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





Sunday, 8 October 2017

Shetland revisited

As this wonderful year of experiences and encounters unfolds I begin to have more and more regard for Wesley's famous journal. Not only the content but the mere fact of it - when did he find time to write it? As Loraine and I make our way around the Connexion, sometimes together and sometimes separately,  we are trying to record our travels in various ways - blogs, Facebook, Twitter - ways which were not available to Wesley, but which I feel sure he would have used if they had been, but sometimes it's hard to keep up!

So here I am in Darlington at the end of a varied and thoroughly enjoyable district visit, reflecting back to last week in Shetland. I have posted some initial photos and notes on Facebook and my own blog,  but, a week later, am still reflecting on aspects of the visit.

Nearer to Norway

Several folk in Shetland pointed out that Lerwick, the capital, is closer to Bergen in Norway than to Edinburgh. Shetland generally feels more affinity with England than with Scotland (I decided not to wear my Methodist tartan kilt there!) and would be in an interesting, but uncomfortable, positon if Scotland ever does become independent.
These Scandinavian links were clear when I participated in a meeting of the relatively newly-formed ecumenical Shetland Women's Network - a gathering of almost 100 women aged between 16 & 86 who are linked with an organisation in Norway (as the worship focus displays).

Pilgrim possibilities
Along with both ministers in the islands, Andrew and David, I visited a number of small, beautifully-kept, but relatively isolated Methodist chapels. The pilgrim in me was itching to find paths to walk between them and put together a Methodist pilgrim route... maybe one day... These little gems already bear witness to the faith story of the islands; perhaps there are ways to use the buildings to proclaim more clearly their story, and the story which lies behind all such chapels, the story of Jesus?



Celebrating worship
On Sunday afternoon I was delighted to present a certificate marking 25 years as a local preacher to Joy at North Roe chapel. Her enthusiasm for sharing the gospel - through singing and guitar-playing as well as preaching and worship leading - had clearly contributed enormously to the life of that little congregation. For me it was a little incarnation too - having sat with Loraine in Methodist Church House many months ago signing a huge pile of such certificates it was special to see the "word made flesh"!
On my final evening I met with a group of 8 people committed to sharing the good news through preaching and worship leading; half of them just setting out on the new course and the other half there as mentors. The meeting began with a wonderful take on our "5-a-day" theme as Susie invited us to dip 5 different fruits into a chocolate fountain - strongly recommended! I was greatly heartened by the passion and excitement of this group (not only for the chocolate) and more widely by the ministry being offered in different roles by so many folk I met. All of this inspires in me great hope for Methodism in our most northerly district. I give thanks.

News from Darlington and Newcastle in due course...