President and Vice President of the Methodist
Conference visit BEH
The President (Revd David Gamble) and Vice President (Dr Richard Vautry) started their visit to the District at Bishop’s Stortford Methodist Church, just a few miles from the District manse where they were staying at the home of the District Chair, Revd Anne Brown and her husband Andrew.
Saturday 23rd January
On Saturday morning Bishop's Stortford Methodist Church hosted a large number of circuit stewards and others who had been invited to come and meet us.
Richard spoke a little about the decisions of Conference and reflected on his theme of “God calls us all”, talking about the importance of lay leadership, how working in teams can give new life to a church and how we should try to overcome any barriers that prevent anyone from fully engaging in the Church and being able to respond to God’s call to them.
David picked up on this theme, reflecting on experiences both he and Richard had had over the last 7 months, and talking about “Church without walls”. David and Richard have both been impressed by the number of Churches we have visited reaching out beyond their walls, as well as the many work-place chaplains who are working well outside our buildings and traditional settings.
There was a good discussion with the circuit stewards who were also able to share their stories and experiences.
The day was to have a theme of team-work as after lunch David and Richard travelled to Broomfield Hospital at Chelmsford to visit the chaplaincy team led by Methodist minister Revd Guy Goodall. He leads a team of 5 employed and 95 volunteer chaplains who minister to the staff and patients across the sites of Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust. It is an inter-faith chaplaincy team and Guy reflected on how well they worked together.
They have around 27,000 contacts a year and clearly play an important role in the life of the hospital. This was underlined by the Trust Chief Executive, Graham Ramsay, who said that despite the financial difficulties facing the NHS at the moment, and the £30 million worth of savings the Trust had to make in the coming year, the hospital would continue to invest in the chaplaincy because of the vital role it played. The fact that the Chief Executive gave us so much of his time confirmed this.
Broomfield Hospital is home to a major regional burns unit and we were able to meet some of the staff working on the unit that are supported by the hospital chaplains. It can be a very distressing job caring for those with serious burns, but there are also major psychological wounds that need healing as well as the physical, not only for the patient but also their relatives. We were impressed by the large team of professionals that were involved in the care of these patients, all having specialist skills and all supporting one another.
The theme of team working continued in to the evening, when Anne Brown graciously gave up her TV to allow us to watch Leeds United continue to triumph against the odds in the FA Cup! They clearly demonstrated what teamwork can achieve, this time achieving a well earned draw against Premiership club Tottenham.
Sunday 24th January
As January 24th was the Sunday in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is not surprising that both services in which David shared were ecumenical occasions. The morning was at North Watford Methodist Church, where the worship was introduced by the Revd Margaret Millar and prayers were led by the Revd Dick Lewis (Church of England). The picture shows Margaret and Dick, along with the Anglican Bishop of Southern Sudan, who is in the UK for a few weeks, and David (wearing the Kente cloth stole given to him in Ghana).
Richard went with Revd Anne Brown to Beech Hill Methodist Church in the Luton circuit. They were to share in worship there in a united service with nearby Oakdale Church. Church stewards John and Diane Bowes helped with the service.
The church has recently been rebuilt and it now shares its site with a new GP health centre. It is a wonderfully versatile building and has the potential to become very well used by the local community. It is also intended to open the café area on a regular basis and linked to the opening of the surgery next door.
The church is working in partnership with the local United Reformed Church with the appointment of Karen Campbell, a new community worker. Karen only took up her post 2 weeks ago but intends to support a number of churches that work together in the area with various community initiatives.
In the afternoon Richard travelled right across the District to the Essex town of Harwich on the east coast. Local Methodists were sharing in a service for the week of prayer for Christian Unity with Churches Together in the Harwich Peninsula. They gathered together at Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Catholic Church in Dovercourt, near Harwich. Richard said that it was good to worship together and to share in conversation afterwards before returning home.
The picture shows local church leaders, including Methodist ministers Rev Ian Wales and Rev Katie Jackson, Lt Andrew and Jackie Jarrold from the Salvation Army and local Catholic priest, Fr Michael Stokes.
Richard was told of a number of exciting initiatives taking place within the circuit including a church with just 7 members that started an arts group. A couple of years ago the group asked to meet once a month for worship structured around Sunday lunch. Now between 40 and 50 people regularly worship together in this café-style church and they’ve even asked to share in a Covenant service.
In the evening David had been invited to preach at Evensong in the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban, the oldest site of Christian worship in Britain. Evensong was conducted by the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John (pictured, left). The service was followed by a reception and an opportunity to meet and talk with a good number of local church representatives, Anglican and Methodist.
Monday 25th January
On Monday morning David and Anne drove over to Luton to meet with representatives of Grassroots, a multifaith community organisation who run a number of projects. They heard of some of the challenges facing members of different faith communities, some of the ways in which people increasingly work together, and were made very welcome on a visit to the Central Mosque.
In the afternoon David and Anne shared with Watford Town Centre Chaplaincy (the picture shows me with chair of Trustees, Alan Smith, and senior chaplain, Richard Chewter). There is a whole range of activities included in the chaplaincy's work - in workplaces, with young people, teams of 'Street Angels', etc. It is also exciting to discover more and more businesses asking for provision of chaplaincy services. Along with other types of chaplaincy David had seen on this and other visits, he reflected on the opportunities available and often missed for us to engage more fully with our communities. (This led to David writing his February Methodist Recorder article on the subject.)
Tuesday 26th January
Tuesday was spent at the Chelmsford Diocesan Retreat House at Pleshey, where I'd been invited to lead a Day Retreat on 'Finding Safer Space Internally'. The theme linked with my Conference 'Creating Safer Space' theme, but also gave us the chance to explore its implications for the spiritual and faith life of individuals.
Wednesday 27th January
David's visit to the District ended on Wednesday morning with a meeting at the manse of District Chair Anne Brown with members of the District Policy Committee. This gave an opportunity for David to share some of his reflections on things he had seen and people he had met, as well as to share more of plans and hopes for the District's future.
Richard Armiger, 02/02/2010