Wednesday, 13 September 2017

At Westminster Cathedral

This year continues to unfold with rich and varied experiences and I am so grateful to the Methodist Church for these opportunities (literally, "open doors").

Yesterday began early as I was on the 5:40 train from Glasgow to London - which enables me to be at Methodist Church House for 10:30am (I admit I wouldn't want to do it every day!) I attended Ministries Committee, of which I have been a member for 2 years, and engaged with about a dozen others on a wide-ranging and packed agenda.

I had to leave a little before the end to travel to Westminster Cathedral with Rev. Neil Stubbens, the Methodist Church Ecumenical Officer; together we were representing the Methodist Church in Britain at the service of "Solemn Vespers of the dead" for His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, former Archbishop of Westminster, who died on 1st September.  In the Sacristy (surrounded by dozens of priests and bishops donning robes of white, black and purple) we were made extremely welcome. Canon John O'Toole, the Catholic Ecumenical Officer, who has attended the last two Methodist Conferences went out of his way to make us feel comfortable and at home and numerous other clergy greeted us, introduced themselves and made conversation, including the current Archbishop, Vincent Nichols. It was certainly good to have Neil there who already knew many of them and was able to fill in bits of background and context for me.

We processed into a packed Cathedral for a service full of awe and beauty but also full of love and thankfulness for a wise leader who had been friend to many there. The choir were superb and the silence held after their rendition of Bruckner's motet "The mouth of the just" was like the silence of heaven. It was my first time inside this magnificent building so I breathed in the sense of the sacred, along with the incense of prayers.


I couldn't help but be aware that, in a procession of at least a hundred all told (plus the choir), I was the only woman. The weight of representation settled on my shoulders! At least one other Methodist woman was present in the service, Gillian Kingston from Ireland, currently Vice-President of the World Methodist Council who came across from High Leigh where she was attending the European Methodist Council so we were glad to catch up with her later.



Friday, 8 September 2017

Happy Methodist Hogmanay

During the two years I have lived in Scotland I have gained a greater understanding of the significance of celebrating the New Year - "Hogmanay" is big north of the border!  The Methodist Church in Britain starts a new organisational year on 1st September each year so for Loraine and me this has been a week of events marking that.

We began on Sunday morning at Wesley's Chapel, City Road, London for a great time of worship and dedication.  It is a time of transition for Wesley's Chapel as Rev. Dr. Jennifer Smith takes the role of superintendent minister so we were delighted to share in worship with her.  Loraine preached on "Ambassadors of Christ" (you can still watch the service here).  As we arrived, we encountered Rev. Jorg Niederer, a Swiss Methodist minister who had walked here from Switzerland over the past two months!  I had been following his blog intermittently during his pilgrimage and was so glad to meet up. 



After a fantastic international lunch there we made our way to Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, where we shared in an evening service of Holy Communion and prayers for healing.  This was conducted in a very relaxed and Spirit-filled atmosphere and it was so good to see clergy and laity together giving and receiving ministry in this historic church.  I tackled the evening Old Testament lectionary reading from 2 Kings and you can listen to my attempts to make sense of it here.  We were both somewhat awed to find our names on these boards... we stand in some mighty shoes!

On Monday we shared in a very special event at Methodist Church House as 8 young people were commissioned to serve in a variety of situations as interns for one year.  Abigail, Dean, Georgia, Hannah, Helen, Madalena, Rachel and Rebecca will be in locations as diverse as Action for Children, Rome, Central Finance Board, the House of Lords, JPIT and the Academy for Executive Coaching.  It was such a privilege to meet them and hear about their plans; do remember them in your prayers.

On Tuesday we headed north together to share in worship, conversation and encounter at Manchester Central Buildings as we saw in the new year with Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes (TMCP) and members of the bilingual Swahili-English congregation, and from the circuit and district.  Another great experience and good to hear of the work happening there from Rev. Ian Rutherford and Deacon Ruth Lackenby amongst others.

Back to London in the evening to be ready for the Connexional Team New Year gathering.  Along with the brand new Youth President, Michael Pryke, I led brief prayers before the team meeting which Loraine addressed.  She used the idea of early explorers struggling to navigate mountainous territories when they were only equipped with canoes for river voyages.  We too need new equipment for new terrain in the church in this generation.  The meeting then heard from from two exciting pieces of work, the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, and church-planting in Stoke-on-Trent, both of which are finding just those new tools for new situations.  The Connexional Team work very hard in all sorts of ways - when I arrived at Methodist Church House at 8:30 on Monday morning I was surprised how many people I found already at their desks, beavering away.  Do pray for these folk as well.  

