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.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Homeless Jesus in Glasgow

A figure lying on a park bench, shrouded in a ragged blanket which covers the head and face, but with bare feet showing... It might seem an unusual subject for a sculpture. Look closely, though, and notice that the feet bear the marks of having been pierced by nails. This homeless man lying on a bench is Jesus. 

The sculpture was created by the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz who, since 2013, has been seeking locations around the world for castings of the "Homeless Jesus".   Through his art he intentionally illustrates the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40; "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are my family, you did it to me".  His work has been controversial, with the first church for which it was made not accepting the sculpture in the end, and, as we know, despite a prolonged and vigorous campaign by Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, the council there would not grant permission for a similar installation.  

So I was very glad to attend the unveiling of the "Homeless Jesus" in Glasgow city centre on Thursday 7th December. After some introductions by Father Willy Slavin, who initiated the idea, Rev. Ian Galloway (Church of Scotland Glasgow Presbytery moderator) prayed, using the striking words; "Here you are, Lord but not lording it, once more awkwardly in a manger laid. Still there is no room at the inn, not for the likes of you".  Matthew 25:31-46 was read by URC minister Rev. Mary Buchanan and the Roman Catholic Archbishop Philip Tartaglia blessed the sculpture.

Not unusually, for Glasgow, it was quite cold, and began to rain during the ceremony, but this only served to highlight the real conditions in which many have to sleep rough night after night.  Grant Campbell, Chief Executive of Glasgow City Mission (far L in the photo above) told us that 50 people had spent the previous night in the shelter they provide in the city.  

Other speakers highlighted the poignancy of installing this sculpture and drawing our attention to homelessness as Christmas approaches, when the streets are full of shoppers and when the stores are at their busiest, but also when we remember that even from birth Jesus had no secure home.

This is the first "Homeless Jesus" to be installed in the UK; there is one in Dublin and there are plans for one in Manchester.  Internationally they can also be found in many locations including the Vatican, in Madrid, in India and in several locations across the USA.  Here in Glasgow it is to be found in a much-frequented side road behind St. George's Tron Church, Buchanan Street.  After the ceremony we went inside the "Tron" for another event; the unveiling of a painting by Scottish artist Peter Howson, to link with the sculpture, and also depicting a homeless Jesus.    

There is space at the end of the bench to stop and sit for a while... to keep Jesus company perhaps, to pray, to express concern at the existence of such widespread homelessness in a "land of plenty" (as another prayer described us).  Whether people do this or simply walk on by, I have no doubt that Glasgow's "Homeless Jesus" will convey its intended message with challenge and dignity.  Jill 

A short video and report on Glasgow Live tells you more.  

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

We pray for all those affected by the earthquake in Iraq and Iran. For the bereaved, the injured, medical services, rescue teams and all who helping in the wake of the devastation caused by the earthquake. 
We pray for patience and understanding to those who are trying to make shelters for those who have no homes and no possessions. 
We pray for consolation in the love God of those who have lost loved ones. 
We pray for healing and wholeness for those who are injured. 
We pray for those working in the emergency actions teams providing food water and support. 
We pray from a distance, being mindful of the comfort of our own situation praying in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who suffer. amen

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