Tag Archives: Methodist


Top left: Joy with the Elvis and Roy Orbison guitars on Music Row; top right: the Carter Family and Johnny Cash guitars; bottom: Joy sitting at the Buddy Killen piano statue.

During our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee, we had a wonderful highlight – thanks to the BBC and the long-distance kindness of strangers.

Nashville is known as Music City, USA, and the home of Country Music. The downtown area is alive with bars and streets areas that simply rock with country. If you’re not a fan when you get there you surely will be when you leave.

We visited the Grand Ole Opry, of course, and we went to the Ryman Auditorium, known as the Mother Church of Country but which actually was built for a revivalist Methodist preacher who hated, among other things, alcohol, low-cut dresses and bicycles. Yes, I know!

Beyond that, we didn’t have much of a clue, so before we flew out I sent a cheeky email to legendary BBC DJ Bob Harris who I knew regularly visited Nashville. While we were in the astonishing Country Music Hall of Fame, a series of texts and emails from Bob’s office resulted in an amazing evening.

The one place we had really wanted to see was the iconic Bluebird Café where songwriters play, often singing in the round. But it’s such an intimate venue and tickets disappear so quickly we couldn’t get in.

The Bluebird Cafe with Ben and Crissie from The Shires in the centre and Sam Palladio on the left (white shirt).

Suddenly, after being on the outside, we were not just on the inside – we were on the guest list for an evening which included British Country duo The Shires and Sam Palladio, the star of the TV series Nashville. Sam grew up about 10 miles from where we used to live in Cornwall.

It was a glorious evening, made possible by someone who didn’t know us and didn’t need to be generous but chose to. Acts of spontaneous generosity make such a difference. Maybe you can offer somebody your generosity today.


All change


It’s a strange place to be: at home in the manse surrounded by the normal things of ministry, not sick, not on holiday but not working.

I’m beginning a Sabbatical, not unique among Methodist ministers but still rare enough that people get confused about it and wonder if I’ve been send to the subs’ bench or the naughty step.

Others of course smile broadly and declare: “Three months holiday, eh! It’s all right for some.”

Well, there’s some rest time, of course. There is also some work-related activity and we are encouraged to do something that stretches us spiritually. Sabbaticals are a gift from the Church to refresh and reinvigorate our ministries.

I’ll be working on my hymn-writing and we’ll make a couple of trips including one overseas visit that I’m really excited about, but mostly it’s about being quiet and trying to hear God.

That’s all change from the frenetic pressure of a diary and a helpful one too.

On the radio: panto and Pontypool

Panto pioneering (Thursday)

Church leaders like me have to handle a number of different tasks, like public speaking, leading worship and organising events, but until I worked in one particular job I had no idea it included being the Wizard of Oz!

For a few years, I worked as a Pioneer Minister – doing church with people who don’t do church – in a community where there were no Methodist buildings. It meant I had to build links with the community through other means and so Joy and I decided to join the local panto group.

We’d spotted a poster advertising the start of rehearsals and nervously walked in one evening. We needn’t have worried. Instantly we were welcomed in, ‘adopted’ by a friendly group member and helped through our first visit. When we went for the second rehearsal we were greeted with a delighted: “you came back!”

We were part of the society for three years: performing in the chorus, playing in the band and, yes, I was the Wizard of Oz! There are even a couple of embarrassing photos on Facebook. Now, even though we don’t live in the area, we still keep in touch with people from the society and go back a couple of times a year.

I learned a huge amount from the panto gang about how churches can be better at welcoming and keeping people. We were simply accepted for who we were and what we could offer, encouraged to offer our best and challenged to grow. We were welcomed back every time and reminded about the core purpose – to play our part and get the show on stage.

Although only one of the company had any kind of church connection, a number began to refer to me as “our minister”. It felt as though I was doing my job too.


Pontypool rugby (Friday)

This time of the year is one of my favourites. It’s got nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the Six Nations Rugby tournament which this year is turning out to be one of the best in a long time.

I grew up in Pontypool in the Welsh Valleys, home to the Pontypool Front Row and a whole collection of Welsh internationals. In my teenage years we lived alongside our heroes and on more than one occasion I would travel to school with Terry Cobner, captain of Pontypool and a future Welsh skipper, sitting in the front seat of my Dad’s car.

