Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dawkins, Stirchley, Bicyles .... On contacting a councilor in #BRUM

A fine pint. A good book, read by a fire. A cycle ride. These are things of a quality life. Unfortunatly cycling is becoming confusing in Birmingham. Until late October I'd cycle to and from work on the National Cycle Route. It made sense and ensured I didn't spend a lifetime in traffic jams clogging up my lungs with pollution. However, on the route there are on or two rather tight corners (including a blind bridge) where ... Even if approached walking the bicyle....there are some problems. Being the ever-eager local citizen I emailed my local councillor to ask for some mirros, to ensure everyone can see round the corners and progress as they wish. The answer was unsatisfying and I have yet to hear back on the final email. More bizarrely was this story about further confusion added to one section of the route. Due to an irratically reliable rail system and snails pace traffic, bicycles provide a key way for Birmingham to reduce pollution and increase everyone's health. It's a shame that it appears that the council wishes to demonise cyclists. From: John Cooper Date: 24 October 2011 17:23:51 GMT+01:00 To: Nigel Dawkins Subject: Re: Mirrors on National Cycle Route Dear Mr Dawkins Thank you for your response. It is good to see we have both got safety as our prime concern. My email concerned a few blind corners which present a challenge to everyone, pedestrian and cyclist, using the route. Would you be willing to install some mirrors (or similar) to ensure all are safe on this vital route? With Regards On 24 Oct 2011, at 15:38, Nigel Dawkins wrote: Dear John,   Thank for the email. Its an interesting point you mention but let me put a different view.   When I use the route as a pedestrian I am always unnerved by the speed that some cyclists travel along the route. There is clearly a view that it is exclusively a cycle track and that pedestrians must take their chances.    I have raised the issue of signage to inform cyclists that they are sharing this route with pedestrians and that they should be more considerate in their speed. We get exactly the same issue through Hazelwell Park where cyclists speed past park users.   Therefore I think the issue is not one of mirrors but cycling at a speed that is considerate to those who may be just round the corner.   Kind regards,   Nigel This email has been sent by Councillor Nigel Dawkins,  Selly Oak Constituency Chairman, elected councillor for Bournville, Cotteridge and Stirchley telephone : 0121 314 8742 (answering machine)   > Subject: Mirrors on National Cycle Route > From: John > Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2011 14:15:45 +0100 > To: Nigel Dawkins > > Dear Mr Dawkins > > I am a regular cyclist on the cycle route that takes people from cotteridge through cannon hill park, edgbaston etc into central birmingham. > > At two or three different points there are some dangerous turns/bridges that would benefit from something such as a mirror to enable both bicycle and pedestrian to see round corners and ensure no collisions or similar. > > Would you be able to sort out mirrors or similar at various points early on in the route? > > With Regards > > John

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

hears about a 'Flash Evensong' occuring at St Pauls, as part of #OccupyLSX

If two or three Christians gather in a room, at least one is destined (rightly or wrongly) to say that 'the media ignores us'. This certainly hasn't been true over the past week.  Ever since the first tent was pitched outside St Pauls Cathedral, as part of a global 'occupy movement', suddenly church ethics have been at the forefront.

At first nothing happened, then suddenly the church accepted the protest, then decided it would be wise if they moved, then said they would shut if they didn't move. Then St Pauls Cathedral Shut.

The newspapers and media went wild, and somehow the cathedral staggered through (for full coverage of this side of the story see Dave Allen Greens very high quality blog), meeting its legal obligations by holding eucharist behind closed doors.

While St Pauls shut the public out, something bubbled up and suddenly a 'flash evensong' sprung up and christians gathered to worship outside this iconic church.  As someone who regularily tweeted with Artsy Honker, the person who organised it, I emailed over some questions to find out more about this surprising, and exciting, move:

Artsy Honker
Please, tell us a wee bit about yourself
I'm a freelance musician and a church organist; I've lived in various bits of London for the last eleven years and currently live in Leytonstone.

You've somehow started an evensong movement at the Occupy London event. How did that happen?
I thought it would be good to have Evensong at St Paul's cathedral, and half-joked about doing it myself if they weren't letting people in for worship. Things sort of snowballed from there. I've had excellent help and support, particularly from the person who has the @FlashEvensong twitter account, but from lots of others too.

How did you feel in advance of the first evensong, 
when did you realise people had come along to take part?

Like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! I didn't know how many people would turn up and I worried that either it would be just me, or that there would be so many I wouldn't have enough hymn sheets or something. But I knew I could count on at least some of the people who said they'd come, and so I decided to go for it. I was really glad I did.

Describe the moment of the worship that night that felt most like true worship to you?
For me, that was probably while we were singing the psalms. But I'm a musician, and I worship best in song. Others might have found other parts of the liturgy more meaningful.

What was the reaction from other occupiers as the service started?
Most of them left us alone; a few people joined in with us, but I don't really know if they were part of the protest camp or just visiting.

Why is there a need for an act of worship at the site?

The cathedral is a place of public worship, and has been for hundreds of years.

