Monday, 20 May 2013
Wesley Church in Cambridge is celebrating one hundred years of existence this year, and I was asked to preach last Sunday with a world church theme. It was also Aldersgate Sunday, so significant to Wesleyan Methodists and, much more importantly, it was Pentecost. So what a wonderful day to worship God for both his faithfulness in the past as well as the rich promises of God's Spirit in the present and future. Rev Tim Macquiban led the worship and had chosen some new songs from around the world that are in Singing the Faith, which gave a richness to the celebration. I was invited to speak about world church matters over a lovely lunch, and the discussion that followed went in a number of directions, including the new learning network and the importance of developing the exchange of ideas, students and teachers with other world institutions. An old friend, Rev Peter Graves, joined us for lunch, as did Rev John Barrett after they had both led worship elsewhere in the Circuit. It was an excellent time of listening and sharing, of fellowship and care; it was a good anniversary occasion. The photo shows us around the memorial stone in the church garden with Tim and John. Isabel and I stayed on in Cambridge to enjoy a sunny afternoon with Isabel's cousin; before evensong and eucharist at Clare College where our niece was singing is in the choir. A different style of worship, but a real privilege to be able to share so freely with other Christians from all around the world - especially significant at Pentecost.
Thursday, 9 May 2013
Last week it was a relatively 'domestic' few days in Banbury, punctuated by a funeral service for an old friend back in Hertfordshire. The May Bank Holiday celebrations in the village were excellent - lots of stalls, morris dancing. crowning of the May King and Queen, followed by many other children from the school dancing round the maypole on the green. A very happy afternoon. On Tuesday I was at Swanwick for the opening day of the Methodist Diaconal Order's annual convocation, which was a lovely blend of the old and the new. There was a vibrancy about the proceedings and new opportunities, as well as an appropriately respectful honouring of what had happened previously. Honouring the past is hard to do well; and there have been many occasions over the last year when I have wondered if, in the natural urgency to respond to the rapid changes, has the Church properly acknowledged the faithfulness of those who have enabled us to get to this point? I know that I owe a great deal to Deaconness Mary, who was such a wise counsellor to me in Sierra Leone. Would I be the person today without the quiet guidance of such experienced Christians? The next day I was at High Leigh as one of the Methodist representatives to the CTBI annual gathering. For me, this was a wonderful opportunity to meet up again with ecumenical chums, many of whom had been colleagues on joint pieces of mission work when I worked in the Connexional Team. The afternoon was taken up with some 'in depth' hearings; first I attended ones on the Israel-Palestine situation (and it was good to hear John Howard talking about his recent sabbatical as an EAPPI volunteer), and secondly on what the Churches' response to Poverty might be. The recent excellent JPIT report (Myths and Lies about Poverty) was quoted a number of times. I was again struck by how local and global issues are so inter-related, and how much more all of us Christians could be doing socially, economically, politically etc to transform situations, if we had the will and energy to do so. The topic of foodbanks inevitably cropped up in the Poverty 'hearing' and someone mooted the point that if every time food was given out at a church, it generated a separate letter to the local MP (or PM?), the scandal of the situation might hit home more forcefully. And I again wondered if I care enough?
