Friday, 29 February 2008


‘Mystery worshippers’ could soon be visiting churches to evaluate the effectiveness of their outreach and welcome. Following a successful trial in the Midlands, researchers are now looking at developing a resource which would see non-church-going professional researchers secretly visit churches to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The research trial was organised by Christian Research and Christian Resources Exhibition to highlight areas where churches are doing well, and to identify how they can better meet people’s needs. Christian Research is conducting further research into the costs involved and predicted that a national programme could be in place from May.

Source: The Baptist Times (28/2)

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Methodist delight at decision to drop the supercasino

I am very relieved to hear that there will be no supercasino built, especially in Manchester, which has enough temptations for the young and those who are easily led. Even without a supercasino, a young man whom I know is still struggling to cope after getting into terrible debt through gambling in that city. As always, the Methodist Church warns people, especially the young, to avoid gambling. This is part of its recent official statement:-

"The Methodist Church welcomes today’s Government announcement that they will not grant a supercasino licence. Proposals for supercasinos, also known as regional casinos, have been strongly opposed by The Methodist Church.

"Alison Jackson, Team Leader for Public Issues in the Methodist Church, said “we are delighted to hear that the Government is not intending to grant a licence for a supercasino. We are pleased that the Government has listened to reason and decided against building a massive gambling complex with unlimited jackpot fruit machines in a deprived area. The Methodist Church calls on the Government to support other ways of regenerating those communities most in need.”

"The Methodist Church will continue to monitor the impact of the 16 new large and small casinos that will now open as planned. The Church will keep pressure on the government and the industry to do all they can to protect players and support people who have a gambling problem."

Monday, 25 February 2008


I have been asked to invite others to join the (at present small) team of stewards for

The Stewarding coordinator writes - "If you know of any one else who might be available to Steward please let me know. I might be able to work a deal if needed."

He can be contacted on


May I draw your attention to the following post copied, as requested, from Tony Miles' blog Maybe2day concerning 'searching for values in the New Media environment'.
Tony is on the planning committee for the Churches' Media Conference. He writes:-

"The digital revolution has arrived. IPTV, social networking, blogging, gaming and mobile technology are changing all the rules. New platforms create new possibilities. Fresh expectations from audiences demand new ways of working from producers and communicators.

"This year’s Churches’ Media Conference will equip you to find your way through the digital jungle. There will be keynote sessions on convergence, media ethics, social networking, new initiatives in faith broadcasting.

"We will also have challenging questions to face; who is setting the values agenda for tomorrow’s media? Does Public Service Broadcasting mean anything in the new media environment? Is Religious Broadcasting coming to an end - or is it ripe for transformation?
Thankfully we have an outstanding range of contributors to help us. They include senior programme-makers like former Newsnight editor Tim Gardam, technology experts like the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones, and leading thinkers like David Wilkinson, James Hanvey, Julian Baggini and Bishop Nick Baines.

"We’ve also created even better opportunities to meet and work with colleagues from your particular media sector.

"Of course there will also be time to network and relax. I’m delighted that BBC Radio 4’s Milton Jones will with us. I truly believe he may be the funniest man in Britain.

"The conference will take place from Monday 9th - Wednesday 11th June 2008 at the Hayes Conference Centre, Derbyshire. For more information about the conference and to book your place please click here

"If you don’t have a password just register on the site.

"The Churches’ Media Conference 2008 provides a unique opportunity for media professionals and faith leaders to engage in a lively debate about the challenges of the digital future. Please would you help us get the word out by forwarding this email to anyone you know who may be interested in joining us."

Sunday, 24 February 2008

'In the midst of life ......'

This evening I waited for a friend to come in his car to pick me up to go to evening worship together - and I waited...... He is usually so punctual that I decided that he must have told me that he wouldn't be coming tonight and, as time was getting on, I called a taxi.

I have just had a phone call from my Minister to tell me that our friend passed away suddenly at 3.30 this afternoon! He was in church this morning, looking very well and singing lustily in all the hymns (as he always did), so we are all very shocked to hear this sad news - sad for us who will miss him, but a wonderful way to go for him.

It will be a dreadful shock for his daughter and her husband (who since September, newly returned from Kenya where they were Mission Partners, has been the Minister of our Tilehurst Church) and his young grandchildren who are all away on holiday at present.