 Have you made any moves to encourage members of the St Pauls Clergy to attend/hold similar outdoor services?
All sorts of people are part of the occupation
Photo by Flickr user npmeijer 
I know that there was a service on Sunday afternoon that one of the St Paul's clergy was involved in; unfortunately I only found out about it after arriving, as it wasn't very well-publicised! I have tried to keep the cathedral "in the loop" about what we are doing, but as most of my communication on the subject is by twitter it may not have been noticed. Of course we would be delighted if any of the clergy of St Paul's could join us.

Do you know of any other religious events occurring within the occupation?
I've heard talk of some Quaker meetings, and I think there is a meditation/prayer tent. There were also celebrations of some Jewish festivals -- see here for links to the FaceBook pages:

Tonight another evensong will happen, how do you decide on the hymns/text?
We're using the same hymns as on Sunday: three well-known hymns. This is at least partly because I still have printouts from Sunday and I don't want to waste too much paper! But for another event on Sunday (which I can't attend because I've already committed to singing Evensong elsewhere) people are chosing them with an online poll.

 Social  media has been a strong part of creating these small acts, what role do you find it plays in creating and connecting christians around the uk?
I don't think of social media primarily as a tool for connecting Christians; rather it is a tool for connecting people. It does make getting in touch with people regardless of geography or circumstance a little bit easier; a lot of the people I speak with regularly on twitter, for example, are people I wouldn't have met in my everyday life. But some I agree with and some I argue with, just like in any other group of people.
St Pauls, 16 October, still open to the public
Photo by Flickr user garryknight

 What message do you think self-organising worship to occur outside a major cathedral sends to those inside the cathedral:
I don't know what message is being perceived, but I hope that those inside the cathedral see that we value the cathedral as a place of worship and would like it to be open for public services.

and those walking by
Again, it's hard to say. But I hope that the message is that Christianity is not just about the cathedral, or any building for that matter -- that we are all, if we choose, part of the church, and we are able to worship God wherever we are or whatever our circumstances.

Finally, if someone wanted to get involved but couldn't tonight, how can they find out more?
The best thing to do is probably to follow myself (@artsyhonker) or FlashEvensong (@FlashEvensong) on Twitter. Reading my blog at would also be good.

Thank You

Of course, this interesting story is doing the rounds at the moment so 
Read in the Guardian about it or listen to the interview on the World at One or read about Pete Philip's experience of visiting and praying at the occupation site/

Friday, September 23, 2011

hears from #dalefarm - of activism and advocacy

Travelers have never had great support in the UK. Look through history and it isn't long before you see tales of prejudice, hate and mistrust towards a more nomadic approach to life.  
The issue reached the headlines again this week as Dale Farm, and planned evictions. Today the media styled 'battle' for Dale Farm reaches a climax, after a court injunction stopped the bailiffs from acting on Wednesday. 
A friend of mine, Tim Gee, was at Dale Farm on Wednesday so I thought it worth finding out a wee bit more about him, his actions and what benefits he felt they brought:
Could you tell us a wee bit about yourself
Image of Tim Gee
from Guardian Comment is Free
I’m an activist, an author and a blogger. I’ve spent the last month dividing my time between my home in London and the Dale Farm traveler site in Essex.   
Why did you head over to Dale Farm?
Initially I went out simply to find out more. But on meeting with residents there it quickly became clear that a plain injustice is being threatened. People from one of the most discriminated-against groups in the country have bought a bit of land on a scrapyard to live with their community – but still the Council wants to move them on. As a poignant sign near the entrance reads: if not on a scrapyard then where?
What was the atmosphere like?

I’d say the atmosphere on the plot where the supporters are staying is one of determination. All of the supporters are there to make their contribution towards preventing a very immediate tangible wrong from being done. Most are willing to take admirable personal risks for the cause. But there is also a spirit of assistance for one another to learn new skills, to prepare psychologically for the potential horror of what may come, and a growing understanding between the residents and supporters on the site, forged through solidarity. Have you ever been involved in 'traveller' activism/defence before?
No I haven’t – I’ve mostly been involved in environmental stuff. There is an interesting link here though: arguably it was when travelers camped on the site of the proposed road over Twyford Down in 1992 that the bottom-up part of the environmental direct action movement really got started.       
Were the media labeled 'activists' people who had traveled in or part of the traveller community?
What is special about Dale Farm is the unprecedented solidarity from members of the settled community who constitute the majority of activists and supporters on site. The biggest in terms of physical bodies on site is Camp Constant – a base for Civil Disobediants and Legal Observers which has similarities with the Climate Camp in terms of the decision-making, food, structures and so on.

