Tuesday, 31 October 2017

"Always to be reformed"

Church history – like all history – is a mixture of glory and horror, of beauty and ugliness, of love and hatred, of pride and shame.  Today Loraine and I were among many hundreds gathered in Westminster Abbey for a “service to mark the 500th anniversary of the 95 theses and the start of the reformation” which included confession and absolution for the horror and hatred along with celebration and thanksgiving for the glory and beauty.  It was a significant event.

It was also a large-scale event, with meticulous planning and preparation by the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey.  We had received a 30-page briefing document covering every imaginable detail from which flag would fly (the Abbey’s) to who would move the music stand of the conductor of the German choir (an honorary steward), how every square inch of the building would be used and in which order the 80 church leaders should process to our seats. ( Apparently this latter caused some difficulties, as some of the denominations involved normally process with the least important at the front and the most important at the back – and others do it the other way round!)  Methodism was represented in the “First Eleven” (which made it sound rather like a big ecumenical cricket match) by The Right Reverend Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council and Loraine and I found ourselves towards the front of “the rest” with The Rev. Tim Macquiban, Director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome (so we had an excellent view of the proceedings).

The music throughout was note-worthy, as might be expected for a celebration of Martin Luther, a prolific hymn-writer.  Before the service the packed congregation were treated to appropriate music from a vast array of choirs, many from UK-based international Lutheran congregations (German, Norwegian, Swahili, Estonian, Swedish, Icelandic, Danish, Latvian, Finnish, Chinese).  
Those of us in the procession missed this as we were robing up (or not) in the Lady Chapel but as we began our long journey up the side of the Abbey and down the aisle we were treated to a specially-commissioned piece which wove together words and music from many of Luther’s own hymns sung in an ingenious musical arrangement and in around a dozen languages.  The angelic choir of Westminster Abbey sang a number of pieces during the service, including another specially-composed anthem, “I in them and you in me” by Bent Sørensen, a haunting piece which, like the church universal, blended dissonance and harmony.  The congregation had our opportunity to sing lustily and with good courage in three German hymns; “A safe stronghold” (Ein feste Burg), “O Holy Spirit, enter in” (to the tune Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern) and “Now thank we all our God” (Nun danket).

In his address the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, began by asking “What’s not to like?” about the Reformation, listing some of the enlightenment and revelation which has resulted, but went on to face honestly the pain and cruelty which also followed this cataclysmic schism in the Church, before concluding in thanksgiving for the healing of division and the progress since made along the road of ecumenical relations.  Later in the service the Archbishop, on behalf of the Anglican Communion, presented its resolution from the General Synod earlier this year affirming the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ).  This Declaration was drafted in 1997, signed by representatives of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, adopted by the World Methodist Council in 2006 and earlier this year the World Communion of Reformed Churches signed a statement of association with it, so representatives of all these august bodies received or witnessed today’s presentation. 

As far as I could tell, I was the only lay person in today’s procession, and whilst Loraine and I were not the only women, we were certainly in a minority group!  So, as a lay woman with a Primitive Methodist background, I feel a sort of humble pride which asks “What am I doing here?” whilst at the same time rejoicing that we are a denomination which has a lay person within its Presidency.  I take heart too from the words of the bidding in today’s service, given by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, who reminded us that “the universal Church, the body of Christ is under God semper reformanda, always to be reformed”.  Methodism needs to offer our own charisms and insights to that ongoing journey of reformation, to the greater glory of God.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

Visit to Fiji: August 2017

In August, I was privileged to attend the Fijian Conference as part of my World Church visit as President of the Conference of the Methodist Church in Britain. For the last seven years, I have been working with the people who make up the Fijian Methodist fellowships in our Connexion and supporting their chaplain the Revd Jimi Kaci, who works part-time in the Nottingham and Derby District. I went to sign a Memorandum of Understanding which cements a long-term relationship between the British and Fijian Methodist Churches, and commits us to praying, listening to each other and supporting each other as we journey together.

We reached Fiji early one morning, and were welcomed at the airport with singing. During the four-hour car journey that followed, our driver regaled us with stories and gave us a potted history of the islands. I had heard lots about Fiji from my friends in the fellowship, seen films and knew some of the history, but nothing prepared me for my first glimpses of these ‘paradise’ islands.

On arrival at our base in Suva, we were met by Simisa, a minister who is responsible for formal education and training for lay and ordained colleagues. Our welcome ceremony was held in the boardroom of the conference offices. As part of the formal greeting and ceremonial, we received food, mats to sleep on and garlands to keep us warm. These are deeply significant to the Fijian people and extend radical hospitality and friendship to visitors. I found such a welcome very moving and a significant moment in linking ourselves to each other as a sign of our faith and togetherness.