My own rugby ability didn’t amount to much. The nearest I got was as understudy to Pontypool full-back Peter Lewis … but that was as an actor in our school production of Oliver!

Anyway, back to rugby. I’ve got my Welsh rugby jersey, hat and scarf – I’ve even got some Welsh cakes – and I know which of my Scottish friends I’ll be exchanging banter with on Facebook tomorrow morning before kick-off.

When Wales beat Scotland I will, of course, be generous in victory. Should the unthinkable happen … well, I’m not thinking of it!

Of course, at the end of each game someone chooses the Man of the Match, the player who outshines everyone else.

The Bible tells of how God used prophets and others to try to get his message of love across but in the end needed Jesus to come and demonstrate that love by teaching, healing and ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The salvation of the world needed someone to reflect God’s glory and bear the imprint of God’s character. It needed God’s Man of the Match, living alongside us: modelling heaven’s love on earth and defeating death for all.

Oh, Cymru am byth, by the way!

‘Be on guard … be alert … and pray’

I rarely reproduce my sermons on here but I had so many positive responses to yesterday’s message that I felt I would. It was based on the Lectionary Gospel lesson for the day.

These are notes, rather than a full text and in places I deviated, so it may read in a stilted style here and there.

Luke 21:25-36
Jesus is talking to the disciples about Signs of the End of the Age and The Coming of the Son of Man
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29 He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Exhortation to Watch
34 ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’

‘Be on guard … be alert … and pray’
When our children Sian and Andrew were young – about 7 and 5 – we took them for a day plane spotting at Heathrow. In those days you could go to a viewing platform and spend a long time just watching the air traffic arriving and leaving.

We arrived to find dozens of people with banners all waiting for Michael Jackson to arrive. The camera crews were filming lookalikes, interviewing superfans and waiting for the moment when – sure enough – Jackson paused before driving away and looked up to the viewing platform and waved to the fans who screamed at the top of their voices as the moment they had been waiting for arrived.

They had arrived prepared and waiting for this moment. We were completely unprepared – taken totally by surprise.

Today’s Gospel reading is a reminder that we are waiting for something.

As Luke puts it: Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.

It’s particularly interesting now that Advent is timed to follow on after the added chaos of Black Friday, or as the signs in Romsey yesterday said “Black Friday weekend”!

It’s imported from America and the irony is that it’s a shopping frenzy initiated there on the day after everyone pauses to give thanks – supposedly to God. On Tuesday, as a counter to Black Friday, UMC supports Giving Tuesday, encouraging people to give to charities.
Supporters are urged to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

In 2014, more than $2.5 million was donated by US Methodists on #GivingTuesday. More than 770 projects and missionaries received more than 8,700 gifts. It was a global event, with people in 25 countries taking part.

For those who will listen, the first Sunday in Advent becomes a more crucial moment in every year – a theological pause before we get too engrossed in tinsel and turkey.

Each year the Lectionary refuses to let us dive straight into all the stuff of birth stories and instead focuses our attentions on the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew, the readings focus on the unpredictable timing of Christ’s return. Mark adds that all of nature will be in an uproar. Luke has all of this, plus the disturbance of the nations.

Every year, this week is specifically a reminder that our hope is in Christ. Much more appropriately this year, as we seem to be yet again in a period of history devoid of hope for so many people, you and I are the carriers of a message of great hope.

We don’t have to have many conversations to know that a number of people have given up all hope. How does Luke put it? “on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world”.

What is our message of hope? Well Fred Craddock in his commentary on Luke says it is important to understand how to read this section of the Gospel, written in a style called apocalyptic which means revelation, not doom-laden as popular culture so often understands it.

1    The coming of the Son of Man (vv25-28)
Jesus is telling people to be ready – to be prepared for the Second Coming. Of course the early disciples lived in the expectation that this would be almost immediate. Sadly we know that nations have been in anguish in almost every year of human history – but we still need to be ready.

2    The lesson of the fig tree (vv29-33)
The parable of the fig tree is a reminder to us that we need to have our spiritual antennae tuned to signals of where God is active – where the Kingdom of God is changing lives for the better; where we must join in.

3    Watch and pray at all times
Jesus stresses that the last thing the people of God must do is get weighed down by the pressures and anxieties of life. Watch and pray, watch and pray so that when Christ returns we are ready.