Perhaps the idea of a "Methodist Hogmanay" sounds like a contradiction in terms, but John Wesley certainly valued the opportunity a new calendar year brings to renew our walk with God, so perhaps not!  Charles Wesley's new year hymn "Come, let us anew our journey pursue" (Singing the Faith 460) includes the phrase "and never stand still"... which seems to have fitted our week quite well so far! 

Of course the week has also included the terrible destruction of hurricane Irma.  We continue to hold a suffering world in prayer - do visit the facebook pages as well if you can.

Jill  

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Pray out the old, pray in the new

31st August… the last day of the meteorological summer (about the only sort of summer some of us have had this year!) and also the last day of the Methodist Connexional year… How do we feel as this date dawns?
Loraine and I are almost ten weeks into our new roles and have begun getting to know new parts of the Connexion and of the world.  Thank you for your prayers for us as we travel and share – those prayers make all the difference.  As we all say good bye to one year and hello to a new year, prayer seems to be the place to start… so here I share a few thoughts about where my prayers may take me in these days:
Confessing and letting go – perhaps, if I am honest, there are things about the past year which weren’t so great; upsets, disputes, disappointments, hasty words... Today seems like a good day to let go of anything which could fester or distract me from my own discipleship. 
Amongst people I meet in the wider Methodist church too I have encountered strained relationships, hurt and bitterness.  All of this is not surprising – we all “fall short of the glory of God” (as Paul puts it in Romans3:23) – but, as I always urge those who come with me on pilgrimage, heavy loads slow us down and grievance is a very heavy load.  Can we make today a day for putting down some of those loads and walking away, towards a shared goal of peace?
Tomorrow, 1st September, is being marked by many as a day of prayer and fasting.  There is plenty for which to pray…   
Hoping and picking up – A new Connexional year brings with it many signs of hope and new beginnings.  The Yorkshire districts have been reconfigured and launched in new shapes; the districts of London, Northampton and Yorkshire North & East have welcomed new chairs, on Monday Loraine and I will share in the induction of 8 young people who will be placed in all sorts of exciting locations as part of the ONE internship programme and on Tuesday and Wednesday we will take part in new year worship in Manchester with TMCP and in London with the Connexional Team.  Many circuits around the Connexion will be welcoming new ministers or reconfigured boundaries.  All of this is not mere formality, but happens in a context of worship and prayer which affirms that we are looking to God to work amongst us.  It is a day to listen to “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 2:7)
Longing and looking out – Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we express our longing for the Kingdom of God to come “on earth as it is in heaven”.  But every day the media open windows onto a world which is very far from that Kingdom.  Day by day we hear of natural disasters, catastrophes, violence, suffering.  The list of places in need of prayer grows all the time; Freetown, Barcelona, Houston, Mumbai, Pakistan, Bangladesh… and there are all the places we don’t hear about in the media too. Both Loraine and I have been moved and challenged by our visits to Uganda and Ethiopia respectively.   We spoke on the phone yesterday and grieved together over such a pain-filled world. 
Once again we invite the people called Methodist to join us in prayer, prayer for ourselves, prayer for the church and prayer for the world.  Prayer can be hard work – during a very long Ethiopian Orthodox service which I attended in Debre Birhan a few weeks ago we were given “prayer sticks” to lean upon as we stood and prayed; I would have liked to bring one home, but that wasn’t allowed.  However, we do have the new Methodist Prayer Handbook to help us!   This year it is entitled “Jesus the First and Last”, reminding us of where all our prayers begin and end.  If yours hasn’t arrived yet, I hope it soon will; meanwhile, from day 22, here is Loraine’s prayer which we may all lean upon as we offer our prayers today and tomorrow and beyond:
Holy God of the morning:  still our minds.
Holy God of creation:  create through us new life and vitality today.
Holy God of whispering gentle breeze:  come to us in sighs too deep for words.
Holy God of crashing thunder:  break into our lives and into our complacency.
Holy God of sun and warmth:  encourage us to reach out with love.
Holy God of the evening:  fill the fading light of this day with your awesome presence that we might worship you, honour you, glorify you , bless you , praise and adore you as we take our rest.  Amen.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Coming and going (or "planes in the night")

One of the great privileges of holding these offices of President or Vice-President of the Methodist Conference is the invitation to travel to different parts of the world.  In January/February this year I made a two-week visit to our Methodist sisters and brothers in Russia, which was an amazing experience with much warm hospitality offered in temperatures that reached -21C!  My full report can be read on the Mission pages of this website.