All in all it has been quite a Sunday! This morning's congregation included a former Deacon and his wife and a couple who (with their family) were stalwarts of the church years ago before they moved to the West Country. I said to them 'It must be 40 years since I had your children in Sunday School' and got the reply 'More than that!' Two of the 'children', married by now, are living in America and Cyprus! There were also a number of people who needed to talk about their own health problems or those of their family, so the after-service coffee time was the busiest I've been for some time.

So it has been a Sunday in which I have experienced most of the emotions!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

BBC1's 'The Passion'

BBC1's The Passion is expected to make a huge national impact.

The Passion series which tells the story of the last week of Jesus' life, his trial and crucifixion starts on Palm Sunday 16 March and will be scheduled in peak time on BBC1. It is likely to attract audiences in excess of 10 million. The last episode, to be broadcast on Easter Sunday 23 March, dramatises Jesus' post-resurrection appearances.

Andrew Graystone, Director of the Churches' Media Council, was profoundly moved by early versions of the series. "This is an extremely vivid piece of drama. You feel you are right there, in amongst the Passover crowds, alongside the disciples as Jesus comes out with these simple but earth-shattering messages. And then of course, he's taken away and makes the ultimate sacrifice, and like the disciples, you're left to decide what you are going to do about it."

A multi-denominational group convened by the Churches' Media Council launched a website to provide resources and information about the series. The group is encouraging the Christian community to seize this "golden opportunity to contribute to a contemporary public discussion about Jesus." Christian leaders have been invited to a preview screening of the series. Meanwhile, a panel of speakers has been formed to contribute to national press, radio and TV discussions.

The Passion website has ideas to help local churches prepare for the series and can be found at:

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Treasures of Darkness

On Tuesday I went to Sarum College, Salisbury, for the penultimate day of the course on spirituality that I am studying there. It is entitled 'The Heart of the Divine' and has been taking us on a spiritual journey which began with the Desert Fathers of the 4th Century (which left a deep impression on me). Since then it has helped us to experience many different forms of worship through the study of the spiritual life of Christians through the ages since then.

Our day always begins with a short but important session in small groups each with one of the tutors. In our group, the tutor encourages us to sum up our own personal spiritual journey in the weeks since we last met. We have come to value this means of grace in which there is a real deep sharing of the way in which what we have been learning has permeated and anchored our lives.

This week we began with a lecture on 'The Cloud of the Unknowing' and Dame Julian of Norwich, though there was so much about 'The Cloud' that we were left eagerly wanting to know more about Julian of Norwich. We were encouraged to satisfy our hunger by reading the books (on both subjects) listed for us. The next lecture was entitled 'The Harvest of Life' and dealt with the spirituality of ageing. By listing the pluses and minuses of ageing, our tutor creatively led us to evaluate all life's experiences so that our spirtuality can deepen with age.

Next came 'Worship in the Dark Night Tradition' in the College Chapel, focussing on 'It is your face, Lord, that I seek'. Our worship began and ended with our singing 'I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.' Our prayers had a response 'Lord, show us the riches in the divine darkness beyond our knowing.' I found this worship a very moving experience, which was summed up by the poem 'The Dark Night' by St. John of the Cross in which he uses the image of darkness to express an experience of God which cannot truly be grasped by our human senses or through the limitations of human language -

1. One dark night
Fired with love's urgent longings
Ah the sheer grace
In the darkness
I went out unseen
My house being all now still

2. In the darkness
Secured by love's secret ladder
Disguised oh the sheer grace
In the darkness
And in my concealment
My house being all now still

3. On that glad night
In the secret, for no one saw me
Nor did I see any other thing at all
With no other light to guide me
Than the light burning in my heart

4. And this light guided me more surely
Than the light of the noon
To where he lay waiting for me
Him I knew so well
In a place where no one else appeared

5. Oh guiding night
A light more lovely than the dawn
A night that has united
Ever now the Lover with his beloved
Transforming two now into one

6. Upon my flowering breast
There he lay sleeping
Which I kept for him alone
And I embraced him
And I caressed him
In a breeze blowing from the forest

7. And when this breeze blew in from the forest
Blowing back our hair
He wounded my soul with his gentle hand
Suspending all my senses

8. Laying my face on my Beloved
All things ceasing
I went out from myself
To leave my cares forgotten
With the lilies of the field

[If you haven't read it, I urge you to read John Hall's book 'In the Beginning there was darkness' which, in a different way, helps the reader to experience the treasures of darkness.]