Then there are a number of NGO and CSOs including the Gypsy Council, PAD and the Irish Traveler Movement of Britain which I believe have people born into both the settled and the traveling communities involved.   
How were 'outsiders' helping, rather than antagonising a tense situation?
Every decision made by activists is led by the wishes of residents. Activists were invited by residents and if a majority or consensus wanted the supporters to go the activists would go. On the council’s stated eviction date last Monday many of us accompanied brave residents in their homes who would otherwise have been alone as the bailiffs approached. But in the event, the defenses were so well built that the bailiffs were not even able to breach the perimeter.   
You’re a poster boy for Quakerism this year - did your Quaker beliefs influence your attendance and/or your response to the situation
Quakers are often asked questions like that and often find it hard to respond. It isn’t that Quaker beliefs influence me one way or another, but that I try to live my life a certain way and being a Quaker is part of that. Having said that there were certainly aspects of the shape of the struggle that correspond with Quaker methods - including consensus decision making and nonviolent resistance, but I was only aware of two or three other supporters there having Quaker connections.
 What would you see a 'just' solution to the situation being?
Dale Farm travelers being able to keep their homes. Proper pitches being supplied by councils across the country. A decrease in the shocking racism that prevails against travellers. And more understanding between the settled and traveling communities to resolve those tensions that remain.  
Finally, you have a book called ' Counterpower' coming out in the Autumn, covering people’s ownership of power - if you had to write a brief item on what you saw/experienced at Dale Farm - what Counterpower did you see in action?What I saw at Dale Farm marked a change from protest to resistance. For months and years people have pleaded with the council and the courts, yet the system continued to discriminate against Dale Farm residents. On Monday a different method was tried. Blockades were built, people wore arm lock-ons and a woman chained her neck to the front gate. This is people claiming power and defying the authorities. As the television cameras reported live, the court system for once found in the residents’ favour, granting a temporary reprieve. It was only a small victory, but also a rare one - perhaps an indicator of the beginning of a wider rebalancing.

Tactically I see this as comparable to the Roads Protests in the 1990s. Almost all of the large protest sites were eventually evicted and the highways built. But as protesters claimed power, a wider societal shift took place and 77 proposed roads were scrapped. I don’t know if Dale Farm will live or not. I hope that it will. But to win the wider battle for human rights for the traveller community may take many more such confrontations. But I think with the attention Dale Farm is getting, things are beginning to change already.   
Pre- publication copies of Tim Gee’s book ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’ are available in the New Internationalist shop ( 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Arms Fair or Unfair? Films inspired by DSEi

It would appear that this little blog isn't the only place to have a look at last weeks arms fair. BBC One's 'One Show' took a surprisingly deep, light hearted look

and of course there is the brilliant 'Where is the Love' film from a few years ago - see what happens when young people find out what happens on their doorstep...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Discipleship to Direct Action at DSEi Arms Fair ( #stopdsei )

Hattie Hogson (Right), joins Rev Chris Howson,
Lizzie Gawen (SPEAK network) and Georgie Hewitt(Manchester SCM)
(Photo by Chris Wood/SCM)
What does your faith challenge you to do? Last week, my twitter feed exploded with protest as the bi-annual arms jamboree landed in east london.  Highlights included the immortal tweet from Rev Chris Howson explaining  

Briefly got to the entrance of DSEi by saying I had come to perform the official exorcism! Soon escorted by security to official vigil!
12/09/2011 19:16

Overall it was clear that Christians of all stripes were joining with people of no faith to make clear that people within the UK were not happy at this armed jamboree.

I thought it was time to look beyond fun stories and to find out what drove a young Methodist, Hattie  Hodgson, to use her whole being - both body and voice - to take non-violent action to challenge the arms fair....

"my main aim was to disrupt the fair as much as possible, in the hope that it would spur arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of their actions and trade"   Hattie
  • Could you tell us a wee bit about yourself...
I'm a student in Leeds studying Managing Performance, which is effectively arts management. I sit on the General Council of the Student Christian Movement. I also have a soft-spot for dancing, I can rarely keep my feet still!
  • ...and a wee bit about your faith
Well someone once asked if I was a 'Cradle Christian' and, although I have been attending church from a very young age, I had to say no. The story I have been told is that I turned around to my atheist parents aged about 8 and announced that I wanted to go to church and so I did! In recent times, I have become more denominational in my faith- recently becoming a member of the Methodist Church
A 'die in' outside the National Gallery,
which had a dinner for arms dealers occurring inside

  • I understand you spent some of last week in London, challenging an arms fair - what’s wrong with the arms fair?
It could be argued that the DSEi arms fair trades in death. It uses British tax payers’ money to normalise the sale of machinery that is designed to kill. There also seems to be little regard given to who arms are sold. This year the guest list included regimes such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia- regimes that have been known to use weapons against their own civilians. 

  • What did you do to highlight this?

Due to the distinct lack of press coverage the arms fair and resultant protests attract, I knew that our actions would have a relatively small media impact. Because of this, my main aim was to disrupt the fair as much as possible, in the hope that it would spur arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of their actions and trade. We went about this in many ways, from singing peace songs on the Docklands Light Railway, surrounded by arms dealers, to blockading the main road entrance for about 20 minutes, to handing out specially produced newspapers with messages of peace to those entering the fair. 

  • Have you had a chance to speak with those attending with the event to find out why they went to the fair - or indeed speak to those selling arms there to find out what they thought they were doing?

The contact we had with arms dealers was limited we did attempt to engage them in conversation they were not very willing to participate. However, the few people we did speak to seemed to be of the opinion that this was a necessary evil. I have experienced that people tend to focus on the positive effect the arms trade has on the UK economy as justification for its existence. 

I think it should be taken very seriously. The discovery of illegal cluster bombs being on sale at the arms fair is clearly a sign that, as much as they claim to be, the UK government is not enforcing UK law at the arms fair. When we bear in mind some of the regimes invited to do business there, there is an argument that this could lead to sale that are not only unethical, but also potentially extremely dangerous. 

