!
I want to praise, and say thank you to, the faithful women and men of Petts Wood Methodist Church – who are all saints in Christ Jesus! Without you, I would not be where I am today.  Everyone who has come to this church on a Sunday over the years has played a part in my faith journey, because without you the church would not exist, and it was here that I found faith in Christ, and came to know him as my Lord and Saviour.  Among those who planted the seeds of faith in me were Mrs Higgins, my Sunday School teacher when I was 10-11. Alan Tompkins who taught me in Seniors.  Douglas and Mary Lupton who led the youth group in their home on a Sunday night.  There are so many others I could name – the Atkins, Lockwoods, Beauchamps, Readers, Wilkes, Nevilles.  
With Anne Lockwood, Karen (Warhurst), Angela (Woolley), Rev Juliet and Gillian Tomkins

It was wonderful to find that Petts Wood now has a multi-media system.  I remember the thrill when David Cruise arrived as a young minister (in 1965?), and became the first person to use visual aids for the children’s address – very exciting! 
Today I live in Crewe, just round the corner from Stuart Rhodes, the minister at Petts Wood who made me a member when I was 16. It has been a joy to share with Stuart and Veronica all the news - about people Stuart remembers better than I do. He has a phenomenal memory!
With a full heart, I can truly say with Paul, 'I thank my God every time I remember you' (Philippians 1.3)