After a very good night’s sleep, we rose early for a series of meetings with recipients of grants from the World Mission Fund. Our first meeting was with the Trust Committee, a group set up to establish and keep in good order all the property the Church owns (our nearest equivalent would be our Trustees for Methodist Church purposes). All the members are volunteers and the Chair is the President of the Fijian Conference. It was a meeting that challenged me about what trusteeship really means.

I also met with the Land Registry Team, which is working hard to establish which land belongs to the churches and to register it all. The team has been working on this for the last 5 years and has so far registered 35 of the 58 divisions. The Conference is held annually and is two weeks long. The first week is an experience in itself as choirs come from all over the islands to sing in competitions.


Fijian canoe - the Fijian Conference and Synod logo

At the next meeting about education and in-service training for lay and ordained, I quickly recognised what a task this was. There are 17 schools on the main island and developing a curriculum is a full-time job. Presbyters train for three years in college and then three years on probation and there is great need for a well-planned programme of ongoing leadership training. There were many informal conversations along the way and I rejoiced in those about faith, mission and evangelism.

Then there was the Conference. The ministerial session of the Conference was very interesting as all the ministers have to attend, 400 in all (with very few women presbyters, though interestingly the deacons were all female). Every day of the Conference starts with an act of worship at 8am. The President enters around 9am to start the formal business, which concludes around 6pm (we work on ‘Fijian time’). 

In front of the whole Conference, President Tevita and I signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the Methodist Church in Fiji and the Methodist Church in Britain. This was greeted warmly and with a great deal of thankfulness for our ongoing partnership together.

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding
The Conference then went on to deal with issues much like ours: decisions about ministry and mission, property finance, election of officers. The ordination service started at 7pm on Sunday evening with a large choir, lots of singing, readings and prayers. For me, the most compelling part was when the ordinands came into the Conference to be examined by the ministers. The 14 presbyters and 3 deacons were questioned on a number of issues, which must have been scary in front of the whole of the Conference with questions coming from all parts. They got through, but at times it seemed like touch and go. Later, I had the privilege of ordaining them with President Tevita and then preaching at the worship – not getting up to preach until 8.30pm, but no one seemed worried about the time.

The ordinands
I took a morning off from the Conference to attend a seminar led by one of our mission partners: Julia Edwards, who works with market traders on climate change. It was fascinating learning how best to cope when hurricanes and bad weather come and how to deal with rubbish left at the end of the day’s trading. I had a very stimulating conversion with two women who are the caretakers of their village’s market. They were very concerned about the number of women who arrive to sell with their small children, so they had started to think about having a school near the market. They had also built an overnight shelter with showers for women travelling to the market, and were hoping to open a women’s clinic as part of it.

We then visited another of our mission partners, the Revd Val Ogden, who works at the Pacific Theological College. Val is director of a distance learning arm at the college; she is doing a fantastic job.

We had to leave midway through the Conference due to my other commitments, but we came away with a mountain of gifts. The generosity and the hospitality offered by our World Church partners is to be admired and this visit will stay long in my memory.

The Revd Loraine N Mellor
President of the Methodist Conference 2017/2018

October 2017

Friday, 13 October 2017

Travelling south to the north-east

Having studied at Durham University (a long time ago) I always love returning to the area we generally call "the North-East" but which now, of course, is south of where I live, in Glasgow.  Being somewhat directionally challenged this always confuses me and I often head to the "northbound" platform automatically - and invariably sit on the wrong side of the train to view Lindisfarne as I pass... but thankfully last Friday I managed to arrive safely in Darlington to spend the weekend staying with Ruth Gee, chair of district.

On Saturday I led a Quiet Day on the theme of "Bless You" at Elm Ridge Church in Darlington.  The words Blessing/Bless/Blessed occur about 1000 times in the bible - we didn't look up every reference (!) but worked our way through many of the stories, exploring God's great desire to bless in all sorts of situations and our response of learning to "bless the Lord" even in hard times.  Throughout the day we added our own blessings to our "Blessings Board" - always an uplifting thing to do.

We looked at the words of Pharaoh in Exodus 12:32, "and bring a blessing on me too" and wondered how we, as individuals and as church, might bring a blessing on our public life and society. Everyone settled down for half an hour before lunch to write their own blessings to be given to family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, politicians... who knows?   Some of the thinking for this came from my experience in the Isle of Man district in July when Loraine and I met with a group at Ballagarey who meet every morning with the explicit purpose of asking God's blessing on their communities.  (See a previous blog entry).  In the afternoon the group responded powerfully to an invitation to offer prayers of intercession around the words of the Beatitudes - so relevant to the world we find ourselves in now.

