Tag Archives: CMS

St. John’s, Neville’s Cross & St. Edmund’s, Bearpark: CMS Link Visit @ Durham: ‘A Perfect Little City’!

So said Bill Bryson, famous author and chancellor of Durham University – describing Durham as ‘a perfect little city’ and ‘one of the most beautiful little cities in the world’. So if Bill Bryson said it, then of course it must be true.  But hey, the people are great too – all smiling away!

This past weekend I was honoured to visit 2 churches in Durham, St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross and St. Edmund’s Church, Bearpark, and give a sermon in each. These are actually in 2 different benefices, and I have been linked with both for many years.  My last visit to St. John’s was in February 2015 (see that blog post here), my last visit to Bearpark was possibly 7 years ago.  Nevertheless, a very warm welcome awaited in each place!  I stayed with Mike and Nicky, who have each visited Taiwan in the past few years with daughter Harriet, they kindly provided meals, transport, advice, fun and friendship all weekend – ah, it was great!

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First to St. Edmund’s Church, Bearpark (see above photo) – an old coal mining village just 2 miles west of Durham. The mines ran from 1872 – 1984, there’s the miners’ banner hanging in the church, along with other memorabilia, also a list of all the men and boys killed in the mine.  Very sad, such dangerous work.

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We had 16 in the congregation on Sunday.  Special thanks to Joan, Enid, Pat and Susan who run many of the church events and activities at Bearpark – all faithfully serving God and the church there.  The salt of the earth, really wonderful ladies.  But all are worried about the future of Bearpark church, with decreasing numbers, an aging congregation and few young people ~ a challenge faced by many churches in the UK.  Pray for them.

The service on Sunday at 9:00 am was led by Rev Alan Bartlett, who is on the staff of the diocese but lives in the village – here he is with Mike, who kindly took me there….

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A quick cup of coffee with the congregation and off back to Durham to St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross (just 15 minutes from the centre of Durham). The church is filled with a great mix of interesting people, many involved in the university as students or academics, plus quite a few young people and a great leadership team.  This was the church on Sunday morning, with Nicky in front!

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Our first event of the weekend was actually a ‘bring and share’ supper on Saturday night, after which I shared my Taiwan power point.  Lovely to see many friends, old and new.  Rev. Barney Huish, the vicar, was also there, he’s the very youthful-looking one in the blue stripey jumper!

On Sunday morning, I gave the sermon at the 10:30 am service, followed by coffee and a small discussion group.  Great!  Delighted to welcome Stephanie who was my colleague many years ago in Heighington School and who has also visited Taiwan in recent years.  Also met Pat, whose husband Rev. Raymond Hay served for 3 months as chaplain to the English congregation at St. James’ Church, Taichung, Taiwan in 1998, only a year before I arrived there.  It’s a small world!  Sunday’s service was led by lay reader, Mike, and vicar, Barney, and Barney was very moved to receive one of Bishop Lai’s artillery shell crosses.  He put it on display for everyone to look at, and encouraged them all to light a candle and pray for peace.

On Monday I went to the church morning prayer service, and met my former teacher, Douglas who was in fine form (on the right below, next to Nicky).  In the middle is Abby, the St. John’s children’s worker, and tomorrow, off I go with her to do a school assembly.  There’s also Peter, retired priest from Spennymoor.  Really lovely people, all of ’em!

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So many many thanks to all in Durham for your warm welcomes, I really appreciate all your support over the years!  Durham is indeed a ‘perfect little city’ partly cos of all the friendly people, but it does help that they also have an amazing cathedral ~ this is the inside of Durham Cathedral, where we attended Choral Evensong on Sunday afternoon.  Check it out ~ it’s oh so beautiful!

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I love Durham, YES!

St. Thomas, Batley & Dewsbury Minster: CMS Link Visits @ God’s Own Country!

Yes, ‘God’s Own Country’ as they say about Yorkshire ~ and I just had a wonderful weekend visiting 2 of my very supportive CMS Link Churches in West Yorkshire.  As the locals know, you just can’t beat Yorkshire for anything!

