Welcome and Thanks
It is exciting to be able to launch the new web-site for the District, and my thanks to those who have helped it to happen, particularly for the work Richard Hamilton-Foyn has done and the assistance of Mark Aldridge and Deborah Webb in getting it up and running. I hope we can learn how to use it as a great resource for sharing information and keeping in touch with each other across the District and beyond.
Welcome to the Chair’s blog in which every couple of weeks or so, I hope to reflect on some of the things that are going on that I have been involved in, to help keep us connected.
During October and November a District Chair’s mind turns to (or is overwhelmed by) stationing issues.
For next September in our District we are looking for seven ordained presbyteral ministers and three probationer presbyters. This is in the national context of there being 101 ordained presbyters available for 138 appointments, leaving a considerable shortfall of ministers available.
Please remember the circuit stewards and staff of the Birmingham, Birmingham Sutton Park, Coventry and Nuneaton and Mid-Warwicks Circuits in your prayers.
Also, five ministers in the District are looking for new appointments, and I would ask your prayers for them in what is inevitably a stressful process.
This week: 18th – 25th October
This week has been both interesting challenging and inspiring for me.
It began with the joy of leading communion at Blackwood in the Sutton Park circuit as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations. One of the real privileges of my role is being able to share with such a wide range of congregations in worship and particularly at significant moments in their lives.
DLMN Executive Meeting
Monday saw the meeting of the five members of the Discipleship, Learning and Ministries network team with the chairs and representatives of the three districts in the region, (Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, and Bristol.)
It was a good day to share together about issues of training and development across the districts. There was particular discussion about how we use training grants and encourage people, lay and ordained to take advantage of the resources available to increase skills and grow in discipleship and ministry.
One particular event that the team are planning for the region is of particular importance I believe, and that is a training conference for people interested in reconciliation and in particular in being part of reconciliation teams.
Sadly, things sometimes reach a point in church life where we need skilled outsiders to help bring reconciliation into situations of conflict. Each district is meant to have a team of up to five people. At the moment we desperately need new people to add to those who have been doing it faithfully and skilfully for some time. If you think you could be one of those, and would be interested in the training next spring, do let me know.
Chaplaincy Wellbeing Day
On Tuesday, 30 chaplains and other ministers, lay and ordained met at Solihull Methodist Church for a day led by Tony Tidey, the Connexional Well-Being officer.
In a lovely atmosphere, helped by the beautifully renovated building at Solihull, we were reminded that in the stresses and strains of ministry and church life in general we nee to learn to look after ourselves, finding the right balance in our lives that allows us to be resilient as we remember and accept God’s love for us, so that we can work, rest and play as children of God.
It was also a chance to affirm the work of chaplains from around the District and from further afield, and to help them interact in a mutually supportive way.
Our thanks to David Butterfield, our Chaplaincy Officer for putting the day together, and to Tony Tidey for his wisdom and insight into how we work within the church.
Navigating Change Conference
On Wednesday it was off to Stoke for the second day of the national conference supported by the DLMN called Navigating Change.
This was a challenging two days which addressed the need for change within our church if we are to grow, and told stories of churches that are facing up to the challenges creatively.
It was held at Swan Bank church in Burslem, one of the largest Methodist Churches in the Connexion, having grown from 300 to 400 members in the last five years. The church comes from a particular evangelical, Primitive Methodist tradition, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the worship was led by a worship band of professional quality, but that was so loud I could not hear myself sing, playing techno versions of worship songs that I found it hard to get a grip on.
However, the worship leader there justified this by saying that our worship must in words and music be speaking the same language as those we are trying to reach, leaving me to ask, who outside the church speaks the same language and uses the same music as we do in churches Sunday by Sunday.
The session I went to on worship talked a lot about excellence, not just of preaching, but of music and presentation and welcome, if we are to draw new people. Would we feel comfortable inviting our non-church friends to worship, and if not, why not?
This came from a church that can afford to employ a worship co-ordinator, who is their music leader. It was interesting that they thought it was more important to employ someone who could drive excellence in worship than to employ a children’s worker.
It was clear that quality of worship was a major concern for many at the conference. In the workshop I attended on Leadership Structures for growing churches, one of the the main topics for discussion was how to use the circuit plan as a means of strategic mission and how difficult that was. Leaders of growing churches talked of the need for consistency in both style and content of worship. This is a real challenge to the variety that we have valued in the circuit system, but something we have to take seriously I believe if we are to have churches where we are to be confident of inviting people with little experience of church to join us.
I came away encouraged to be in a group of Methodists committed to growth and change, but with many questions about how we might resource that, and how such growth and change might be enabled in churches that are much smaller and have a different theological and cultural outlook from Swan Bank. However, that does not mean that if we want to grow we don’t have much to learn from them.
In counterpoint to the interesting meetings this week in the evenings I have been rehearsing and performing Brahms’ Requiem with the CBSO at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
It is a beautiful piece of music, and also an interesting work spiritually. Brahms was an agnostic, if not an atheist, and yet this Requiem which he wrote in memory of his friend and mentor Schumann and later added a movement in memory of his mother, uses biblical texts in a wonderful way to offer comfort and hope. It begins with a setting of the Beatitude: ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’ and ends with similar music setting the text ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’ and in the middle there is the beautiful movement ‘How lovely are your dwellings Lord’ as well as the dramatic reminder of the sounding of the last trombone at the end of time.
It touches the deepest emotions of life and death, and to me is a reminder how our Christian tradition can engage and nourish the soul and the spirit even of those who struggle with much of our doctrine. It certainly helped to nourish me this week!