Friday, 13 April 2018

To be a pilgrim...

Last weekend saw 70 folk gather at Cliff College for a weekend exploring pilgrimage. People came from all over the Connexion and brought with them energy and enthusiasm, curiosity and commitment to sharing what they already knew or had experienced and openness to learn more.  The team of facilitators shared brilliantly on a range of aspects of pilgrimage - looking at where it chimes with (amongst other things) heritage, mission, justice and pain..  This latter presentation noted that physical pilgrimage is not possible for everyone - and further considered how chronic pain and disability may itself be a sort of pilgrimage.

The keynote presentation was given by Rev. Michaela Youngson who shared the lessons and insights into life which she had gained when walking the Camino in Spain with her daughter;  "Sacred wells", "Holy detours", "Arid places", "Letting go".... and much much more.  Micky was inspiring, deep and amusing all at once - we look forward to her forthcoming pilgrimage as President of the Conference.

The whole weekend included a "Rhythm of Prayer", following the Five-A-Day shape.  Early morning prayer included rooftop worship on Saturday - when we were blessed with a dry morning and even a sunrise... and on Sunday around the empty cross, such a powerful feature of Cliff. 

Other opportunities for prayer and reflection were offered in various ways, including the mega-labyrinth brought along by Fiona Fidgin for Saturday afternoon. 


Saturday evening was given over to "Pilgrimage on a wider map" in which Rev. Dr. Stephen Skuce  conversed on stage with a number of people who have journeyed to life in Britain from various parts of the world - Barbados, Hong Kong, Cameroon and Benin.  Their reasons for coming - and their treatment on arrival - varied hugely and we were humbled to learn from Pride of his long journey (pilgrimage?) to being granted refugee status.  All participants were gracious - if only the same could be said of all our churches and of our Home Office!

At four points throughout the weekend Rev. Graham Sparkes, a Baptist minister and President of Luther King House, reflected back to us what he was hearing and what he felt was emerging of a theology and understanding of pilgrimage.  His reflections were wise and perceptive and will be made available in due course on the pilgrimage pages of the Methodist Church website. 

All this talking, listening, discussing and thinking was enriched and surrounded by the wonderful creativity of Ruth Sprague.  Her series of weaves on a pilgrimage theme literally encircled us in the meeting room and the prayerful work which had gone into both the weaves and the booklets accompanying them seeped into all our conferring in a mystical way.  Ruth had also brought along her loom and invited pilgrims to spend a few minutes weaving with her over the weekend - a wonderfully rhythmic, soothing activity.  The result was a fabulous textile which expresses so much of the variety and togetherness of the time.

For those with energy and a passion to do pilgrimage outdoors, several options were on offer - some chose to stop off at Tissington en route and share in the Tissington Village Pilgrimage, devised and led by Peak Park Rural Officer, Deacon Lorraine Brown.  Lorraine also led a group of 18 on the final section of the Peak Pilgrimage on Saturday afternoon.  A prayer walk around the Cliff College grounds was one of many workshop choices.

Closing worship centred around the story of two early Easter pilgrims on the Emmaus Road - the whole act of worship, which I led, was shaped by the story, and as the disciples shared their meal with a stranger, we were led by Micky in a communion which captured that sense of Jesus being revealed in the breaking of bread. 

So much more could be said - and I hope it will be in all sorts of locations and events, as some of the richness of the pilgrim ethos is shared with the wider Connexion.  Look out for further reflections and report in the Methodist Recorder and elsewhere and many more photos can be viewed at  https://www.flickr.com/photos/92902340@N00/albums/72157689622947590

Meanwhile, my heartfelt thanks to DMLN for wonderful support in putting on this event - especially Dr. Tony Moodie - and to the brilliant planning group of Sarah, Lynne, Simon, John, Marlene and Tony who all worked so hard.  Blessings for the journey, Jill

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Lament in Notting Hill

This morning I travelled from High Leigh in Hertfordshire (leaving the brilliant Connecting Disciples event early) to Notting Hill Methodist Church. Exiting the tube station and turning into Lancaster Road I immediately noticed graffiti on a wall, "Justice 4 Grenfell"
and moments later the wreckage of the burnt out tower block came into view. It is the first time I have been there and I found myself very moved and not a little shaken.

At the church - still bedecked with flowers, soft toys, photographs and tributes (although, apparently, the scale of this now is nothing to the weeks immediately after the fire in June) - I met Rev. Mike Long, the minister. Mike had only been in the appointment for a few months when the tragedy struck; many of us have followed in the media the extraordinary way in which he and the congregation at Notting Hill have embraced and responded to this horrendous "knock in the night" right on their doorstep. Mike says it has radically altered his life and his ministry. The Methodist Church is blessed to have him.

Our meeting was to talk about "Lament" and to record a brief interview between us which will form part of the Good Friday 3pm programme on BBC radio 4 to which Mike will be a main contributor. Producer Trevor Barnes, whose voice was very familiar to me from various programmes, particularly the religious affairs coverage of "Sunday" at 7am each week, conducted the recording.