  • Now to turn to you, how did you feel as you took part in the actions

Two gents front right are arms dealers,
being serenaded by protestors reading newspapers
I felt like what I was doing was very important. As I have already stated, if nothing else, I hoped our visible presence and actions would force arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of the trade they participate in. Obviously, there was a sense of nervousness as I began each action or blockade but the courage of the people around me affirmed the importance of what we were doing. 

"Obviously, there was a sense of nervousness as I began each action or blockade but the courage of the people around me affirmed the importance of what we were doing" Hattie

  • Had you taken part in anything like this before? 

This was really the first time I have felt the desire to participate in direct protest actions. Although I was in London when the decision on raising university tuition fees was made, my actions on that day mainly involved directly lobbying MPs in the Houses of Parliament and, luckily, I managed to avoid being kettled. I did not feel I could become more involved with the student fees demonstrations because I do not believe that violent direct actions, or those that adversely affect people not involved, are ever an acceptable form of protest. 

  • Did you faith play a role in taking part in this action, indeed did your Methodist background impact?

My faith was instrumental to my participation in the protests. Jesus is after all known as the Prince of Peace. As a young Christian trying to live out my faith, I felt that I could not stand by and let an event that so actively enables warfare be surrounded with such a sense of normality. One of the key messages of Methodism in the UK at the moment is the idea of discipleship. If I am truly attempting to be a disciple of Christ, then I feel called to oppose and disrupt activities that are so clearly opposing his message.

"If I am truly attempting to be a disciple of Christ, then I feel called to oppose and disrupt activities that are so clearly opposing his message" Hattie

  • Will you do it again - if so how can we join you? If not, what would you suggest?

I will most certainly be participating in direct actions again, although the next DSEi arms fair is not scheduled until 2013. In the meantime, I suggest that people who want to get involved in protesting the arms trade visit the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website at There are lots of different ways you can get involved, including a specific campaign to end arms industry involvement in universities and higher education- a campaign that the Student Christian Movement supports. 

  • Hear more voices of protest from the week on this video:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

on way every committee and church should watch #DoctorWho Season 6 - The Girl Who Waited

We've all been there. Midway through a meeting a bold and brave new suggestion is put forward on the table, an eary silence drops over the room and no-one quiet knows what to do. Some people are sat there thinking 'we've done this all before, I'm not doing that again'. Others think 'what a brilliant idea, let's bash through and get on with it'. Some may think 'what's next on the agenda' and a final few... well they just keep themselves to themselves so long as everyone 'feels alright'. Last weeks Doctor Who was a highlight of the series. It contained it all, an absent Doctor, peril for the humans, non-thinking robots acting out an algorithm (this time killing through kindness) and difficult choices to be made to reach a conclusion. The twist, this week, being Amy Pond gets two versions - one the one we know and met at the beginning of the episode, the other 36 years older (looking the same!)more bitter, twisted and independent. Rory got to meet a future version of his wife, Amy got to see what happened if she ever just 'went it alone'. Why does this link into committees and religious groups? Because the pivot point within this tale ultimately focussed on risk taking - if we could see into the future would we jettison all of today to get there? Would we ignore things we have yet to learn or do we, instead, kill off the future but appreciate and travel with the present? Not following? Well how many times have you heard people predict the future, based on a paper they are responding to? All to often church meetings get stuck on points and never look at the ability of anything to transform individuals and deepen relationships. The problem being, if we ignore that then people end up being part of a community in which they are forgotten, and forget how to be part of a group. Every church committee should sit down and watch the Girl who waited because, ultimately, it is not about the power of group think, but it is a good reminder about the strength of being part of a group and a lesson to us all never to leave anyone out waiting....because after 30odd years they are unlikely to come back....

TELL.SHOW.BE. - English from Tell.Show.Be on Vimeo.

Angela Shier-Jones - Funeral and Memorial Service

The following tweet has appeared

Funeral for @revdrange at 2.15 on 4th Oct at Methodist church, New Malden. Memorial service at Wesley's Chapel on Sat 3 Dec.
17/09/2011 19:10 "

See you in London on 3rd December I think.....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Training the Trainers

What would you consider a key part of the Methodist Church is? It's style of worship maybe, it's approach to social mission or even the democratic nature of it's structure. All of these would be technically correct, yet also wildly wrong.

A great strength of the church is the positive place it gives to lay people, or in non-church speak- volunteers. From leading worship at chapel to running fringe events at national conferences, the church couldn't exist without the thousands of human hours donated/given to the church.

Interactive learning about workshop priorities
Today I spent a wonderful afternoon with people from the Children & Youth Team. As part of my day job I'll be attending the annual youth assembly and leading some workshop style sessions. However this afternoon wasn't a chance to be told why I'd been asked, or even a chance to find out about the practicalities (though, if asked, I know I'd have been given the answers). Today was a chance to be trained in basic learning, facilitation and feedback techniques.

What I realised through this was workshop leaders or keynote speakers or indeed anyone invited to take a role in an organisations event is rarely given the chance for training in basics and groundrules. This event though will be different, all will have been offered training to ensure the skills and gifts they bring can help the widest range of people deepen their faith and change their lives.