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
No two District visits have been remotely the same this year, so it was with great anticipation that we made our way to Trinity Church, Ellesmere Port on Friday afternoon. An extraordinary journey over the last decade, helpfully documented on Friday by different speakers, has resulted in a church space being opened up every weekday to serve the community, with 50 volunteers a week serving healthy snacks and drinks, working with NHS well-being professionals and the local council - but still keeping the Cross central to all that's going on. Great vision and drive - community and Circuit - alongside huge grace from the senior members of the church, as they seek to meet community needs. We were hosted by Steve and Suzanne Cooper, and on Saturday Steve took us to Hoylake for Synod, where we met up with Jim Booth and Mark Wakelin. The day was largely taken up with discussion about mission (local, national, global) and it was both a privilege to be part of it, as well as extremely stimulating. I look forward to seeing what happens in the next 12 months. On Sunday morning I was planned for Prescot and Whiston, arrived about 50 minutes prior to the service to be greeted by a large number of the congregation! I have rarely seen such a large proportion of worshippers gather so early, but it created a lovely warm atmosphere; and was carried on afterwards, not least by some of the young people proudly showing me their Sunday room, one that they had been allowed to decorate, and awaiting its official opening in two weeks' time. The church was a good example of what can be achieved by two congregations joining together and drawing on each other's strengths. A delicious, if hasty, traditional Sunday lunch with Carole and Jim in Mossley Hill was followed by a journey to the seaside at Southport. At Leyland Road, in cafe style, the three ordinands, Ruth, Ruth and Jan, gave their heartfelt, sometimes emotional, testimonies to a full church of all ages. It was a meaningful end for me to a full week-end where so many, directly and indirectly, spoke about getting out of the church buildings and into sharing and meeting the needs of the communities around them.
Wednesday, 24 April 2013
The 70th Anniverary of Methodist Homes took place in the grand surroundings of Coventry Cathedral on Wednesday 17th, where Keith Albans led the service and many voices were heard, including Susan Howdle, an ex-VP. Baroness Kathleen Richardson preached a sensitive and powerful sermon, and many friends made it a very happy occasion. On a personal note, I think the Joshua 14 reading that I was asked to read was not my easiest assignment of the year! On Friday we were off to Sheffield and an excellent question and answer evening with Methodist Women in Britain, chaired by Mary Jefferson, mainly with a world church theme. This subject was further explored at Synod the next day; and there were also impressive contributions from Ian Bell on Pioneer Ministry (see photo).and Steve Hucklesby (JPIT) opening up a very good discussion on the use of drones in warfare. Vernon Marsh led us purposefully, and Ric Stott's thread of meditative prayer centred us on God's grace throughout an excellent day. The day was rounded off perfectly for me by wins for both Birmingham City and Warwickshire - the sun shone! On Sunday I was planned for Loundsley Green in Chesterfield, at the LEP there. With Diane still in hospital, I was impressed by just how much ongoing work was being continued and developed by a faithful and prayerful fellowship. A day in the Banbury circuit was followed by an evening ride up the M1 for Isabel to attend a family funeral in Leeds on Tuesday, and for me to continue to Durham and the Wesley Study Centre. Calvin Samuel arranged a very full programme which enabled me to meet many of the Methodist tutors (including Jocelyn Bryan, Julie and Andrew Lunn) some of the diaconal and ministerial students, and also staff from Cranmer Hall and St John's College (notably David Wilkinson). It was also interesting to attend a postgraduate seminar led by Joel Edwards on prison ministry. It was a day primarily for listening. Time and again this year I have heard, both expressed and not spoken, the tension of the Covenant Service prayers - with God apparently calling us from where our inclinations might naturally lead. Not easy at all. Altogether, another week of being with lovely, gracious and committed people in Cathedral grandeur, representing Circuits and Districts, engaged in first-class ministerial formation, and working tirelessly at local mission. What a privilege!