As we left Mike pointed out to me a poignant sculpture which has been made and given to the church.
Depicting a weeping figure, perhaps a woman, it chimed strongly with all that we had been sharing about Good Friday, loss and lament.
It currently hides between the boarding which is necessary for some ongoing rebuilding work. Perhaps that is fitting; so often our tears and sorrows are hidden, passed by, unnoticed. Perhaps this broadcast will be one small channel for the grief of a community to continue to be heard and shared. Jill.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Women's World Day of Prayer


Today we join with millions of women across the world in celebrating Women's World Day of Prayer.

This year we joined with eight other Methodist women from across the Connexion to offer our thoughts, prayers and reflections in celebration of Women's World Day of Prayer.



For more information, please visit their website: www.wwdp.org.uk

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Holocaust Memorial Day UK Ceremony

Although Holocaust Memorial Day is not until Saturday, the UK Ceremony marking this day was held today at Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Westminster and Loraine and I were invited to attend.

We just managed to slide it into the diary, travelling there directly from Methodist Council in Hertfordshire and setting off immediately it finished for Queens Foundation, Birmingham (tomorrow's story).

The ceremony was on a much larger scale than I had expected - perhaps 5,000 people present and a star-studded list of participants. Amidst a 90 minute programme of narration, music, film clips and personal testimony, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Maureen Lipman and Celia Imrie all read from letters and diaries written by Holocaust survivors.

We listened to Richard Dimbleby's landmark BBC radio news report from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp which alerted the world to the horrors which had taken place, then Jonathan Dimbleby, in the flesh, reflected on the impact on his father, the whole family, and indeed the world, of this shocking news broadcast. He spoke with great integrity and passion, naming anti-Semitism as a 'cesspit which needs to be drained', but also having the courage to suggest that we must be careful not to confuse all criticism of the Israeli government's policies with anti-Semitism.

The theme for this year's commemorations is 'The power of words' so all the contributions linked to this in some way, demonstrating how the Holocaust did not come from nowhere, but began with a campaign of intentional slander, defamation of the character of an entire race, and provocative talk, intended to inculcate hatred and suspicion. Words do indeed have great power, for evil or for good.

Very moving was the conversation between a very elderly Holocaust survivor, Helen, and a much younger survivor of the Bosnian ethnic cleansing as they compared experiences and found much common ground.

At the end of the ceremony 6 large candles were lit, representing the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust but also standing for the 6 atrocities which the Holocaust Memorial Day remembers; the Holocaust itself,  other groups targeted by the Nazi regime and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

One phrase, used by Richard Dimbleby more than 70 years ago, was repeated by many contributors, 'Never again'... but have we learned? Have we changed? Our talkative taxi driver was very much of the opinion that human nature can't be changed... (but that conversation is another story entirely...) as Loraine and I stood with so many others for the haunting, chanted closing prayer, the crosses we wear in our roles felt very obvious and rather rare, but speak of the power for transformation found in the Word become flesh.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Called and Commissioned

Called and Commissioned

Yesterday evening Andrew and I were delighted to represent Methodism at the Commissioning Service for Ms. Fiona Kendall as a Mission Partner, jointly appointed by the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church.

The service took place in Kay Park Church of Scotland in Kilmarnock, the church where Fiona grew up (although she has been worshipping in the Methodist Church in Ilkley for the past decade so has strong links with both appointing churches). 

It was an excellent service, led mainly by Rev. George Lind, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Irvine and Kilmarnock, and included a splendid sermon by the Very Rev. Dr. David Lacy, a helpful and interesting background to Fiona's appointment with "Mediterranean Hope" in Italy, where she will be working in conjunction with the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome (and our other Mission Partners to Italy, Tim and Angela Macquiban), and the presentation of a Bible (in Italian) by Mr. Norman Liddle of the Scottish Bible Society. 

However, the highlight of the service for me, and I think for many, was Fiona's own testimony of how this next step in her Christian journey has come about.  As she told her own story, of her love for languages and the law (and the Lord), of earlier studies in Florence during which time she became fluent in Italian, of a deep desire to work with those on the margins, particularly refugees, the pieces of her calling fell into place so surely that there could be no doubt that Fiona has been called and equipped over many years for the role she will shortly take up as European and Legal Affairs Adviser for Mediterranean Hope, an organisation set up by the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy to respond to the crisis of migration.


The Commissioning was led by Rev. Iain Cunningham, Convenor of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, after which I led a prayer of dedication. 

Amongst the hymns (all well chosen and enthusiastically sung by the large congregation - although it was a wild night) we sang Andrew Pratt's challenging and thought-provoking "There are no strangers to God's love", the last verse of which sums up the work to which Fiona has been called:
"When people seeking sanctuary come to this place and need our aid,
then in Christ's name let's offer care; through this our debt of love is paid.
God's grace is free, this grace receive, let actions show what we believe."

News and updates from Fiona will appear on the World Church pages of the Methodist Church website; let's all hold her, and all our mission partners, in prayer, giving thanks to God for them.
Jill