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 
Jill and I have been together today July 14th as first thing Friday morning we met over breakfast to catch up then to Lambeth Palace for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Gareth Powell, Neil Stubbens David Walton and Anglican colleagues with an agenda which was wide ranging which reflected our concern for European relationships in the light of Brexit and a update by David and Bishop Paul Bayes  on the Joint Covenant Monitoring and Advocacy group. Our conversation was good humoured, generous and in the spirit of seeking the Lords will for our world.

We then moved to the chapel in a moving Eucharist lead by the Archbishop as Revd Clinton Langston was collated and licensed as Archdeacon to the Army. A number of Methodists from the forces chaplaincy teams were present and in this ecumenical gathering we shared in the bread and wine, a sort of pinch yourself moment which I found very moving. An interesting moment when I received the wine from the Archbishops Chaplain Isabelle who used to be our local Vicar in Edwalton at Holy Rood until a few months ago. 

All going our separate ways  Jill and then walked up the Lambeth Road to the office of the Methodist Recorder to agree our engagement over the next year.  

I then  discovered that the publishing house has sold out of the prayer cubes!
Loraine 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Celebrating Methodist lay leaders at Tolpuddle

"Tolpuddle" is a name I seem to have known all my life.  I think it was probably in Sunday School that I first learned about the Tolpuddle Martyrs - six Dorsetshire labourers who, in a desperate attempt to save their families from total degradation in 1834 at a time when wages were falling, formed one of the earliest trade unions.  Because they then also took an oath to secrecy, they were tried and sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia - an extremely harsh sentence which caused major public outcry.  After three years they were pardoned and able to return, and their names and their courageous actions have lived on ever since.  You can read much more about them and their stories on the Methodist Heritage webpages.

Annually in July the Trades Union Congress (TUC) organise a festival in the village of Tolpuddle which now attracts about 10,000 visitors and yesterday (Sunday 16th July) I made my first visit.  It was everything a festival should be - sunny and hot (with no mud in sight), happy and noisy, celebratory and yet serious, as all sorts of unions, groups and organisations took the opportunity to highlight their desire for justice and holiness (although they may not all have put it in those words!)



I was proud to march under the church's banner, which, on the reverse listed the names of the six martyrs along with their Methodist connections.  Rev. Steph Jenner, the local superintendent minister, has done much to increase the involvement of local Methodists and other Christians in the festival and to take this opportunity to bear witness to the faith of the martyrs which led them to take their courageous actions.  As Rev. Inderjit Bhogal commented to me as we marched, "all these people are here because of the commitment, faith and actions of Methodist lay preachers" - Wow!

We did glimpse the festival's most famous visitor - Jeremy Corbyn - who has been attending regularly for over thirty years, but now draws crowds in his own right of course!  Inderjit preached powerfully at the service which ended the Festival in the "new" Methodist chapel (around 150 years old, but newer than the "old" chapel, which is the focus of a major restoration project) and I was glad to lead prayers there too.  In a day which focused on justice, liberty, faith, government, heritage and celebration, there is still much to pray for around the world.  Jill

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Honouring Pauline Webb

On Saturday 8th July I had the great privilege of attending the Memorial Service for Pauline Webb at Wesley's Chapel, London. Pauline was an outstanding lay woman in the life of the Methodist Church - and on a much broader platform too - and much has already been written about her in many places which I will not duplicate here.  (See the Guardian obituary for example).

My reason for being there was as one of her many successors in the role of Vice-President of Conference, an office which she held in 1965-66 at the age of 38; the youngest person ever to have served as Vice-President.

It was during her year of office, when I was about 7, that I first heard of Pauline Webb. As chance would have it, I had a friend in Sunday School with the same name; when the JMA awards were given in church that year there was a ripple of laughter as "Pauline Webb" was called - I later asked my mother why and still remember her reply; "Pauline Webb is the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference and one of the greatest Methodist women of all time"! I didn't understand what "Vice-President of the Methodist Conference" meant but was intrigued. Her name - and her great achievements, especially in the areas of world mission, gender and racial justice and religious broadcasting, have woven like a thread through my life ever since and have blessed and challenged me and so many.

I left Glasgow in cool, damp weather at 6:30am and returned there (after the hottest hours on a train I have ever experienced) at 11pm, but I was more than glad to be there; to bring a short greeting from Conference this year, where Pauline was remembered with great affection and respect, and to read from Romans 8 in the church and then the 23rd Psalm outside as her ashes were interred - close to the feet of John Wesley's statue.