Monday, 15 April 2013
Methodist Council at High Wycombe was a very good meeting. Embraced in Nigel Hardwick's prayers there was real quality in the papers, considered questions and comments that showed careful study of an extensive agenda, and moments of real inspiration. I was so impressed by the contributions of the younger reps, including Hayley Moss, our Youth President. The Church has been so blessed by the YP postholders over the last couple of years. Council still has a tendency to micro-manage on occasions, perhaps understandably re the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network (resulting from the Fruitful Field report); but no one present at Council could doubt the thoroughness of the examination of a subject that is still proving contentious to some in the Church. The same degree of scrutiny was afforded to a variety of papers, all of which are in the public domain via the Methodist website. Personally, I am pleased to see the progress being made by the MMS Working Group, as well as for Council to have been involved in shaping the legacy of the important Belonging Together project team; lots of synergy in these two reports re the local/global links in our understanding of mission today. This morning Paul Morrison introduced the work that JPIT have done since Conference on Poverty and Inequality, and it was so pleasing to hear Council affirming that we are a Church that can still speak prophetically and boldly. There will be many reading this who have never been to Methodist Council and I would want to reassure those people that Council treats the subjects seriously and carefully; and that the Conference continues to be served by a Connexional Team with ingredients of intellectual quality, theological underpinning, hard work and grace.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
On a bitterly cold Palm Sunday I made my way, extremely cautiously, to a church anniversary at Trinity, Leicester West circuit. My friend Joseph Suray had invited me. The church had also invited the mums and tots group to the worship, specifically to help distribute the palm crosses - and several stayed for a delicious lunch. Holy Week itself was in my home circuit; a tenebrae service at Adderbury, Maundy Thursday at Greatworth, Good Friday at Hornton and a new ecumenical walk of witness at Boddington. Then Easter Sunday at Chacombe where, because the chapel heating wasn't working, we turned it into a cafe-style worship. It had the feel of the room where the disciples were huddled together, wondering just what was going to happen next! It also enabled some deep sharing over coffee. On Tuesday it was off to Scarborough and ECG, and the expected good mix of vibrant worship and teaching. It was a privilege to be asked to lead three seminars this year and we explored the 'Kingdom of God is...' through conversation with three Methodist presbyters - Eunice from Kenya, Francis from Sierra Leone and Adolf from Guyana/St Vincent. The Methodist Church is blessed to have such talented and dedicated ministers and lay people to enable such an event as ECG to be such an inspiration every year. Now Isabel and I are having a few days of holiday near Salisbury to get better acquainted with Alfred Wlliam, our newest grandson. Or it could be recharging the batteries before Methodist Council starts on Saturday!
Saturday, 23 March 2013
To be present at the Archbishop of Canterbury's enthronement on Thursday was a real privilege. The Methodist Church in Britain was officially given one ticket and I was graciously offered the opportunity. Those processing needed to arrive early, but I admit that I didn't need the hour allotted in the Crypt 'Robing Room' merely to adjust the VP cross! Nevertheless it was good to meet up with an old friends, including Ivan Abrahams who was representing the World Methodist Council, before the procession began. The seat allocated in the Cathedral was in the front row between the Quire and High Altar, which felt very special. Wasn't the Ghanaian drumming and dancing electric (I'm probably biased!)? And I thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic mix of hymns and songs, exemplified by the 'Saranam' from India and Charles Wesley's 'And can it be' to finish. There was a sincerity, humility and grace in the words of Archbishop Justin, very much echoing the first words of Pope Francis; both have spoken of their confidence in the people of God, which Christians in the global north so badly need to hear. Over a tea for a great multitude, it was lovely to see other Methodist chums - Steve Lindridge (Fresh Expressions) and Harvey Richardson (ecumenical officer for Kent) - and to know that Methodism's strong ecumenical leanings were being acknowledged. Transported by coaches to the University campus in the early evening, a celebration dinner was laid on, mainly for the benefit of ecumenical, other faith, and overseas guests. It was good to renew friendships with people such as Sammy Azariah (Bishop of Pakistan), and the Anglican Bishop of Colombo (from our involvement in the WCC consultation on reconciliation in Sri Lanka). I also had a fascinating ten minutes with the leader of Zoroastrianism in UK, then sat down to the meal opposite a troubled Bishop of Tanzania and next to Brother Paolo of Taize. It was that kind of evening! On Friday I returned to Banbury, to an afternoon Bible study group in the village of Adderbury with another lovely group of Christians. To round off a wonderful couple of days, our daughter-in-law Hilary gave birth to a rather large boy (England need a decent front row succession policy after the Wales defeat!) and Tim later said that he would be named Alfred. I assume, as they live near Wilton, that it's the royal Wessex connection! Isabel and I are, as one might imagine, delighted.