This week, Loraine has set off for her partnership visit to Hong Kong and Fiji and I look forward to hearing more about that in due course.

About 48 hours before she took to the airways, I landed at Heathrow following an extraordinary week in Ethiopia with our relief and development charity, All We Can (with whom Loraine recently went to Uganda; her reports are on the Presidential Facebook pages)

Ethiopia was a huge surprise to me - probably most of us think of Michael Buerk, Bob Geldof and Band Aid in 1984 or, if we are a bit older, of Jonathan Dimbleby revealing "The Hidden Famine" a decade earlier in 1973 and so we associate Ethiopia with desert, famine and drought.  Sadly, it is still a country of poverty, need and injustice, but it is a vast country and my visit was centred in Debre Birhan, about two hours' north of Addis Ababa in the Ethiopian Highlands (which are much higher than the Scottish Highlands!  We reached heights of around 3000 metres, where I found the altitude affected my breathing and ability to climb considerably!)  The rainy season is now underway - and farmers told us it has been a good rainy season so far, with plenty of rain, but without the excessive deluges which can do more harm than good - so everywhere was looking green and fertile.


I travelled with Claire Welch from All We Can and we were guided by two of All We Can's partner organisations, SUNARMA and ADEHNO, both NGOs working with local farmers and communities to find ways of increasing productivity and improving living conditions in mainly rural areas.  This method of working, with its emphasis on partnership, strikes me as extremely good practice.  We are not sending people into places to teach new methods but working on the ground with those who live there and who, day by day, are exploring how best to harness nature and, through soil and water conservation techniques, alleviate the effects of climate change and other environmental disasters.  


Amongst many others, we met shepherds rearing new strains of sheep; beekeepers with new design hives (I still managed to get stung!); women making a more efficient stove; an apple farmer discovering how this relatively new crop flourishes in the highlands (despite frost and hail - which we experienced on our visit!); a potato farmer having great success with Irish potatoes (now known locally as SUNARMA potatoes!), women breeding chickens (of course!)... and time and time again the farmers impressed upon us how their lives are being transformed, "Day by Day".  It was humbling and a huge privilege to enter the homes and lands of these generous, dignified people and to share around their tables in the ever-present "injera" (the local staple food) as well as huge loaves of celebratory bread, and, of course, the very special coffee ceremony.  (I politely declined the home-brewed beer and spirits, known to be very powerful!)


On the final day, as we were driving back to Debre Birhan and then on to Addis for our flight, I noticed a group of people gathering on the skyline, some 800 yards from the roadside.  Our driver slowed down and our hosts explained that they were a group of farmers waiting to see us and to thank us.  We walked along a low embankment through the mud to be warmly greeted (in the rain) by about 80 Ethiopian farmers from that plainland area.  Movingly they told us of how last winter the frost had devastated their crops.  They had had to go to the government for emergency food aid but even so many had had to eat leaves.  Their message was clear, however, they didn't want to be given food, they wanted to be supported in ways of making the land more fertile and protecting their crops from erosion and weather-damage.  Their gratitude to ADEHNO (and therefore All We Can) for working with them in this way was enormous.  It was a profoundly moving and humbling experience.

There is so much more I could write, and so much more I have to learn about the history of this amazing land and culture - with its proud ancient history of the origins of the human race, and its bloody recent history of the Derg Regime and the Red Terror of 1974-1991.  There is so much more I could write about the influence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which we attended from 5:30am - 7:15am last Sunday morning - and even then the service was not half-way through)...

I flew home with many faces, voices, prayers and hopes in my heart and mind and I am so grateful to All We Can and to the Methodist people for this life-changing encounter.  Please keep Ethiopia in your prayers.

Jill

Sunday, 30 July 2017

More from the Isle of Man

The blessings of being here in the Isle of Man have continued... yesterday Loraine and I went on pilgrimage together with around 20 others, encountering some of the ancient, holy sites on this island as we walked from Maughold Head along some stunning coastline to the Quaker burial ground - all in bright (& breezy) sunshine.