Sunday was spent mainly at Elvet Methodist Church in Durham; and the 35 years since I graduated slipped by as I reacquainted myself with this beautiful church.  In the morning I was glad to preach and share in the leading of worship with Rev. Shaun Swithenbank and in the afternoon attended the growing Chinese Congregation which meets monthly at Elvet.  They were celebrating their third birthday, a joyful service at which Ruth preached (on John 2, "The party must go on"!) and 6 people were baptised.  The party certainly did go on with plenty of delicious Chinese food and  cake afterwards too!

On Monday I moved on to Newcastle and spent four hours with UK Biobank having all sorts of scans and tests as part of a national survey of health and well-being... not really a VP task, but as Newcastle is one of only 2 centres in the country offering this, it seemed a good opportunity to participate.

Tuesday was to be an exciting day - not only my birthday (!) but a Newcastle District pilgrimage following the Pilgrim Poles to Lindisfarne - one of my very favourite locations in the world! The weather was fair, the spirits were high, the water was not as cold as I have known it, nor the mud as deep or sticky as sometimes, and I was thrilled to be able to include such a special adventure into my year of office, organised by Rev. Gill Welsh, minister in the Lindisfarne circuit, who has often led my pilgrim groups in worship and communion before our crossings in the past few years.

Along with around 25 walking pilgrims from the district (plus a few others who joined us on the other side by car) our party included a woman who was on holiday and had been disappointed not to be able to cross to the island for various reasons.  She shared this with a member of staff at the hostel where she was staying, and that staff member just happened to be a Methodist who knew of the event and arranged for her to join us!  I feel that the day played an important part in her life's journey and she was a great blessing to the pilgrim band.

After the crossing we gathered in St. Cuthbert's Centre on Holy Island for picnic lunches and some reflections from me on rhythm and from all of us on our experience.  Within my thinking about rhythm, for some time I have been captivated by the idea that much of life is about finding the balance between Adventure and Security (a pair of words I first heard used together in a Radio 4 Sunday Worship, applied there to the journey of ordination, but, I think, relevant to most if not all of us on our own life's pilgrimage).

Chair of district, Stephen Lindridge, was amongst the company and took many photos which, I think, capture something of that blend of adventure and security which filled the day.

We were all transported in cars back to the mainland before the tide cut us off at 4:30pm and I headed to Berwick-upon-Tweed station, remembering that this time I did need the "northbound" platform!  Jill

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Shetland revisited

As this wonderful year of experiences and encounters unfolds I begin to have more and more regard for Wesley's famous journal. Not only the content but the mere fact of it - when did he find time to write it? As Loraine and I make our way around the Connexion, sometimes together and sometimes separately,  we are trying to record our travels in various ways - blogs, Facebook, Twitter - ways which were not available to Wesley, but which I feel sure he would have used if they had been, but sometimes it's hard to keep up!

So here I am in Darlington at the end of a varied and thoroughly enjoyable district visit, reflecting back to last week in Shetland. I have posted some initial photos and notes on Facebook and my own blog,  but, a week later, am still reflecting on aspects of the visit.

Nearer to Norway

Several folk in Shetland pointed out that Lerwick, the capital, is closer to Bergen in Norway than to Edinburgh. Shetland generally feels more affinity with England than with Scotland (I decided not to wear my Methodist tartan kilt there!) and would be in an interesting, but uncomfortable, positon if Scotland ever does become independent.
These Scandinavian links were clear when I participated in a meeting of the relatively newly-formed ecumenical Shetland Women's Network - a gathering of almost 100 women aged between 16 & 86 who are linked with an organisation in Norway (as the worship focus displays).

Pilgrim possibilities
Along with both ministers in the islands, Andrew and David, I visited a number of small, beautifully-kept, but relatively isolated Methodist chapels. The pilgrim in me was itching to find paths to walk between them and put together a Methodist pilgrim route... maybe one day... These little gems already bear witness to the faith story of the islands; perhaps there are ways to use the buildings to proclaim more clearly their story, and the story which lies behind all such chapels, the story of Jesus?

Celebrating worship
On Sunday afternoon I was delighted to present a certificate marking 25 years as a local preacher to Joy at North Roe chapel. Her enthusiasm for sharing the gospel - through singing and guitar-playing as well as preaching and worship leading - had clearly contributed enormously to the life of that little congregation. For me it was a little incarnation too - having sat with Loraine in Methodist Church House many months ago signing a huge pile of such certificates it was special to see the "word made flesh"!
On my final evening I met with a group of 8 people committed to sharing the good news through preaching and worship leading; half of them just setting out on the new course and the other half there as mentors. The meeting began with a wonderful take on our "5-a-day" theme as Susie invited us to dip 5 different fruits into a chocolate fountain - strongly recommended! I was greatly heartened by the passion and excitement of this group (not only for the chocolate) and more widely by the ministry being offered in different roles by so many folk I met. All of this inspires in me great hope for Methodism in our most northerly district. I give thanks.

News from Darlington and Newcastle in due course...