The towns of Batley and Dewsbury are only about a mile apart, in a very hilly area, both are old mill towns, and both have large – and growing larger – Asian Muslim populations, mostly from one area of Pakistan.  Like many areas of the country, the churches are facing huge challenges of aging congregations and declining Sunday attendances.  The Anglican churches are now mostly working in town-wide team ministries, and both have new clergy (or at least new to me!) since I was last in the area.  Special thanks to Anne, lay reader from Dewsbury Minster who kindly welcomed me to stay with her over the weekend ~ this is us with Rev. Simon Cash…..

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First stop, St. Thomas, Batley, looking lovely in the autumn sunshine!

I last visited St. Thomas in April 2015 (see that blog post here), and this past weekend I joined them and gave the sermon for their 9:30 am service, led by the vicar, Rev. Martin Naylor.  Last weekend I was in Cornwall, visiting Joy, who is originally from St. Thomas, Batley ~ I had stayed with her in her Batley home on a previous link visit many many years ago, that’s how come we are friends!  I was delighted to see Gillian, one of my most delightful supporters, and Jeremy, churchwarden and lifelong member of St. Thomas.  Here we all are with Martin…

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Myra is also a special person, she also came along to hear me speak at St.Helen’s Church, Sandal only a few weeks ago.  She’s now heard my sermon twice, that’s true dedication!  And I must mention Mary, who arrives early to set up the church, and works hard to sell poppies for British Legion – she was wearing her beautiful poppy outfit of skirt, scarf and shirt all covered in poppies!  And John Walker, warden emeritus ~ ah, so many faithful members of the church were there, even though it was half term and everyone said that many of the younger ones were away.  Then, after the service, we had continental breakfast, yummy yummy!

Later that day, I visited Dewsbury Minster for their 6:30 pm combined evening service of Holy Communion – for all the churches in the team ministry. The church is right in the middle of town and looked lovely as I passed through in the sun at midday!

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My previous visit to Dewsbury Minster was in March 2015 (see that blog post here), and since then they have said goodbye to Rev. Kevin Partington, and welcomed Rev. Simon Cash.   Simon invited me to show some photos during my sermon, and they all gathered to pray for me afterwards.  Very touched.  And we had a choir and hand-bells and Holy Communion, and lots of beautiful music.  And it was all followed by refreshments.

In between visiting these 2 churches, Anne kindly took me to lunch with some Dewsbury Minster friends, and then she took us to visit the nearby Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield.  We were welcomed by Anne’s friend, Br. Philip who took us on a tour.  This was my first ever visit.  Quite an incredible place.  This is the chapel…

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And one of the altars…

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But back to the main purpose of the weekend, and thanks to all at St. Thomas and Dewsbury Minster for your warm welcome, and all the support and prayers over the many years we’ve been linked together.  It’s really appreciated.  Wonderful place, wonderful people.  God’s Own Country indeed!

Beautiful Beccles ~ CMS Link Visit No. 4 ~ YES!

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Beccles in Suffolk is not just beautiful, it’s also busy, though you wouldn’t think so if you looked at the roads at a weekend – all empty!  But relaxing in the restaurants, climbing up the tower, and out on the boats at the quayside, there were lots of people.  And this past weekend it was very blowy and blustery too ~ real hold-onto-yer-hats weather.  Ah yes, I love a bit of fresh air!

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Beccles is a charming old town (town sign photo above shows Queen Elizabeth I granting the town charter in 1584), full of quaint houses and lovely people, and this past Saturday the sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was perfect for a walk around: and so, welcome to beautiful Beccles!