Fred Craddock says in his commentary that we need to understand that, in apocalyptic writing, the most crucial element is left to the end: so watch and pray at all times is Jesus’ urgent challenge.

We mustn’t minimise the weight of the news stories we hear each day but we mustn’t sink under them either. Every generation has faced moments that they believed signalled the end of Life as we know it – and some more imminent than we hear talked about today.

In each of those times, the Gospel call has been the same.

Watch and pray.

Share Jesus.

Be a people of Grace in a frequently grace-less world.

Break the little pieces

Sometimes those of us in church leadership feel ridiculous pressure to make huge breakthroughs in order to justify our existence.

There’s pressure from congregations who question whether we visit enough, are as good as the last person who did our job or have motivated enough people to take on crucial roles.

Often there’s a greater pressure from ourselves – our worst critics. The level of stress and sickness testifies to how difficult many leaders find it to be content that they are in the right place and operating in the right gear.

Last week, along with just under 600 other leaders, two wise preachers said two very simple things that helped enormously. It all came about as a few of us Methodists were invited to join the party with more than 500 leaders of the Pioneer Network gathered in Southampton.

Pete GreigThe conference kicked off with teaching from Pete Greig, founder of the 24/7 Prayer movement. He reminded us that when the voice of God was heard during the earthly ministry of Jesus it was to say: “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” It was repeated at the Transfiguration and then, when Jesus asked God to glorify his name during his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, God’s answer was: “I have.”

God’s unconditional love and affection for his children is all we need to know, he said and if our leadership flow out of any other place it is not truly Christian.

Alan PlattThe following day we heard from Alan Platt, leader of Doxa Deo a church which serves 30,000 people in ten sites in Tshwane (Pretoria, South Africa). Doxa Deo has campuses in nine cities across the world and is working with the Methodist congregation in Wimbledon.

Alan preached on the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 as told in Mark 6: 39-43

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.

He said quite a bit, but the part that really struck me was his pointing out that, once Jesus had broken the bread and fish so the disciples had some each, he left them to get on with it. As he put it, he didn’t create a stockpile for them to keep coming back to.

In other words, there was no miracle until the first disciple risked breaking the bread and fish and running out of supplies.

His challenge was: “break the little pieces”. Dare to get on with the task in hand. Don’t wait until the way ahead is crystal clear – exercise faith in the doing.

So, daring to break the little pieces because all I need to know is that I am someone God unconditionally loves is a pretty rich nugget to take away from two days that held much else.

IMG_1148The leaders from Ireland and Northern Ireland surrounded by dozens of others as they are prayed for during the morning worship.

Pioneer is a UK based ‘apostolic’ movement of churches and ministries founded in the mid-80s by Gerald Coates.

The invitations for up to 50 Methodists to be a part of the leaders’ conference came through Pioneer Connexion – the link between The Methodist Church and the Pioneer Network which began in 2010.

There isn’t a formal agreement or “covenant” between our churches, but exciting things are happening which you can read about on the website.

And the whole event took place in the former Methodist Central Hall in Southampton which has been sympathetically and magnificently brought up to date as a worship and conference venue by Pioneer.

The coming messenger

Winchester Cathedral cryptMy Methodist colleague Mandy Briggs has started an Advent project Advent Where I Am, which started on Advent Sunday and runs until at least Christmas Day. The idea is that group members can post pictures which capture what Advent means to them in their house, street, village, town, church, pub….anywhere!

You can post a picture every day as an Advent discipline or simply post when an image or scene catches your eye, adding a sentence explaining where it was taken and how it links to Advent for you.

Here’s my post for today:

The Coming Messenger

Malachi 3: 1 

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.


Platinum party

Jim Linwood's picture inside the cathedral.
Jim Linwood’s picture inside the cathedral.

This week I had the privilege of being able to premiere one of my hymns with a packed congregation at the stunning Coventry Cathedral.

We were there to celebrate the Platinum (70th) anniversary of Methodist Homes (MHA) and I had been asked to write a hymn to mark the event.

MHA is a charity providing care, accommodation and support services for older people throughout Britain.  Around 16,000 people are cared for:

5,000 older people living in care homes – residential, nursing and specialist dementia care;
2,000 older people living independently – in a range of purpose-built apartments with flexible support and personalised care
9,000 older people supported via live at home services in the community.

