Friday, 26 February 2010

Vestry Prayer Lent 2 year C

O loving heavenly Father we come into your presence with hearts full of expectation. We pray that we might set our faces toward the kingdom of God as your Son set his face towards Jerusalem.
We pray for your servant who has come to minister to us today, may it be that the word that they bring will be an encouragement to each person who joins with us to worship today.
We ask your blessing on this time of worship Lord and may it be we will go out with joy and be led forth with singing into the coming week.
We ask all these things in the name of your son our Lord. Amen

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Book Review - The Voice, New Testament

Book Review – The Voice, New Testament.
I really like this book, it is easy to read, it uses a fairly small font but it is clear and easy to read.
As this was the first book I have reviewed in this way I was anxiously watching the post for it to arrive and when it did I was not disappointed with what was in the parcel.
I started by checking out some of my favourite passages – the sermon on the mount, John 3 v 16; 1 Corinthians 13; Acts 2; Luke 2; and John 1. Having found all of these to be written in a way that made them easy to read I decided it would be good to move on to the remainder of the book and decided to start with Matthew chapter 1 and work through to the end – quite a challenge really and I suppose many people would say missing Matthew 1 with the genealogy of Jesus would be a good idea. I actually found the way it was presented here clear and I think for the first time in my 55 years I actually read all the names. I like the way Jesus is presented as the Liberator and the little boxes with notes about the passage are quite helpful and interesting.
Places where someone is speaking are indicated in a different colour to the remaining text indicating who it is that is speaking so there is no problem following the conversation where this takes place.
While I realise this may not be a version of the Bible that theologians or serious students would like it is certainly a version that I would recommend if you want to read through the New Testament in a relatively easy way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own

New resource from Methodist Church Website

It is good to be able to report something that I think is really positive coming from the Methodist Church of Great Britain Website after the flak that was flying a couple of weeks ago.
There is a new page which can be viewed here that collects posts from a number of British Methodist Bloggers - it seems to be a good way to connect the Connexion and hopefully we will see lots of stuff going on there and many more bloggers joining.
Well done to the team at Church House for what I believe is a positive step forward.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Vestry Prayer for Lent 1 year C

Father God, on this first Sunday in Lent as we consider your time of preparation and temptation help us to see how important that period was for you.
As we enter this period of Lent and begin to think about the meaning of your Son's death and resurrection help us to teach and reflect it through the way we live.
Help us in our worship today and bless your servant who has come to lead our worship and share your word with us.
We ask all these things in the name of your Son our Lord.

Monday, 15 February 2010

How connected are we? 4

How connected are we as a Connexion?

I suppose it would be reasonable to say that with this post we have reached the pinnacle of Methodism – The Connexion and by default the Conference.
I suspect that if I were to look further afield than my own circle of contacts I might find a very different picture but again my thoughts on this are based on what I see and hear in the local churches and chapels that I go into week by week, and what I know of my own fellowship.

It may be that if you went into any of our chapels with a survey giving a range of questions such as, What is the Connexion? Who is the current President of Conference? What does the Connexion do? What does the President do? You would get some interesting answers, you might even get no answers because I believe there would be people in our congregation who would not have a clue and don’t really want to have a clue. Of course it has to be said that there will be some (probably readers of the Methodist Recorder) who know all the answers or would certainly have a good go at them.
I am tempted to suggest that more of our members could identify the Archbishops of Canterbury or York with greater accuracy than they could the President and Vice President of Conference.
In some senses this is understandable because of the democratic way in which the system works – to become a member of conference for most of our grass roots members involves some degree of commitment – you have to be on Church Council, Circuit Meeting and District Synod and you have to attend lots of meetings each year (at least that is one view). In reality then out of a Synod of around 200 members we then elect a small number to go off to conference each year and it seems to me that you have to have been there a while for people to know who you are and therefore feel confident in voting for you. I know I was most unusual when I was elected as it was my first ever attendance at Synod, but I was fairly young and was unemployed at the time so I think that helped.

In a fairly sizeable district I would think it would be very unusual if many of our members knew those elected to go to conference on their behalf and equally unusual if the local members actually got any real feedback from conference except perhaps in the local church and circuit that the person belongs to.