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I’ve been supported by the Beccles Parish of St. Michael’s – that’s the church in town, and St. Luke’s on the outskirts, for many many years.  My previous visit to Beccles was in February 2015 (see that report and photos here), when it was very cold and instead of meeting in the church, we met in the nearby Waveney Centre, which overlooks the River Waveney, down below.  Great views of the river around the town, and boats all over…

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Beccles was once a river port, which explains why the church tower is built at the wrong end of the church, to stop it falling off a large cliff down near the river. The Beccles Bell Tower is 30 m (97 ft) tall, free-standing, and was sold to the district council for the price of one penny.  So the council own it and on Saturday it was open to the public, £2.50 entrance fee to climb the 120+ steps to see a glorious view over the town and river.

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St. Michael’s Church is a huge building, with large noticeboards of all their mission activities.  This church is VERY supportive of CMS!

Since my last visit, sadly, we’ve lost Guenever who was the former leader of the CMS mission support group, but we give thanks to God for her life and ministry over the years.  Her son, Philip was ordained a few years ago, and now serves in a parish not far from the town.  Since my last visit also, Beccles has a new vicar, Rev. Rich Henderson, who was once the curate, so I’ve known him for many years too. He is assisted by 3 (yes, three!) curates. Wonderful!  He also has a whole group of retired clergy living in Beccles who help out, and one lovely retired bishop, Gavin Reid, who was running the parish during the interregnum when I was last there.  One of the retired priests, Peter Langford has famously just completed the Lands End to John O’Groats cycle ride – aged 85, and it’s his 3rd trip, his first was to celebrate his 75th birthday, his second at 80, and now his third at 85.  His son kept a daily blog of the ride, see here.  Amazing!   This is Rich and Peter…

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Many thanks to Keith for his welcome and hospitality, and taking me around from place to place.  We started off on Saturday evening with a ‘bring-and-share’ evening at St. Luke’s Church, and I showed everyone my powerpoint about Taiwan.  What a great evening, and wonderful food!

On Sunday, I shared a little in an interview at the morning service at St. Michael’s Church.  The church is currently focusing on the theme of ‘Extravagant Welcome’ and has a sermon series on ‘Hospitality, Inclusivity and Diversity’.  So on Sunday, I also had the chance to hear a great sermon on Inclusivity from Ben, one of the curates.

This is Anne (below right, with me), a long-time and very faithful CMS supporter, who many years ago taught in Uganda; and Keith, and his double, Ray (below left) ~ and no they’re not related!

On Sunday evening, there was an informal and very moving service, and I gave the sermon. These lovely people who came along deserve a medal, some were hearing me speak for the third time in one weekend ~ and they were still smiling!

And on Monday, the sun long gone, replaced by drizzle and fog, and Keith led the way as I said goodbye to Beccles and we headed over to Norwich to join the Norwich CMS Prayer Group (kindly invited by Louise Wright, former CMS mission partner in DR Congo – in the middle below) ~ where I had the chance to share about what’s going on in Taiwan.  My first visit to that group – thanks to them all for their warm welcome and their great prayer support for CMS!

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So a big thank you to Rich and Keith ~ and all the great people of beautiful and very blustery Beccles.  I received a wonderful welcome from one and all, and am grateful for many many years of prayer and support for me and CMS.  Thanks be to Almighty God for providing such faithful supporters and friends.  And to finish, some of Keith’s plants that grace his garden – beautiful!

Oxford Vibes and more @ CMS-UK HQ!

Off to Oxford for 2 days ~ yippee!  Main purpose – to visit CMS Church Mission Society HQ today – to meet all the wonderful people who work there and share with them a little about life in Taiwan.  Oh, and to give them all a few smarties, glitter, bubbles – and fun.  After all there they are, working hard all day long.  Helping us.  Supporting us.  Always cheerful.  Always ready to stop their work and welcome visitors like me.  Ah yes, I’m so happy to visit them all 😊😊😊  – and this is the place, on the outskirts of Oxford….

But first a day of soaking up the Oxford Vibes….

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Yes, a whole day yesterday in that great city of learning, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ ~ Oxford!  What a city, what a university, and what glorious weather!

