Report of a District Visit by the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference
Prof. Clive Marsh, 4-6 February 2020
When the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Prof. Clive Marsh, visited the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District, he was able to experience some of the diverse forms of Methodist chaplaincy work within the district.
At the Port of Tilbury in Essex, nowadays the principal port for London, the chief executive of the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest, Mr Alex Campbell, gave the Vice-President a guided tour of the QVSR Seafarers’ Centre. Established in 2016, the QVSR Seafarers’ Centre provides a welcoming space for relaxation for international seafarers, who may be in port for just a few hours whilst their ship is unloaded and reloaded.
Over the Christmas period, through the generosity of numerous local churches and other sponsors, the Centre provided more than 2,500 gift boxes to seafarers, many of whom are separated from their family for months at a time.
The QVSR chief executive, together with the port chaplain, Deacon Mark Moeller, accompanied the Vice-President and District Chair on a visit to one of the many gigantic container ships plying a regular route between Rotterdam and London. The ship’s captain led the visiting party on a conducted tour of his ship, taking in the bridge, engine room and crew messroom. Before disembarking, the visitors shared in prayers with the captain for the safety of his ship and crew. Later, over dinner, Alex Campbell was able to brief the Vice-President about the expanding work of QVSR in the Port of Tilbury and other ports.
Since the Vice-President works in the field of higher education, it was appropriate that his programme included a visit to the Bedford campus of the University of Bedfordshire, where Rev. Cassandra Howes is coordinating chaplain. The Dean and Head of the School of Teacher Education, Juliet Fern, gave generously of her time to brief the Vice-President about the university’s strategic plans. The Dean and Vice-President were able to engage in informed conversation about the challenges currently facing the higher education sector. During lunch, Prof. Marsh met with the coordinating chaplain and several of the chaplaincy team’s stakeholders, supporters and management committee to discuss the role and value of higher education chaplaincy in a multifaith context.
Queenswood School in Hertfordshire is a Methodist Independent School for girls, where Rev. Vindra Maraj-Ogden is currently in her first year as full-time school chaplain. At short notice, it was possible to include a visit to Queenswood in the Vice-President’s busy schedule in order to affirm the support of the Methodist Church for a strategic partnership in which our Methodist chaplain ministers to a growing school community. The Deputy Head Girl was on hand to greet the Vice-President and provide a conducted tour of the school, including the attractive chapel which sits at the heart of the site.
In a roundtable conversation about faith and sport in schools, Prof. Marsh spoke with the Senior Deputy Head, Mr Ian Sheldon, teaching staff and several girls on tennis scholarships. A keen tennis player himself, Prof. Marsh was interested to learn that Queenswood is the number one school in the UK for girls’ tennis.
During his District visit, the Vice-President was guest of honour at an ecumenical dinner of academics and senior church leaders held at the Wesley Hotel, Euston, after which the District Chair, Rev. Dr David Chapman, presented a discussion paper. Prof. Marsh enjoyed the opportunity to renew several acquaintanceships and contributed thoughtfully to a lively after-dinner conversation on the subject of sacred space in relation to popular religion.
The Vice-President’s programme in the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District concluded with him leading a study day at High Leigh Conference Centre on ‘Theology in Film and Popular Culture’ for presbyters and deacons stationed in the district. Drawing extensively on his expertise in theology and contemporary culture, Prof. Marsh engaged the large group of ministers in theological reflection and conversation, laced with reference to film, literature and the arts.
Each year, Presidents and Vice-Presidents of Conference contribute their personal gifts and time for the building up of the Methodist Church. In the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District, we were greatly blessed and enriched by the visit of Clive Marsh, whose theological scholarship, wisdom and engaging manner are a great asset to the senior leadership of the Methodist Church.
David M. Chapman