But it was at the feet of Christ that Pauline lived her life - receiving and acting on the challenge of the Gospel to work for the coming of God's kingdom of justice, peace and righteousness. Thanks be to God.

A recording of the live stream can be found on Wesley's Chapel website

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Methodist Church has expressed its disappointment and concern following a ruling of the High Court, announced earlier this week, allowing the UK to continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia. 
The High Court judged that the UK Government had gathered sufficient information to entitle it to rationally conclude that there was no 'clear risk' of a 'serious violation of International Humanitarian Law.'
Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of forces against Houthi militias in Yemen, a conflict which has claimed the lives of over 10,000 civilians since 2014.
Despite atrocities taking place on both sides, the largest single cause of civilian deaths is thought to be air strikes by Saudi-led coalition forces; which have come under criticism from the UN, human rights groups and NGOs.
A UN panel of experts concluded that the bombing campaign of Sa'dah in 2015 represented a grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution defined within International Humanitarian Law. 
Yemen is now in the grip of a severe famine and cholera epidemic exacerbated by the destruction of infrastructure and health facilities.
Steve Hucklesby, Policy Advisor for the Methodist Church, made the following comment following the High Court judgement: "Our Government told the High Court that it tracks all allegations of strikes on civilians and shares this data with the Saudi military who engage in constructive dialogue over incidents of concern. However in the case of the majority of these strikes, the UK Government was 'unable to identify a legitimate military target'. In the light of evidence from the UN and elsewhere, it is difficult to understand how the High Court can say this is okay."
The Revd Loraine N Mellor, President of the Methodist Conference, added: "The judgement of the High Court yesterday will do nothing to provide civilians in Yemen with the protection that they so desperately need.
Our hearts go out to the people of Yemen who have come under attack from both sides in this brutal civil war and we will continue to pray. It is difficult to see how a lasting peace can be achieved through a conflict that kills over 10,000 civilians and leaves 300,000 people infected with cholera."
Jill Baker, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference said: "Many of us try to express our ethical standpoints through the way in which we spend our money. It seems only right that we also expect ethical standards from our government in engaging in trading relationships that respect human rights and international law. We hold the people of Yemen and those providing assistance in our prayers."

Monday, 10 July 2017

On Friday I travelled to Southport to take part in the ‘FIRE FEST' weekend.  I had been invited by one of the trustees of ‘Summer Fire’ Revd Rob Cotton, which is the new name for the ‘Southport Holiness convention' which began in Southport in 1885. Now the conference  travels all around the country and local churches host Fire Fest events. Some  reading this may remember the tent on Mornington Road where the event was held for many years, but now the hosts are Leyland Rd Methodist church which stands on the corner of Manchester Road and Leyland Rd with its grand steeple, wonderful worship area and suite of rooms. 

Friday night  started with a celebration when Rob Cotton preached on ’Movement or Monument’ and encouraged is to think about if we are dying or being raised to new life which very much chimed with my thoughts in my presidential address. Saturday morning was my first opportunity to unpack Acts 2: 42-47 which was the biblical stream running through the weekend. This was  followed by  a seminar when we  looked at what we do well in our churches, what we wished we could  do better and what are the key factors for growing churches and of course the key question for us all how can we do better at sharing our faith so that we can make new disciples. 

We were ably led over the weekend by the local team working away in the back ground and upfront by Revs Sally Ratcliffe and Phil Gough  and a very accomplished worship band made up of Leyland Rd folk and Phil Nankivell. 

Saturday was also the anniversary for many of our presbyters who were received not full connexion at the Southport conference and  were ordained 10 years ago and so it was for Revd Sally Ratcliffe  who had been ordained at Leyland Rd and I was her assisting minister  we took a photograph in the same positions as 10 years ago, special memories.

I preached on Saturday night at a celebration and again on Sunday morning  and also shared in a family event when the whole  of the worship was based around our five a day spiritual practices  which gave me lots of ideas for the coming year.   I had so many positive conversations it was a real blessing. 

After  we left Andrew Roberts was leading another seminar  on his book ‘Holy Habits’,  based on Acts 2:42-27  which was eagerly anticipated and the weekend was concluding with a  evening celebration. 

‘SummerFire’ was once described as 'Methodism's  best kept secret as holiness is part of our DNA' and this weekend bore that out,  so why not  give it a try next year  and watch out for FireFest events around the country.  