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I admit, I’m not an Oxford person.  I can’t recognise any college or building or landmark, haven’t got a clue what the colleges are, nor why they’re famous, other than just being part of Oxford University.  So all I can tell you is that the buildings and colleges are beautiful, and spires are many.  Spires and steeples and towers and gargoyles and churches and chapels everywhere.

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And amazing autumn trees…

And some street art, especially on the Cowley Road – this poem, ‘Slowly Slowly Cowley Road,’ by Steve Larkin…

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And I found a tower, belonging to the university church of St. Mary’s. It’s £4 to go up, and well worth it on a beautiful day.  Great views of the Radcliffe Camera and lots of colleges. Do as I did and tag along with people who know what they’re looking at!

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I spent hours walking the streets and looking at everything.  What a great city!

This is the area around Christ Church Cathedral, which is also the college chapel of Christ Church. £8 entrance fee, so I didn’t go in – too much else to see. And yes, there was a field of cows there too…

Came back along the Iffley Rd ~ Roger Bannister’s famous 4-minute mile was done here!

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Other scenes along the Iffley Rd, including the Mad Hatter Pub…

And The Oxford Blue….

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And so to CMS HQ today.  And it was quite some day. Non-stop action all day long. So many old friends and new, and lots to catch up on.  And photos to take.  Did a short talk about Taiwan at lunchtime.  And I was very well looked after for the whole day by Anne, who smiled all day long.  Ever cheerful.  The salt of the earth.  We all love her to bits.  Spot her in the photos below, we’re the ones in red!

These are all the great people who spent 30 minutes listening to me talking non-stop about Taiwan…. and they were still smiling at the end ~ YES!

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I presented CMS with an artillery shell cross from Bishop Lai and the Diocese of Taiwan, one for CMS, and one also for our CEO Philip Mounstephen as he leaves to become the new Bishop of Truro.  He wasn’t there today, so everyone else posed for a photo on his behalf instead!  Actually, Bishop Lai called me earlier this morning from Taiwan, and so I brought greetings from him to everyone at CMS.

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A big thank you to all those who made my visit to Oxford today really wonderful – including those in the CMS house where I was given a warm welcome.  And special thanks to all those in CMS HQ, these guys have been taking such good care of me all these years.  Y’know, CMS is a great group of people, and I love ’em to bits.  God is so good!

Sandal Parish, Wakefield ~ And what a great CMS Link Visit!

Setting the scene, ‘Welcome to Worship’ ~ with a beautiful photo of Yushan, Mt. Jade – Taiwan’s highest mountain…..

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And the sun was out at St. Helen’s Church, Sandal Magna, Wakefield, W. Yorks as I arrived on Saturday afternoon for my CMS Link Visit to the Parish of Sandal Magna – which also includes their daughter church of St. Paul’s, Walton ~ and it was quite some weekend!

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These lovely people have supported me and CMS (Church Mission Society) for many many years, since 1989 in fact, and every time I visit, they always roll out the red carpet!  What’s more, their vicar, Rev. Rupert Martin just loves art and the church is beautifully decorated with works of art ~ he also loves taking photos, so hey, worshiping there is just like in Taiwan – photos galore of smiling people!  Photos in fact of everybody except Rupert’s lovely wife, Sally (spot her in the distance in one photo only!) but she rarely stopped still long enough to have any photos taken ~ the vicarage cat, on the other hand, barely moved all weekend, and enjoyed the heat of the radiator ~ so, well there it is!

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My previous visit was on Advent Sunday 2014 (see that report here), when it was the 5th Sunday of November and we had a joint service at Walton on that occasion – while over at St. Helen’s, they had just opened the most beautiful Tree of Life Memorial Garden ~ and there are now many leaves added to the Tree of Life in memory of those who have died.  It is really stunning and so meaningful to have this memorial garden in the churchyard.

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First though, a visit to nearby Sandal Castle as the sun was just going down…

On Sunday, I did the sermon at both the 9:15 and 10:45 services at St. Helen’s….

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And I also gave Rupert one of Taiwan’s artillery shell crosses….