In respect of conference and what is does I suspect for many of our members they see it as the source of much that is a nuisance to the ongoing work in our local fellowships – health and safety, safeguarding, fire policies, a new hymnbook, statements about this that and the other. I can sympathise with this view because it would seem that much of what we get from conference is this sort of stuff but very little concerned with the mission of the church and of course part of the reason is that much of the stuff is government inspired and we have to do it because of one piece of legislation or another.

It may even be that many of our members view conference and head office with the same sort of disdain and apathy that they view government and politicians.
I am writing this just after the President of Conference has made a speech to the Church of England Synod in which it appears he is saying Methodism may need to die to enable our collective mission to continue – I do not intend to comment on that as many more people have done elsewhere – however what I will say is that at the end of the service I led yesterday someone asked me what I thought of David Gamble’s speech and two people standing nearby said ‘who is he?’ I do think this is quite sad really!

So how connected are we? If I am honest I would have to say we do not seem to be connected very well at any level with the exception of those who are really committed to our cause and will be found on committees, church councils, circuit meetings, district synod and maybe even conference – but of course they are few and often the same faces will pop up at every level.

Unfortunately I cannot offer any answers to how we might connect better but hope that we might start to do so.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Vestry Prayer for Sunday Before Lent Year C

God our Father as we gather today help us to see what the disciples saw on the hill of Transfiguration, reveal yourself in our worship, in the reading of your word and in the preaching of your word.
We pray Lord that our experiences of your glory may strengthen our discipleship in the ordinary and difficult times of our life as well as in times of joy and excitement.
We pray for our brother/sister as they come to minister to us today and ask that they too would have a revelation of you as they lead us in worship.
We come in the name of him whose name is above all other names.

Monday, 8 February 2010

How connected are we? 3

How connected are we as a District?
Not sure if anyone was waiting for part three of this series looking at how connected we are but here it is! In this one again I will be looking at how connected we are to the district from my perspective. I do realise that the experience of readers may be different but I share this as my view.

I have recently started attending Synod after a 26 year gap so I have had two very different experiences. My early visit to Synod in the early 80’s led to me going to Conference in Plymouth so was in some senses a meteoric rise to fame as they say. As I remember it Synod back then was very much a business meeting and very formal in the way that things were done and CPD was always quite obvious sitting in the front of the Chairman (proper title for this back then). I was almost certainly the youngest person there and as I looked round I saw what appeared to me at the time as a fairly exclusive club and while there was some interaction between people I got the feel that they were people who knew one another quite well. As a newcomer I found it very difficult because I knew no one apart from the people I had gone with from my home circuit.

Our Synod is different in the way it works now – while there is business we also have workshops and special speakers come along and I find this quite interesting. As the new boy I don’t feel much different to when I went years ago – I always seem to have to make the effort to engage people in conversation and still feel that there is a degree of an exclusive club about it.

I am certain that there are some people who have been at Synod ever since I last went in the early 80’s and I know that one of the ladies in our circuit has apparently been going for thirty years. In our circuit meeting when we look at selecting representatives to Synod most people duck or look at the floor just in case they get chosen. It often seems that even the people who go automatically would rather not.

I suspect that many of the points about circuit events are even more applicable to District Events – a number of our District Meetings are held at a church that is fairly central to the district but attendance will still be quite poor.

I am aware that many of the people in our churches are very committed to what they do, but it seems unfortunate that they often end up going to circuit meetings and then to Synod.

I don’t have any answers for most of these points but it may be a good idea to apply the six year rule to Synod to enable some new blood to be involved – I know in our circuit meeting there was always one person who volunteered as soon as the Chair of the meeting asked if anyone was interested in going. I think other people were then able to stand back because we had a willing volunteer.

One of the other issues with the system at present is the lack of feedback to the local churches –although we do have a session in our circuit meeting I am not sure that then goes back to the churches. I wonder how many of our folk could tell you the name of the Chair of our district or who the secretary is or even the treasurer but then I suspect they would not be able to tell you the name of the circuit officers either.

Next time a look at Conference and Connexional Offices.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Vestry Prayer Ordinary 5 year C

God of grace and power we gather today in your presence and bring our prayers that you would be in our midst. Help us to worship you in spirit and in truth and help our brother/sister as they lead our time of worship today.
May it be that you will challenge us Lord as you challenged Peter and the disciples to throw their nets back into the sea. We may not have nets but we can still go that extra distance for you. May it be that the words we sing, read and hear will speak to us afresh however often we have sung or heard them before.
Bless each person gathered in your presence today we ask in the name of your Son our Lord. Amen.