Loraine 

Friday, 7 July 2017

To be a pilgrim

From Tuesday until Friday this week I have been at Rydal Hall, Grasmere with 40 women from the five northern districts (Shetland, Scotland, Newcastle, Darlington and Cumbria) leading a retreat about pilgrimage.  Not so much about how to do pilgrimage as about how to adopt “Pilgrim Attitudes” in our lives.  Our mornings have been spent in study, reflection, discussion and some silence on these themes.

Rydal Hall is a wonderful venue set in beautiful grounds (with its own waterfall) and the surrounding area has also offered opportunities to walk “in the footsteps of the poets and writers”, with visits on Wednesday afternoon to places associated with Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. 

On Thursday afternoon groups ventured out in different directions to experience the “Sacred Centre” of our pilgrimage together, some walked to St. Bega’s Chapel, others visited Allen Bank, some chose to remain in Rydal Hall’s own quiet garden.  

I was part of a small group making a mini-pilgrimage to the nearby Rydal Cave, which was indeed cavernous.  Great to stop to pray, sing and reflect along the way – then there were the unexpected encounters with people along the way including a Methodist from Maryland, USA and a family whose roots were in Methodism in Roker and who were amazed to discover that members of our group also originated there!  Coincidences?  Serendipity?  The Holy Spirit?    


Our Cumbrian hosts have been assembling a Fellowship Quilt for some years, started through their strong partnership connections with Methodist women in Argentina, and this time the “visiting” districts were invited to bring squares along to contribute.  I was delighted to discover that the making of my Methodist Tartan kilt (my wonderful gift from the Methodist Church in Scotland) had created the opportunity for the Scottish women to purloin a square of this tartan as their contribution - and very smart it looks too!

Our final morning at Rydal Hall began with an unplanned gathering in the courtyard as the fire alarm sounded at 6:40am.  Thankfully no fire and no rain, so an opportunity for grace and fellowship!

On Saturday I will be attending the Memorial Service for Pauline Webb in Wesley’s Chapel, London – a great privilege to do so – more of this in due course.


 Jill 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Religious persecution in Sri Lanka

The Revd Loraine N Mellor, President of the Methodist Conference, has written to MP Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, expressing the concern of the Methodist Church over the escalating level of religious persecution in Sri Lanka.
The letter was in response to a Notice of Motion received by the Methodist Conference, which met in Birmingham last week (22-29 June). At the Conference, members heard of the ongoing situation from the President-Bishop of the Sri Lankan Methodist Church, the Revd Asiri P Perera. 
You can find out more about the situation by reading the  Notice of Motion and watching the relevant section of the Conference proceedings at 1 hour and 19 minutes in  this video clip.
In the letter to the Secretary of State, the President highlighted the recent attacks against places of worship in Sri Lanka and asked for appropriate representations to be made to the Government of Sri Lanka. The Methodist Conference called on all Methodist people to act for justice, peace and freedom and to hold the people of Sri Lanka in their prayers.
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I had the opportunity to talk privately to Bishop Perera about this and I know he would value our prayers for this escalating situation. 
Loraine 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

My first visit as President happened on Saturday the 1st of July to Lidgett Park in Leeds to share in the celebration of the district before a new district is formed in September, Yorkshire West. It was a joy to meet colleagues I had served with in previous districts and to meet many people who had been at conference last week or who had been watching on line. 
After a very splendid tea, the worship began with a very moving prayer reflection with photographs of the district. We then encountered the many ways in which the district engaged with the world church and we received greetings in person from Bishop Asiri Perera from Sri Lanka when we learned that the very first Methodist missionary to Sri Lanka was from Leeds. Deacon Jenny Jones shared with us the many ways in which the district engages in mission before we heard about chaplaincy in the university and the airport. 
The Wesley and the Ashfield singers graced our worship which was led by Revd Anne Brown the district chair and it was good to have four Vice Presidents all resident in the district with us Professor and Mrs Susan Howdle, Dr Edmund Marshall and Dr Richard Vautrey. Our reading from the Gospel of Luke was read to us by Revd Roger Ducker a previous chair of district and it was really good to catch up wit Revd Dr Liz Smith also previous chair. looking so well. Brian Hoare’s hymn ‘Looking back but moving forward’ was sung with great gusto before the Gaelic blessing by Rutter.
A very important occasion when the connexion through the presidency was represented on such a significant moment in the life of the district as it moves to a new beginning. I was struck with and thought how pertinent the last verse of Brian’s hymn was:
Looking back but moving forward
as we celebrate today.
giving thanks for all that’s past, we
pledge ourselves to walk your way.
Holy Spirit , lead us onward;
keep is faithful to your call.
May this ever spur our mission:
Jesus Christ is Lord of all! 
God bless
Loraine

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Shetlands: Island Methodism and my second encounter with sheep


Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and natureI arrived in the Shetlands just as the national weather forecast was warning of extreme weather in the north of the UK.  My visit there showed that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing!   Luckily the warmth of my clothes along with the welcome of the people there made this a really special visit for me.