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And in-between the services there was coffee, and the second service was followed by their monthly baked potato lunch – so yummy!  I also visited Mavis in Walton, one of my dearest friends, she has been so faithful over the decades in her support – I gave her an artillery shell cross. She is the salt of the earth!

There’s about 200 people in total at St. Helen’s and St. Paul’s on any given Sunday, but about 2,000 who are reached through the week, via The Spring Shop and Cafe, the CAP (Christians Against Poverty) project, school assemblies and all the other outreach ministries.  Lots of exciting things going on!

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I loved staying at the vicarage all weekend, such a nice welcome ~ and on Sunday afternoon, we went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there were 2 interesting exhibitions, Guiseppe Penone, ‘A Tree in the Wood’

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and THE most beautiful exhibition in the chapel by a Japanese artist – from Osaka – Chiharu Shiota, ‘Beyond Time’ – I LOVE THIS!  Spot Sally and Rupert gazing upwards!

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So, thanks, and more thanks to all at St. Helen’s and Sandal Parish for such a warm welcome and for all their great support over the years, they are amazing!  Much appreciated.  Love them to bits!

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And thanks be to Almighty God for his many blessings, and such good friends and supporters around the country!

 

A Huge Big Welcome to Northern Ireland!

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Ah, Northern Ireland – such a very green and pleasant land, where it rains so much that all it has to do is stop raining and everyone is upbeat and happy. A grey, cloudy and overcast day might put the rest of the world off from venturing outside, but not in N. Ireland. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” they say all day long. And it always is! Y’know, you just can’t fail to be charmed by the people and their attitude to the weather – in fact to the whole of life. Everyone is, well, oh so polite, every car stops before you’ve even arrived at the zebra crossing to let you cross, they hold doors open or stand back to let you through first, they offer you their seat if you want to look out of the train window, they all say ‘good morning’ and they spend their days talking to their friends on the street or phoning each up for a chat. There is a quaintness about N. Ireland that is so charmingly old-fashioned that you just have to smile at how lovely they are.  And what a sense of humour they have too….

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Almost the first thing you hear on arrival in N. Ireland is how they haven’t got a government, but the last thing you see is any evidence of this fact. Everything works like it should. The trains and buses all run on time, and guess what, they even coordinate with each other. 😊 And N. Ireland people over 60 can travel on any bus or any train at any time to anywhere in N. Ireland completely free of charge, and at 65 they can do the same but all over the whole of Ireland too. This is really quite incredible. And all achieved without a government. Just imagine what the rest of the UK could do if they got rid of theirs!

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My good friends, John and Margaret are real N. Ireland people, and they kindly invited me to visit them in Coleraine for a few days. This was my 3rd visit to N. Ireland, the last one being in 2010-ish, also to visit John and Margaret, and on that trip they took me to Giant’s Causeway and other famous places. In 2005, I had taken some of my Taiwan friends to visit them when they were CMSI (Church Mission Society Ireland) mission partners in Kenya and we all had such a great time together.  Ah yes, Kenya features a lot in their house in Coleraine!

Before Kenya, John was vicar at Lisburn Cathedral for 17 years, so they were well-placed to answer my endless questions about N. Ireland – on culture, history, religion, faith and of course pronunciation and meaning of places like Cullybackey, Ballymoney, Ballybogey, Ballygalley and Knocknamuckley – and those are just the ones I can remember, there’s plenty more I don’t even know where to start.  As I traveled around, place names were many, but people were surprisingly few. So, if I saw a whole crowd, I just had to take a photo – just check this out, this is a rare sight in N. Ireland!

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Margaret took me to visit Coleraine Town. It’s a grey town and it was a grey day, so it all added to the atmosphere. But being almost the only tourist in sight that day, the Tourist Information lady was delighted to have someone to talk to about the history, and she was wonderful. Like a ray of sunshine breaking through the greyness. I learned all about ‘The Honourable The Irish Society’ who were a group of merchants in London who were sent to N. Ireland on the orders of James I to establish a settlement in the early 1600’s, they developed the town and also built the church, St. Patrick’s, although it was built on top of the foundations of an earlier church, dating back to the 14th century.