So, a challenge to me and everyone else. If you are running keynote events for a community - when do you create a space to ensure those offering their skills are all upto a high standard and share some basic understanding? Paid or voluntary, all can learn, share and explore before leading others on such a process. I've been challenged today in many ways, least of all to consider how I support those I ask to do tasks for me. When do you support or equip those you trust decisions to - a note in a minute to "do" something isn't enough if you don't build in space to ask questions, share knowledge and lay groundrules.

Thank you Children & Youth team. You continue to challenge the church through your positive example

In Memory of Angela Shier-Jones (Rest in Peace)

Angela Shire-Jones, pictured on her last blogpost
Churches have their characters, people who rise above mere 'hundle mentality, and really leave their mark. Today, it has been reported that the Methodist Church of Great Britain lost a fine blogger & tweeter, keen conference attender, world methodist engager and noted author, Rev Angela Shire Jones.

She described herself as

Methodist Minister, theological educator and author.
Sadly mad about Wesleyan theology and the doctrine of Christian Perfection - mainly because I am so far from being perfect.
Committed to any expression of Church, fresh or otherwise which will communicate the gospel in a way that engages and transforms a needy world. (taken from her google profile)
However what she misses in this modest profile are the many ways she has enriched the life of the Methodist Church. She was an enthusiast, pedant, poker and stirrer. She was never afraid to ask 'why' or even to challenge the perceived status quo to ask 'is that right'. Her passion and interest in an active church, a passion so sorely tested at many times, helped invoke in me an understanding that I wasn't the only one that saw conferring as not just beracratic, but a key way to develop and understand our own theology. If we weren't talking how could we then move onto doing?

However, don't think being a pedant for history and rules means being stuck in the past. A key part of her life has been to encourage youth work and to engage with the Fresh Expressions movement - both in practice and in writing.

One of the greatest gifts she leaves the church is a mirriad of publications that really help explore what the Methodist Church was/is all about. Amazon lists 15 book titles when you view her 'author profile' and that (I'm sure) doesn't represent the full run of all her writing. Her books covered a wide range of topics and always came back to a simple 'and what does that lead the church to do' question.

She was a firm advocate of Weslyan Theology, and knowing it as such, and was a helpful prompt to a church that has (at times) thought better of it's past, wishing to ignore it and build to the future.  Her time as editor of Epworth Press (Methodist Theological Quarterly) and commissioning editor of the publishing mark 'Epworth' were marked by challenging issues covering all manor of hot topics. While the ongoing future shape of Methodist publishing is unclear, I am sure her stewardship of both has shown the need for fine Methodist articles providing something of value and worth to the wider world.

Angie in more relaxed mode, as featured on her own website
However, it was through her coming to terms with cancer that we all came to find and appreciate a new side to Angela. For she picked up her electronic pen and started to pen the most moving of blogs called 'the kneeler'. In true Angela style its contents vented, raged, weeped, challenged and uplifted. Of course, we didn't always agree - but our disagreements led to fine discussion and a want to blog about differences. Ultimately,  her 'personal' letters to God were always a 'must read' and showed the real humanity behind someone living with one of modern medicines greatest challenges, cancer.

What I've written today will not do her full justice, I've only known one aspect of her. My thoughts are a gut reaction to some very sad news. We'll no doubt have the authorised obituary in the Meth Recorder and stories will appear around the world of lives she has touched. We didn't always see eye-to-eye on many different issues, however I deeply respected her viewpoint, her love of methodism and shared her wish to share a life-enhancing open for all gospel.  Methodism lost a preacher and an author today and I hope many churches give thanks for her life, think of her family as they grieve today and spare some prayers for Kingston Upon Thames circuit who were her final stations.

[EDIT - As memories of her pop up on the blogosphere I'll try and list them:]
P.S - It appears that Angela set up her own blog to cover only her story regarding cancer - I think the posts were double posted (to the-kneeler) but still - Suffering Grace

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Inspired - London Listens To Young People #londonriots

The recent situation in London, Birmingham and beyond has proved to be quite a 'melon scratcher'. On the one hand I have lived just north of Tottenham and appreciate the underlying tensions between police and community, therefore an initial 'tipping point' can be percieved. However other cities such as Birmingham and Manchester are very different spaces and so 'copycat' actions can't so easily be viewed from this perspective. Overall as communities lick their wounds and seek to take action some different form of leadership has been required.

What has perplexed me most is a general lack of action from the church. Wherever in the nation you are, and have been affected, it should have been a time for people of faith to open their doors to the community, provide chances to listen, engage and show situations of hope.

I was delighted to see (this morning) that Westminster Central Hall in London is to host such an event - on Saturday. It’s aimed at young people and the idea is to get teenagers/youth talking about what has happened/is happening. It’s at Westminster central hall tomorrow at 1.30pm

As the name makes clear, the violence and looting wasn't done in the young people's name- yet as books such as the 'Gilted Generation' make clear, there has been a socio-economic storm brewing which has alienated generations of young people through lack of role models, aspiration and economic oppertunity.

Please, if you are in London (and involved in youth work etc) alert your young people to this fantastic looking event.  It's the sort of work that churches should be engaged in and shows everyones true worth....