Our day ended with the experience of Quaker Worship Sharing, followed by an open session in which we discussed our reactons to what we had learned that day.

A Franciscan Benediction

Over on his blog Maybe2day Tony Miles has posted a Franciscan Benediction that is well worth looking up and pondering. I do hope you will take the time to visit his blog at .

The Poor need both Fishing Rods and Fishing Skills - HCM City (4)

Existing subsidy policies have turned out to be inadequate to assist the nation’s poor on the threshold of the Lunar New Year.

Price hikes are hitting them in the stomach and more action is needed to assist to improve their lot. In recent days, dizzying price spikes in rice and meat have nearly doubled the cost of these two essential Tet items since last year. The price of gold has not even surged this much. Several enterprises have offered meager Tet perks for their staff, ranging from VND50,000 to VND100,000 (US$3.20-$6.20). Such small incentives are not even enough to buy a kilogram of pork, which has reached up to VND70,000 as Tet approaches. Unjust bonuses have resulted in disgruntled workers going on massive strikes as their families tighten their belts for Tet.

In recent days, Thanh Nien and other newspapers and organizations have traveled to remote areas across Vietnam to donate gifts to poor families. But such kindness does not do much to lift them out of grinding poverty.

More action is, therefore, needed. Programs to help the poor could include setting up credit funds and providing free vocational centers. To help realize the goal of helping the poor rise out of poverty, Vietnam’s youth has turned out to be an efficient task force. It is essential that youth unions bolster their engagement in this regard to equip the poor with both fishing rods and fishing skills.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Welcome to the Year of the Rat - HCM City (3)

You will see that this was written just before Tet (New Year)

HCM CITY — Viet Nam Television and HCM City Television will broadcast live celebrations from Ha Noi and HCM City on Lunar New Year’s Eve tonight, 6th February, to welcome the Year of the Rat.

In the heart of Ha Noi, Sword Lake – A Shining Gem programme that will be the highlight of the city’s festivities. Ngoc Son Temple and Sword Lake will be lit up and alive with video performances by French architect Alain Hubert. This is the first time a French architect has been responsible for a light show in Ha Noi. Hubert had done a display in the Hue festivals. A light show will go on for 30 minutes accompanied by a special concert with violinist Bui Cong Duy, pianist Trinh Huong and other popular singers. Two ao dai (traditional dress) collections by famous designers Quang Huy and Minh Hanh will be exhibited at the The Huc Bridge.

In Ho Chi Minh City, a huge concert will take place on Nguyen Hue Boulevard from 9pm on New Year’s Eve, along with a laser light show and a clock count-down. The performance will be in three parts: Songs for Spring Flowers, Tet and Motherland, New Spring and More Prosperity. At midnight, 12 artists in animal costumes, one for each of the oriental zodiac years, will perform a show to bid farewell to the Year of the Pig and to welcome the Year of the Rat.

All show spaces will be covered by paper flowers and fireworks at midnight. Meanwhile, other activities have been organised on Nguyen Hue Boulevard and parks throughout the city. At Youth Palace, activities to celebrate Lunar New Year were opened before Tet for migrant workers and students who will not be able to visit their families. Street fairs for old scholarly teachers to paint calligraphy, and others to sell souvenirs and photographs and a newspaper exhibition have been held. The festivities at the Youth Palace will continue over Tet with traditional Guinness record activities, music concerts, human chess, comedy party and traditional martial arts.

As usual, Spring Flower Festival will open at Tao Dan Park with more than 6,000 decorative plants and ornamental animals, along with stone art. There will be contests for flower arranging and ornamental birds. Dam Sen, Suoi Tien, Binh Quoi, Tan Cang and Van Thanh Tourism parks will offer more fun for visitors with artistic performances for the whole Tet festival. —VNS

The Other Side of the Picture - HCM City (2)

As in all large cities, there is always another side to the picture which should never be forgotten. While we rejoice to hear of the progress made in Ho Chi Minh City in the last year, we must continue to pray and work so that the poor can share in the prodperity. The report continues:-

"But the poor feel pinch

If Tet (New Year) is a time to splurge and make merry with tables overflowing with food and gift-giving for some, it’s another reminder of what it means to be poor for others.

A soy milk vendor on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street named Suong is feeling the pinch. She spent half a day bargaining for candied fruits and melon seeds to put on her ancestral altar on the first day of the year. Having had to spend VND200,000, Suong said this is the most expensive Tet for her. On top of the fact that prices are always more expensive around Tet, inflation has created a double whammy for her pocketbook.