MHA’s mission is to improve the quality of life for older people, inspired by Christian concern.

The service included The Seven Ages of MHA – a trot through the organisation’s history – and a really appropriate sermon from their patron, Baroness the Revd Kathleen Richardson.

The service ended with singing the anniversary hymn and a cathedral full of Methodists singing to the tune Calon Lân is a great sound. I had been asked to provide a hymn that included recognition of MHA’s specialism – care of older people – but was a hymn of confidence in God. The text is:

Timeless God, you hold our story:

The old cathedral
The old cathedral
weave our dreams into your plan.
Make your Church a living witness
to the work that Christ began.
Come the day that love has conquered,
and the hosts of heaven sing,
may our lives on earth have echoed:
‘God is Lord and Christ is King’.
Gracious God, you offer wisdom
far beyond our human minds.
Yet you trust us, in our weakness,
to bring insight to the blind.
Come the day …
When our human powers falter
keep us focused on your call.
Strengthen us to share the message
of abundant life for all.
Come the day …
God eternal, hear our longing
to be heralds of your grace:
till Creation’s restless longing
finds its peace in your embrace.
Come the day …
Gareth Hill. Copyright © 2013 Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions Copycare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield TN22 1QG http://www.songsolutions.org

A heart of welcome at the heart of the Good News

Surf and fairly-traded coffee, Wesleyan history and cherry bakewells or a massive indoor skatepark with cans of drinks from a vending machine … I encountered three amazing ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus yesterday. On the face of it they were different, but their heart was identical.

I’ve had the privilege this week of being able to share some of Cornwall’s delights with Steve Swann, who’s coming to minister in the county in September. Yesterday was a day for travelling to three projects where the Methodist Church is leading the way.

The first stop was at The Tubestation in Polzeath. I’ve got to declare an interest as the “midwife”, I suppose you would say, who led the team which gave birth to this surf church. It’s always a joy to go back and relax in the chilled-out vibe of a place which I believe to be the most special church on the planet. As Steve, John (who came with us) and I chatted to Dave Matthews – the project’s spiritual director – I caught again the depth of love for community which underpins everything about Tubestation.



The latest development is Zeath Gallery, with paintings by members of the church community and others (above is Right by Ness Lannen), and some astonishing woodwork, including a pine cone which weighs a ton and a table which you would need to build a home around!!

In sheer numbers Tubestation is an astonishing success. From a congregation of six in 2001 to an Easter service with 300 now is an amazing God-blessed journey, but it’s the constant search for new ways of blessing the community that is the hallmark of its mission: not “are you saved” but “come and rest”.

From there we went to the tiny hamlet of Trewint and Wesley’s Cottage where John Wesley and his preachers were offered hospitality by a poor stonemason and his wife in the 1740s and later. As a result they preached and kept coming back and sharing the Gospel. Digory and Elizabeth Isbell, the couple, were so impressed by Wesley, that they provided two extra rooms for him to stay and preach. The cottage has been restored and one room is believed to be the smallest Methodist preaching place in the world.

When we arrived, John Hogarth the warden began by offering tea and cakes and then told us the history of the cottage, the “prophet’s chamber” built for Wesley and his preachers, and of the increased visitor numbers. Wesley Cottage is one of the places in Cornwall where heritage is being used to enhance 21st Century mission rather than simply look back to what used to be.


Our final visit was to an industrial estate at Launceston where the Methodist Circuit has backed The Unit, a massive indoor skatepark. We spoke to Sam and Simon, who live surrounded by noise and the chaos of skaters and bikers as they host this brilliant outreach initiative. The condition of use is that the youngsters have to stop for a 10-minute Bible study, delivered in down-to-earth language and using the Skater’s Bible – the New Testament in a modern translation. It was punchy, open and began with a clear welcome to everyone: we’re happy to have you here, God’s happy to see you here, enjoy being in this place.

As we drove home – thrilled with what we’d seen – the reflection wasn’t so much about the contemporary nature; though that was great at The Tubestation and The Unit. Because what held all three places together was the welcome they offered.

Surf and fairly-traded coffee, Wesleyan history and cherry bakewells or a massive indoor skatepark with cans of drinks from a vending machine … God is in the detail, his smile is in the handshake and the invitation to be yourself in his presence whether the place echoes with 250 years of preaching and prayer or a few months of acrylic paint and a hard hat.