Monday, August 08, 2011

Methodists to Offer Support in Tottenham

A press release from the Methodist Church...I don't usually repost in full their press releases....

Methodist Minister in Tottenham offers support to victims of London riots

The minister of St Mark’s Methodist Church in High Road, Tottenham, is among a group of Christian leaders offering support to the victims of the riots in Tottenham.

This afternoon Methodist minister the Revd Dr Valentin Dedji will visit the family of Mark Duggan who was shot dead on Thursday. The Revd Dr Valentin Dedji, who has been a Methodist minster in Tottenham for 11 years, said that the damage caused by the riots was horrendous.

“There are many families who have become homeless overnight,” he said. “Many public services and private businesses have been destroyed. The rebuilding process will be long.

“We work very strongly ecumenically in Tottenham. We think that it is our mandate to grieve with those who are grieving. We want to support the families and victims of the riots; to be with them and to pray with them whenever there is loss of life. We don’t know yet why or what happened; that is part of the healing process.”

This evening Christians will gather with other faith leaders in Tottenham to hold a peace vigil in Monument Way at 7pm.

“I have received calls from Australia, Canada, France and Kenya offering support,” said the Revd Dr Valentin Dedji. “The support from colleagues, ordinary community members and friends from abroad has been very uplifting. What we need is the continuing prayerful support from everyone. Above all, may God give us his wisdom, his spirit of discernment and guidance.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gareth Hill - Methodist Preacher and Blogger to Become Cluster Head

Rev Gareth Hill
(Picture taken from Fresh Expressions Website)
Interesting news was posted on the Internet on Sunday. The new head of Mission and Advocacy will be Revd Gareth Hill. His move from Cornwall to London will be an interesting one. In recent years he has been part of key areas of Methodist Power (Strategy and Resources Committee) and Conferring (Methodist Conference). This means there is great potential for the experience gathered on these committees to be transferred into creative, engaging and empowering dialogue between the church membership and the staff that seek to serve it.

Revd Dr Martyn Atkins Opens Tubestation
(image take from Methodist Presidential Blog)
Gareth's been a familiure face to many of us online for a few years. As a Pioneer Minsiter he has enriched his own locality (Cornwall) through creating and nuturing the (nationally famous) Tubestation Project, and enriched the wider church through his prolific and award winning hymn writing.  In short, his minstry has been spent engaging with people who don't do traditional church and finding new words for us all to express our faith through.

Prior to offering himself for ministry, Gareth was a proffessional journalist, working for multiple regional newspapers. This passion for effective communication was where I first came accross him as he made good use of radio, blogs, twitter and more to get out the Methodist message for the day.

This appointment means the Connexional Team will be served by someone who has seen it from all sides and could both serve a
nd lead in ways that will draw upon experience in and out the church.

This appointment is particularly interesting because it is the first time for a while that the lead person for this area of work is a) a minister and b) has (on the surface) more experience of mission/communication then of advocacy/public issues. Therefore this is a challenging appointment in times when the churches voice in the 'market square' needs to be both communicated well and be politically influential.

It's rare that a new appointee to the Connexional Team blogs about their appointment and I'd like to think that this openess will continue, and that Methodism core message - spreading God's love for all through social/scriptual holiness - will be reshaped, by the proffessional journalist and now self defined 'post denominational' Gareth, into a well crafted, politically influential, message that is needed now, more than ever.

Good Luck Gareth, the Connexional Team are lucky to recruit you, lets hope there is space to offer your skills.
P.S - He's a very proud welshman so looks like Synod Cymru could find someone speaking their language....(well he can at least say Happy Birthday in Welsh according to Facebook!)

P.P.S - For the full story of the opening of Tubestation see the Methodist Presidential Blog (future Presidents also visited the project)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Twitter, #cpol and #methconf

All the best ideas are pioneered then hit a natural tipping point from which the real creativity flows.This summer, Methodist Conference hit that moment and close to half a million people saw the fall-out from an explosion of tweets covering the event, a number that grew as people in the event joined twitter to see what those outside the hall was saying.

Of course, this is nothing new. Through the nature of being a movement that holds scripture, reason, tradition and experience in creative tension, the Methodist Church is a social movement. It can't survive if it ends up as self-Sanctimonious holy joes. Instead part of the art of Christian conferring is to listen with humble awareness to those of different opinions and theologies. This doesn't mean that christ conferring is a wet blanket affair. Instead it gives life to our beliefs by forcing people to talk, pray and prepare for new understandings as a result of what you have heard.

The infectious nature of this form of discussion has been picked up by the new #cpol discussions starting on twitter. It is a new stream of Christians interested in politics participating in the mother of all global web-chats. While non-denominational in content, for me it could only be a movement such as the Methodists who would start it and wish to share with others. For it is the connexional nature of the Methodist Movement that provides one of it's greater strengths.

No one member or chapel is an island, instead were are part of a(n inter)national movement that is aiming to challenge injustice, worship creatively and discern through prayer and conversation what could be the will of God. As a people many are downhearted at local decline and volunteer exhaustion. Yet, through things such as Methodist Youth Assembly, creative pioneer ministry / venture FX and strong student groups, there is a generation of people who hear Martyn Atkins cry that "God is not done with Methodism yet" (quote from memory) and are using all the energy and tools they have to support each other in exploring the social gospel for today.