At the candy and preserves stall at Binh Tay Market, a middle-aged customer bemoaned, "Last week I bought a kilogram of candied coconut with VND35,000. Now the price is nearly double." A retired civil servant in District 6 said she decided to shop at Binh Tay Market because its prices were still lower than those at other markets. "I shopped at three markets. One kilogram of candied ginger at An Dong Market was VND60,000. Ben Thanh Market sold it for VND70,000 while the price at Binh Tay Market was VND45,000," she said. "With such high prices, I bought little to celebrate a simple holiday."

Trinh Quoc Tuan, a resident of Tan Binh District, had to be particularly price conscious as well. Shopping at Big C Supermarket, Tuan spent around VND100,000 to buy a dozen packages of instant noodle and fresh milk for his two children.
With a monthly salary of VND1.5 million, the Tet bonus equal to one month’s earnings was a significant addition to the household income. Still, he set aside only VND300,000 to buy clothes and food for the children.

Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, head of Ben Thanh Market management board, said the prices of all goods had increased by 10 to 30 per cent. Up to 70 per cent of retailers were selling at higher prices.

Speaking at last week’s meeting to mark the 40th anniversary of Tet Mau Than 1968 general offensive and uprising, the city’s Party Secretary Le Thanh Hai said this year the city would strive to make higher and sustainable econmic growth, create a significant change in the quality, competitiveness and efficiency of products and services, improve local residents’ quality of life, and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. — VNS"

Thursday, 14 February 2008

City bids fond farewell to Year of the Pig (06-02-2008)

I thought you might all like to share reading this press report sent to me by my daughter who lives and works in Viet Nam. It is good to learn of the relative prosperity that this vibrant City is experiencing, even though there is a continuing need for the charity set up in memory of my husband to help girls (who previously could only earn a living by selling toast, etc., on the streets) by training them as skilled hairdressers and manicurists. I will have to split up this report because of its length but I hope you will find it as interesting as I do:-

"2007 was a year of robust development and growing prosperity for the nation’s largest city.HO CHI MINH CITY — Downtown HCM City is overflowing with locals and foreigners streaming in to enjoy the tree-lined streets decorated with lanterns, decorative balloons, flower displays and terra-cotta figures of the rat, the zodiac animal this lunar new year.

Markets and supermarkets were still overcrowded with shoppers hastily stocking up on food, fruit and clothes bought with last-minute Tet work bonuses. "During the last two weeks, sales of goods at our supermarket chains have increased by 40 to 50 per cent," says a manager of a Co-op mart store. The city of 8 million is celebrating the end of a record economic year, which had a growth rate of 12.6 per cent, the highest in the last ten years, despite various challenges brought by globalisation."That figure makes up 21 per cent of the nation’s GDP," said Le Hoang Quan, chairman of the city People’s Committee at a meeting with overseas Vietnamese who have returned for Tet (the Vietnamese New Year).

According to the chairman, the year of the Pig was a good year for the city. It recorded a high growth rate in foreign investment, banking and finance, telecommunications, tourism and logistics. Politburo member and City Party Secretary Le Thanh Hai said the number of poor households that have an average annual income of under VND 6 million only account for 1.8 per cent of the local population. "That fact shows that the city’s economic restructuring process is going in the right direction, especially during the first year Viet Nam became a member of the World Trade Organisation," Quan said.The country’s economic pacesetter is leading the country in terms of FDI with US$2.8 billion invested last year, representing an increase of 27.5 per cent. Banks processed remittances from overseas Vietnamese worth $4 billion last year. Some 2.7 million foreign visitors came to the southern economic hub last year", Quan said.

After two decades of Doi Moi, economic development in this southern business hub is seen everywhere with private cars streaming down the streets, such as expensive Lexus 460L, Audi Q7, Porsches Cayens and Mercedes-Benz models.Earlier this month, a female entrepreneur was featured front-page in the local press as she paid VND13 billion in taxes for her imported Rolls-Royce Phantom model 2008 that she had ordered in London at a price of $500,000. Duong Thi Bach Diep, the director of the Diep Bach Duong Real Estate Company Ltd., also reportedly owns three of BMW’s latest models.

With last year’s average per capita income of $2,180, HCM City was seen as a promising land for many people who came from other localities across the country to find a better paying job. But life was harder than they expected as they had to struggle to pay for basic necessities with low salaries paid by employers at the labour-intensive factories in the southern industrial parks.Although the economic boom of recent years has brought positive changes for many local residents, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing at an exponential rate.

