Report of a visit by the President of the Methodist Conference
29 February to 3 March 2020
On the first Sunday in Lent, the President of the Methodist Conference, Rev. Dr Barbara Glasson, began her visit to the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District by preaching at the morning service of Holy Communion at Bishop’s Stortford Methodist Church. In her sermon, the President applied Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness to contemporary church life. Afterwards, she joined a large gathering in the church hall for a splendid lunch, listening with interest to the many people keen to speak with her. The church is presently embarking on a major refurbishment for which the President’s visit signified interest and support from the District and Methodist Connexion.
In the evening, the President preached at a lively circuit service at Wesley Methodist Church, Leigh-on-Sea, in the Southend and Leigh Circuit, led by the Superintendent, Rev. Pete Moorhouse and colleagues. Some present at the service remembered that it was 50 years since the then President of Conference had preached at the church. Over refreshments after the service, Barbara spoke to as many people as possible.
Trinity Methodist Church Community Centre in the Tendring Circuit serves the Essex seaside resort town of Clacton-on-Sea. The centre reopened its doors in 2019 following completion of a major property scheme funded by substantial grants from the National Lottery and Connexion. Its purpose-built facilities, which include showers and a medical room, provide a suitable base for supporting the homeless and others with special needs in what is one of the most deprived areas of the country. Deacon Janet Jenkins, team leader, gave the President a tour of the new premises, taking in the beautifully refurbished sanctuary, and introduced key volunteers. The President greatly enjoyed meeting several of the community centre’s regular users and was able to share in the hot lunch prepared and served to them by the willing volunteers.
In view of Barbara Glasson’s longstanding interest in promoting interfaith relations, it was fitting that her programme in the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District included a visit to Luton to learn how faith communities in the town are working together to strengthen community cohesion. The Grassroots charity, started by Methodists more than 25 years ago and based at High Town Methodist Church, is widely respected for its ecumenical programme of community engagement. Here the co-ordinator, David Jonathan, and colleagues introduced the President to a few of the imaginative projects supported by Grassroots.
At Luton town hall, the Mayor of Luton, Councillor Tahir Malik, supported by senior council executives, briefed the President about the challenges and opportunities facing community development in the town. From the town hall, the President was taken to the nearby Hindu temple and community centre to meet local community leaders representing Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities in Luton. Welcoming the President, the chair of Luton council of faiths, Zafir Khan, outlined the development of interfaith community engagement in the town. A delicious meal of Asian cuisine was followed by a roundtable conversation to which the President contributed, drawing on her ministerial experience at the Touchstone Centre in Bradford.
The President’s visit coincided with the annual presbyteral session of the District Synod. Dr Glasson preached at the service of holy communion, during which the presbyters stationed in the District renewed their commitment to the discipline of the ordained ministry of the Methodist Church. Later, the President led the synod in a reflection on ‘So what’s the story’ through an interactive bible study on Jesus’ healing of the paralysed man lowered through the roof by his friends (Luke 5.17-26).
Unexpectedly, the President was able to meet with district officers at the recently refurbished District office to welcome the District Discipleship Enabler, Mrs Angela Brydon, on her first day in post. This newly established post has been made possible by a substantial Connexional ‘Our Calling’ grant. The President led the assembled district officers in prayer at the start of this exciting venture.
In the course of her visit to the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District, the President greeted everyone she met with warmth and personal interest. Her enthusiasm for the work of the Methodist community centre in Clacton (‘It’s what the Gospel is all about’) and interfaith community engagement in Luton was evident to all and very much appreciated for the affirmation it gave to those involved in these projects. Her pastoral visit to a sick presbyter in Colchester General Hospital was a great blessing. Barbara’s relaxed manner and natural interest in people and their stories made for a district visit that will long be remembered for the encouragement it gave to Methodists in these three counties.
David M. Chapman
7 March 2020