[EDIT For formatting/labels 11/07 at 21.30 - one more edit will occur to add hyperlinks to suitable reports/groups - original post written 'on the move']

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Attends a #MethConf Ordination

"'does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God? Wesley was mortified that he 'knew not what to answer'" John Wesley, A Brand From The Burning (R.Hattersley) P105

Few moments in life are truly special. However, for the entire Methodist People today is a marvelous day of affirmation and celebration as we endorse and commission a new set, fresh from training, of Presbyters and Deacons ready to serve our movement and the wider church. The service I attended was held at Chester Cathedral. As the summer sunlight danced throughout the building, over five hundred people sung, prayed and cheered a merry band of ten ministers as they were commissioned.

It was a marvellous occasion and really left me both strangely warmed and considering what calling I may have to such an inspiring movement. However, this is a post to consider the quote at the opening. For the theme of today's 'inspiring' sermon was about the need to focus (as a minister) on developing a positive relationship with God. Leaving aside some theological questions, it reminded me of the quip from Wesley as he sailed access to Georgia. Wesley was worried he didn't "know" Jesus in the clear way the question challenged. Yet, through his questioning answers he pleased the questioner, who felt sure of Wesley's Faith. As the preacher today reeled off example after example of ways ministers are challenged and overworked I wasn't entirely sure it was an appropriate sermon until I reflected further. The nub of the sermon and Wesley's dilemma is less about the positive answer and more about taking time to rediscover why you are doing what you do, to ensure there is something backing up the words you say. As Christians we will find many in positions of leadership talking about a relationship with Christ. How often do we really consider what that means. Our earthly relationships need time and effort to give them life and vitality. When relationships are stretched we must knuckle down and when they flow freely we must revel and appreciate. With that we return to the service. For every person being ordained today is already in a relationship with their local church. When a minister, whom the nationwide movement so clearly affirms, comes to a congregation I think we should all be ready. Ready to work and release their gifts, all working to ensure they are supported by those they serve. I stood to affirm my friends today. Next Sunday, how many of us will affirm a minister as they seek to enable us all to encounter God? What steps do we take to ensure all our relationships attest to the faith we proclaim in church?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Exclusive - Methodist Church Reaffirms Opposition to Anti Semitism

The Methodist Conference next week will be asked to vote to re-affirm the Methodist Churches opposition to Anti Semitism. This viewpoint is not new, it was first stated by the current Methodist Church in 1943 and reaffirmed during the 1980s. Both times it was in response to actions in continental Europe and at home, where illogical fear of a religious group required the church to take a prophetic stand and condemn such actions. Outside of this the Methodist Church has been one of the most vocal religious opponants to the fascist BNP, calling out their repulsive politics as being divise and unwelcome in our society and eventually calling for no representative of the Church to be a member of this fascist organisation.

This call to re-affirm is contained in the 'memorials' in the conference agenda. However this 'reaffirmation', challenges the church to take reassess if more work to equip the Methodist people to continue to share Gods love for all.  The draft response (it won't be official until voted on by Conference but I would be shocked if it wasn't passed) concludes with

We commit ourselves

● to oppose all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in the church and in society;

● to seek and intensify dialogue with our Jewish sisters and brothers at all levels.’”

The Conference notes that in 2006 it directed the Methodist Council to consider, firstly, whether additional work needs to be done to make clear its abhorrence of anti-Semitism and/or, secondly, to enable Methodists to respond appropriately in local situations. The Conference directs the Methodist Council, in consultation with the Faith and Order Committee, to review these two questions and to instruct the Connexional Team to undertake additional work if that is necessary
I look forward to that vote because it reaffirms a deep commimtment and respect the church has long held towards the value of our Jewish Brothers and Sisters and continues to challenge us all to stand up against a particularly vile form of persecution which so often rears its ugly head.

To read the full memorial and history click here and scroll to page 34

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remembering Freda Head 1914 - 2011

Freda Head - Oct 2010 - Photo by JC
Tonight I received a phone-call to inform me that my Gran had died in her sleep this week. She was a remarkable woman. Sociable and sharp, always ready with a smile and often willing to the latest stories from her Grandchildren. She was a woman of strong faith and gave a lifetimes service to her local Methodist Church (Hailsham) through her own activities (a strong supporter of house groups and also editing the church newsletter for many years) and supporting her husband  in his church activities ( music and building maintenance until his death in 2000). In the last few years her age slowly caught up and she used the Methodist Recorder to keep a keen eye on Conference and all that those she knew, including me, were upto!

However the reason to blog about her is because she was a devoted Methodist who has shaped many peoples faith beyond their understanding. She was a regular attender at the annual Methodist Conference, regular reader of the Methodist Recorder and a remarkable hymn writer (one of which was featured in the special 'Encircled in Care' pack co-produced by MHA and the Connexional Team a few years ago). Her most visible contribution to the life of the church is represented in the current authorised hymn book - for she sat on the committee that created 'Hymns and Psalms', a hymn book used for the last 26 years throughout the UK and around the world.