How connected are we? 2

How connected are we?

This is the second in a series of posts asking the question ‘How connected are we?’ As I said in my previous post these items are based on my own observations and relate to the position as I see it in and around Walsall. It is unfortunate that some of this might come across as fairly negative but I intend to make the final posts in the series far more positive.

How connected are we as a Circuit?

Another interesting question which may have a range of different answers depending on the circuit but in our circuit I think I would have to say we are not very well connected.

Circuit events are generally not very well attended with the exception of the annual circuit carol service but even this will see the same folk turn out each year. We tried some alternative circuit services a while back which were not at all well attended and one church organised their own services on the same night using the reason that some of their folk only went to church on Sunday evenings so they would not be able to go if there was no service. Not sure I understand that reason when there was a circuit service they could attend and who knows they might even enjoy it.

Recognition services for local preachers which I always hope will attract a larger turn our given the work that our preachers do tend not to be well attended, even when there is a three line whip from the circuit leadership team and good publicity from the preachers meeting.

Circuit meetings are generally well attended but these will often be the folk that are very active in the local situations – it is not often you see a new face and I do realise that some may say this is because of the lack of members in our churches and their advancing years. I am not sure about this particular answer being valid – perhaps we should be encouraging our members a little more and perhaps even challenging the status quo that exists in some places and has done for many years.

One of the other things I often hear is about travelling and how difficult it is to get from one end or side of the circuit to the other. The distance between our two furthest churches is just 7.9 miles so it is not exactly a million miles and while I realise public transport is not fantastic most churches have a number of people with cars who could offer lifts if we were connected on the local level. If events are planned at Central Hall in Walsall then the two churches the furthest away from there are only 3.4 and 4.5 miles, so again not an insurmountable distance.

I have tried to identify some positives in how well we connect but it is not at all easy – my next post will look at the district so again I am not expecting any great amount of positivity.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

How Connected are we?

Here is an interesting question – ‘How connected are we?’
You might be wondering why I am asking this question and the answer is quite simply that the Connexion seems to have been mentioned in a number of posts during the past week and invariably I sense it is always said in inverted commas and sometimes in the same tone that we might use for say the Mafia.

It has been said elsewhere that we are all the Connexion but this started me thinking and the question that keeps coming back is ‘How connected are we?’ and I would like to explore this a little based on my own observations and conversations with Methodist folk.

I had considered doing one post on this but thought it might end up rather lengthy so will be doing it over the next few days in smaller chunks.

How connected are we as local church members?
This seemed to be a good place to start and I am sorry to say that I might have to reply not very. As a Local Preacher I go to a variety of fellowships both in our own circuit and others, and I know the old joke about the best seats in Methodism being at the back, but this is often a fact of how we sit. One church in our circuit fills up from the back forward and invariably the front six to eight rows are empty. The remaining members will be spread around the remaining seats and woe betide anyone who might suggest they move forward or sit together. One of our other churches with a large congregation has people who sit towards the front but even this is at least 30 foot from the pulpit and other members sit dotted all over a very large building.
There are other difficulties on a local level as well – try to get someone to take on a job and you will meet with all sorts of excuses, folk don’t or won’t attend Church Council in case they get volunteered to do a job or be on some other group such as the circuit meeting.

I sense that sometimes this can lead to one group having almost a stranglehold on what goes on at a local level and others never get a say. I remember in my early days in Methodism going to a church in our area where every position was held by someone with the same surname. There were two views on this, one being that this family ruled the place with a rod of iron and the other was that they were all very active people who gave back to the church in a range of ways. Readers may have their own thoughts on this type of situation and it may be that this is part of the thinking behind the six year rule. We have recently had a senior steward step down in one of our churches who has done something like 30 years in the role so how effective was the six year rule in this case?

We hear people talk about the church family but I wonder how this pans out in reality? Do we only ever see the family in artificial surroundings where we are wearing our Sunday best and being on our best behaviour? When did we last go shopping or for a coffee with another member of our church? When did we have a conversation away from church with another member (other than pastoral ones)? When did e meet socially with any of the members of our church, except at church?
I do understand that sometimes the things in the previous paragraph don’t happen in real families and that is very sad but it still raises some interesting points.

I am sorry to say that in very general terms based on what I see we are not very well connected at local church level.

In my next post I will pose the question ‘How connected are we as a circuit?’