Image may contain: grass, outdoor, text and natureMethodism came to the Shetland Islands in the 1820s with John Nicholson, a former soldier, who returned home to Shetland and began preaching.  Very early on, the Methodist Conference provided practical support, in the form of ministers to station and additional funding.  This recognition of the particular needs of Methodism in these islands has continued with additional financial support for the ministers stationed here, and a recognition that a higher proportion of ministers is needed than the membership might suggest.

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and suitThe islands are run by the Shetland Islands Council.  With a population of under 25,000 this would be the equivalent of a small town council.  Yet it owns ferry services and power companies, runs schools (with boarding pupils), and does all the things that a large metropolitan borough would be expected to do.  Together with Revd Andrew Fox, the Superintendent of the Shetlands, I met with Malcolm Bell, the elected Convenor of the Council and Frank Robertson, a Methodist member and councillor, and learned about the issues facing the islands’ population.  The meeting ended with an invitation from Mr Bell to explore more of the ways in which the Churches and the Council could work together.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, mountain, shoes, sky, outdoor and natureImage may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoorThe Shetlands are rich in their archaeological history, with Iron Age and Viking settlements.  The Shetland Archaeologist, Dr Val Turner, is a Methodist and is much respected internationally for her contribution to the understanding of Shetland history.  Val took us on a tour of Old Scatness where she led the excavations beginning in the 1990s.  At the centre is a large Broch, a form of tower found around the Shetlands and beyond, surrounded by round dwellings.  At the corner of the site a dwelling has been reconstructed to give a sense of the way people lived.  It was so cold, with snow and hail falling – I was wearing six layers of clothing yet I still felt numb – I did wonder how people used to cope before the invention of central heating and Gortex.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and indoorImage may contain: 3 people, people sittingOn Tuesday I went to the farthest reaches of the Islands.  Andrew drove me, via two ferries, to the island of Unst.  I met folk at the most northerly Methodist Church, Haroldswick.  This church was re-built a few years ago, and the members of the church did it all themselves.  It is a much loved place.  Then we drove onto the island of Yell and met people at East Yell Methodist Church.  They are a tiny chapel, facing all the challenges of small societies everywhere and more, but I had a real sense that they are up for growth.  They are looking at ways in which they can reach out to their small community, offering love and sharing the good news.  In the evening I joined a small bible study at North Roe, near where the Atlantic meets the North Sea, and again witnessed the desire of these people to engage with the bible and respond to the love of God.

Image may contain: foodImage may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, dog and outdoorOn Wednesday I visited a Methodist local preacher, Alma, who lives on a croft.  She soon had me kitted out in wellies and waterproof trousers, and we went off to feed the ducks and hens and collect eggs.  Then she gave me a shepherd’s crook, and had me catching a young lamb, just a few hours old, and iodine its cord.  My second encounter as Vice-President, after my West Yorkshire visit, with a newborn lamb!  Alma spoke about the hard life experienced by crofters, most of whom also maintain at least one other job in order to earn a living.  But she also spoke movingly about the delight and privilege of living close to the land, seeing the birds and animals around her. 

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and indoorIn the evening I joined the well-attended Shetland Easter Offering service.  I spoke about my visit to the Church of Pakistan last year, about the experiences of Christians there and the way in which the British Methodist Church World Church Fund supports the work of the Church.  The Shetland Island Methodists, with a membership of just over 200 people, raised an astonishing £1,500 for the World Church Fund, a real example of the generosity of the people on the islands.

The British Methodist Church has a history of supporting Methodism in the Shetland Islands, and it is good to see this continuing with the imminent arrival of a new probationer, who I met at Queens earlier in the year.  The membership may be small, but it is disproportionate in terms of population and strong in faith.


Thank you to Andrew and Susie Fox, and all the people who welcomed me with such generous hospitality.