While many families can afford to buy material goods such as expensive high-end audio systems and large LCD television sets, not a few families still have to earn their daily bread by doing odd jobs like selling fruits and cookies and lotteries tickets on the streets. For Tet, many migrant workers at industrial parks could get only a meager bonus of VND100,000 and VND500,000 while the highest Tet bonus is reportedly VND240 million at some companies. The rich and the famous such as Duong Thi Bach Diep are rare in a developing country where the number of households that can spend between VND300 million and 400 million per annum on goods, makes up 20 to 30 per cent of the city’s total population.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

£30,000 to support flood victims in Southern Africa

The Methodist Church in Great Britain is sending a solidarity grant of £30,000 to Methodist Churches in Southern Africa to provide support for flood victims.

Flooding of the River Zambezi has destroyed homes, submerged crops and left thousands of people in Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in desperate need of help. Many have been made homeless and there are widespread outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Children in affected areas are no longer able to receive education and more than 80% of crops have been washed away.

Kevin Fray, World Church Officer for Africa, says; ‘Many are aware of the desperate levels of poverty and deprivation that already exist in this area of the world, and the flooding has only made this worse. Those who already faced difficult circumstances in their day to day lives have seen their homes and livelihoods swept away. We hope that this grant goes some way toward alleviating their suffering.’

The churches will use the money to provide shelter, food, clean water, clothing and other types of support for those whose lives have been devastated by the flooding.

Source: 11/01/08

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Appeal for funds for Kenya crisis

The Methodist Church and Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) have confirmed the initial amounts of financial aid they are sending to Kenya to support those suffering as a result of the ongoing conflict.

MRDF is sending £6,300 directly to local partner RCDG, based in Nairobi’s Kibera slum district, one of the areas worst affected by the post-election violence.

Samantha Tuck, East Africa Programme Officer at MRDF, explains “A major concern is that those on anti-retroviral treatment for HIV can’t get to clinics for drugs. They have to take those drugs with food, but cannot get that either. RCDG is ideally placed to deliver direct assistance to some of the most vulnerable and seriously affected people. With an MRDF humanitarian grant they will get medical care, food and bedding to 200 members of the community. We are pleased to have their help in channelling funds straight to where they are most needed.”

Further MRDF response will be made through ACT International, which is providing survival essentials for displaced people living in camps.

The Methodist Church in Kenya has called for £25,000 to help them support those suffering because of the widespread violence. The Methodist Church in Britain is sending £10,000 straight away, but is appealing for donations to cover the remaining need.

Kevin Fray, World Church Africa Secretary, says; “The situation in Kenya is very hard to comprehend, but what we do know is that people are in desperate need of shelter and aid. At the moment, the best support we in Britain can offer is through our prayers and donations.”

Donations to MRDF’s appeal for RCDG and ACT International can be made by credit card on 020 7224 4814, or by cheque, payable to “MRDF (Kenya emergency)”, posted to MRDF, Methodist Church House, 25 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 6JR.

Donations to the Methodist Church’s appeal for the Methodist Church in Kenya can be made at

Taxpayers are encouraged to Gift Aid their donations where possible, adding a value of 28p on to every pound they give, at no extra personal cost.

'Meals with Jesus'

Further to my post suggesting alternatives to the summer evening services at our church, I have just received details of a new course from Focus Radio entitled 'Meals with Jesus'.

The meals Jesus eats with different people play a vital role in the unfolding story in Luke's gospel. They're important because of who he eats with - often the social misfits, the outcasts, and the religiously unacceptable members of society. Jesus' meals are also important because they point forward to the future great feast in God's kingdom.

This new course from Focus Radio explores the meals people have with jesus in Luke;s gospel and how they affect us today -

In Levi's home (Luke 5. 27-32)
In Simon's home (Luke 7.36-50)
In Mary and Martha's home (Luke 10.38-42)
In a pharisee's home (Luke 11.37-53)
In another pharisee's home (Luke 14.1-24)
In Zacchaeus' home (Luke 19.1-10)
In a home in Jerusalem (Luke 22.7-38In a home in Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35)

Each session includes -
Discussion starters
A passage from Luke's Gospel to study
Real life applications
Something to do after the session
Ideas to help you go deeper.

'Meals with Jesus' is available free of charge as a digital download from but you will need to register with their website.