Today it has been our privilege to lead worship; Loraine in the north of the island at Ramsey and me in the east at Union Mills. Both were celebration services for 6 or 7 congregations coming together so we had full churches and a good feel. (Read more in Loraine's Facebook post).
In conversation over these few days we have sensed God at work amongst the Methodist folk here and as we leave tomorrow we are grateful for the welcome and spirituality we have encountered here and will continue to pray for this part of the Connexion.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Loraine and I crossed the Irish Sea (separately) yesterday to make our first joint district visit- to the Isle of Man. Various people of the Isle of Man have been woven through my life story (and I am very glad to have a Manx daughter-in-law) so this is my fourth visit to the island, Loraine's first.

We were welcomed at the airport by chair of district, Richard, and Ruth, and went first to Balagarrey Methodist Church, a small chapel with a big heart. A recent extension gives wonderful views over beautiful countryside and there the members meet to pray at 7:30 every morning.

Their prayers are prayers of blessing, blessing the community around them, blessing all with whom they come into contact, yesterday blessing us. We were moved and very grateful - What a wonderful start to a visit!


Our next call was at Manor Ark on the Pulrose estate where community worker Panda explained to us how this former police house has been leased by the church (for a peppercorn sum) and is being developed as a youth and community centre.
Located as it is right next to the primary school, immediately opposite the Methodist chapel and right at the entrance to the estate it is in a prime position and we heard exciting stories of the ministry unfolding there.

Yesterday evening we were taken to the area around Tynwald Hill, adjacent to the Royal Chapel which is home to the Manx parliament, believed to be the oldest continuous parliament in the world having celebrated its millennium in 1979. The Celtic cross of the national war memorial looked resplendent in the evening sunshine.  We gathered across the road at St John's Church hall with around 70 members of the island's churches to share in a delicious meal after which Loraine and I did a sort of double act, sharing something of our role, something of our hopes, some of our stories then hearing and discussing questions from the floor. There are challenges ahead for the Methodist Church in the Isle of Man (where aren't there?) but we were heartened by the love, faith, vision and prayer we met yesterday. Jill.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

I have just returned from a visit to Uganda with ALL WE CAN.  I have posted on my Facebook page and these are some random thoughts of my journey. 


Our first day we visited Bussie Island  a very derived community on Lake Victoria where I met  Gladys a widow who now has no  children of her own at home and takes in orphan children. She was overjoyed with her tippy tap and her Lattrine and water tank that she says has saved her life. These were provided by the VAD team and 'All WE CAN'  She asked if I could pray with her and it took some doing as it was such an emotional moment.

On Tuesday we travelled to Jinja  and passed over the source of the Nile and  worshiped with the local Methodist Circuit when we used Cliff Praise and felt very much at home. Feeling very blessed by welcome and hospitality.

A few weeks ago I attended a Bridge builders course when £240 was raised for All We Can for a women to be empowered somewhere in the world. Today I met Edith at her new piggery with her piglet in Jinja Uganda. Edith is a widow and when she sells her piglets will be able to have her own home and not live with her eldest son, she will also be able to feed her children. £240 changed a life today thank you Bridge Builder colleagues and thank you God.












While in Jinja  we worked with the Methodist Church in Uganda in seminars on leadership. Stimulating day with so many really interesting conversations. Hoping and praying that Bishop William and the team can achieve there vision. 












This is a Methodist school and you can see 3 classrooms!  The staff and children were so welcoming to us. 














I have waited a few days to post about my last day in Uganda as I was not sure what I would write and if in fact I could write anything without becoming too emotional as it was so harrowing as we visited the region of Bwondha where 40 thousand people live in a settlement called by many a slum and is one of the most inaccessible and deprived communities in Uganda. We arrived to a public meeting where the mood was sombre as people complained about the lack of support for them as we listened as they described themselves as a lost and left community. They had no fresh clean water other than that they have to pay for which course many of them cant afford. The women have to walk down to the lake and you will see for the photographs what they have to content with as pigs and livestock live near the water and cause disease but the women have no choice and you cant call it a beach it was more like a tip. Can you imagine how that must be gathering water that you know is going to harm you and your children, but as one women told us what choice do we have. Having gathered the water the women then have to walk up the big hill back to there homes that may be more than 2 or 3 miles way or even further. 






A visit that wil stay long in my memory. Thank you to ALL WE CAN and especially Graeme Hodge and Dean Gillespie who made the trip so stimulating, educating and where I  learned so much.  Loraine