Her hymns haven't lasted into the Hymn Book (due to be launched in two weeks time) so I hope you'll forgive a mild indulgence and a reprint of one of her hymns, number 357 in Hymns and Psalms

Your will for us and others, Lord,
Is perfect health and wholeness,
And we must seek for nothing less
Than life in all its fullness.

As Jesus dealt with human ills,
Your purposes revealing,
So may your servants in this day
Be channels of your healing.

For suffering bodies, minds and souls
That long for restoration,
Accept our prayers of faith and love,
And grant us all salvation.

So we would claim your promised grace,
Your presence and protection;
And, tasting now eternal life,
Press on toward perfection. 

Freda Head 1914 - 2011 
Sing to tune 'Solothurn'
So then a life of service to the church, hymns sung by people you've never met,a hymn book which some websites claim is one of the most popular of all time. Blimey the bar has been set high - and that is only the religious things she achieved in her 97 years!

(I know an obituary etc are on their way and will appear in the Meth Rec in due time)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Singing the Faith

A Word Cloud covering hymn titles in the new Methodist hymn collection
Last week I had the dubious pleasure of attending a 'Worship Consultation' at my local church. I say dubious, not because it wasn't created in the best of spirit (ho ho) but because it inevitably became a 'whats hot and what's not' type discussion rather than a fuller exploration of how the church and the wider community engage, encounter and worship God and certain times of the week. Overall the discussion was interesting, gave me a good insight into the church ethos and, to be honest, had moments like the cartoon above as some said positives about way 'a' and others about way 'b' with rare moments of agreement.

One positive area of discussion concerned the hymn collection in use at the church. 'Hymns Old and New', first published in 1986 and updated a decade later, is the tatter book lovingly clasped to worshipers chests as the service occurs.  It was widely felt that a new book/collection was required. One that reflected a wide range of tastes (it is church made up of three denominations), that was available in hard copy and reliable electronic copy and one that was created to suite modern tastes while still paying due respect to hymns that have stood the test of time.
Singing the Faith - New Dawn or White Elephant?

I piped up at that point and suggested investigating the new Methodist hymn collection 'Singing the Faith'. This long contentious project started out as a supplement to Hymns and Psalms and ended up becoming a new 'authorised' hymn book with rolling on-line supplement.

Having suggested it I was pleased to hear the church will now be looking properly at what hymn collections there are out there, and which ones meet the criteria suggested by the group.
The creation of a new Methodist Hymn Book is no cheap exercise. It will have taken nearly a decade to come to fruition, from concept through to publication, will have cost the Methodist Church tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds and will be offered to a church that, at best, is apathetic about the prospect.  However...

Word Cloud of hymn titles in the new collection
I think it's important we have a new book. The current book was published before I was born and I would appreciate a book to sing from that covers the wider spectrum of theology contained within the Methodist Church.

I was pleased to see that pricing was reasonable (although it will set a church back around £1k to purchase a set of electronic, music and text only for around 100 copies) I was most excited by the electronic side.  Not only is time being invested in creating a full electronic resource to sit alongside the publication, it will be 'updated' via a website as the years roll forward. The integrated approach I find very positive and it bodes well for the future of Methodist Singing.

It should be noted though that the Methodist Church isn't the only denomination to have recently updated its hymn-book. The Church of Scotland has and what interests me is a report to their annual assembly (equivalent to the Methodist Conference) from another religious creative corner - the Iona Community and it's printing arm (or should that read wing).

Wild Goose Publications has flown in a new direction the last few years with an evolution towards creating and republishing material in formats compatible with e-readers etc. I had first come across this move through an email from central e-resource depository 'Twelve Baskets'. The report to the General Assembly 2011 makes clear the way this move is catching a wave and ensuring survival of this publishing work:

Progress continues with the digitisation of material. Many books were converted into e-books during 2010 and a good number of liturgy and worship resource digital downloads have been made available, some taken from existing publications and others original. Sales of e-books and downloads from the website ( accelerated during the year as people have become more familiar with this way of reading and as sales of e-book readers have taken off.
It has again been a very difficult year financially. Although direct sales to customers have held up well, sales to shops and other trade customers have again been very badly hit by the continuing economic recession. It is doubtful
whether the traditional channels of bookselling will ever be restored and, as a counterbalance to this, efforts continue to develop direct sales and to expand digital publishing. Extract from the report of the Iona Community to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2011

Reading this it made me realise that there was an elephant in the middle of the discussions in my local church and in the national Conference of the Methodist Church.  People all over are too busy looking back, wondering why time and money is invested when 'perfectly good' material is available in a myriad of places already.  One of the main reasons why time and money is required to be spent is that technology moves at a pace. The introduction of the iPad finally enabled 'tablet' technology to break through and with this suddenly all manor of religious material was needed for a new platform.  As yet I haven't heard or seen that an e-publication of the hymn book will be made avaliable, nor that the resource will link into the Methodist Church iPhone App, but I have hope that they will.

We need a new hymn book to enable us to continue our journey of faith and share the liberating message of gods love in our communities using hymns, chants and songs that suit todays need - not the church of 28 years ago.  We also need a new hymn book to ensure that rights are granted to enable the church to deliver hymns through the most relevant technological tools available, already this new resource has to catch up but the church will be in a better place to deliver that now.