Needless to say, visiting Coleraine with Margaret was not the usual sightseeing tour. She knew most of the people we passed in the street, she took me into shops to meet her relatives who worked there, and of course when we got into the church, I was given a very warm welcome by more of her friends. Grey indeed outside, but inside, all was sunshine and warmth!

Later we drove out around the coast to Portstewart, Portrush and Dunluce Castle. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” said John all afternoon, smiling away. And it was!

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We spent a day in Derry / Londonderry – going by train around the coast. It didn’t rain then, either, and yes, it was great!

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My first visit to the famous city of Derry. Highly recommended. I’ve heard Derry described as ‘raw and beautiful’ and that kind of sums it all up. Very beautiful, with the most intact city walls of any city I’ve ever seen. A real walled city, full of history.

And in the walled city is the Church of Ireland (Anglican) St. Columb’s Cathedral, built between 1628-1633, the first post-Reformation Anglican church built in the British Isles and the first non-RC cathedral to be built in Western Europe…

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There’s a stained glass window in the church commemorating the life of Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), who was wife of Archbishop William Alexander of Derry. She wrote many famous hymns there, including ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away, outside the city walls’, the latter thought to have been inspired by the hills of the Derry, which are indeed outside the city walls…

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But Derry was severely affected by ‘The Troubles’. The conflict is widely considered to have begun in the city, with many regarding the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 as the beginning. Bogside is a majority Catholic / Irish republican area, and shares a border with the Protestant / Ulster loyalist enclave of the Fountain. From the city walls we could see both.

The ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident of 1972, when 14 protesters were killed by the British army, also occurred in the Bogside area of Derry, commemorated in this mural.

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The Bogside Murals are famous, virtually all political rather than great works of art, and I spent ages taking photos of them all; they also mark the spots where many of the killings took place. This is the ‘raw’ side of Derry, raw, bleak and poignant. Many of the posters comment on the current political impasse and urge the leaders to get moving on settling the disputes….

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These days, tourists like me come to take photos of the wall murals, slogans and flags, described in this article here as ‘showrooms of ethnic antagonism’.  Sadly, centuries of mistrust and bitterness are ingrained in the hearts of the people on both sides. Despite the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, society is still deeply divided. Geographically divided by public housing policies and educational practices, there are few opportunities for people to have meaningful contact with the other side. The 2 communities are close-knit, parochial, almost tribal ~ effectively living separate but parallel lives.

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Certainly the churches are very divided. Church buildings are everywhere in N. Ireland, apparently there are 26 in Coleraine alone, many the result of breaking away from one of the others. Current issues in society – of abortion and same-sex marriage – have actually brought the churches closer together. But as John says, when it comes to N. Ireland Christianity, the Protestant Churches have placed way too much focus on the ‘way in’ and not nearly enough on the ‘way on’. The Christian faith has to be lived out day by day and while the churches argue and divide over doctrine, Brexit is on the horizon, secularism is on the rise and the church risks being side-lined, as is happening in England. N. Ireland has a long way to go. Prayer is needed!

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On Thursday, we went to Belfast. I like the red-bricked buildings of Queen’s University…

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we also visited the botanic gardens…

and the Ulster Museum…

Then we walked down to the city centre along Sandy Row, traditionally a staunchly loyalist, predominantly Protestant, working-class area of Belfast. The huge wall mural at the entrance to the street commemorates King William III of England who travelled along Sandy Row with his troops on his way south to fight at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a defining moment in Irish history that ultimately ensured Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and is commemorated on July 12 each year by the Orange Order with huge parades and bonfires. Pictures and flags of the queen, union jacks and slogans of support for Britain are everywhere. It is all really quite surreal. One thing is certain, 4 days in N. Ireland isn’t anywhere near enough to even scrape the surface in understanding the complex situation that is Northern Ireland today.

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And on into Belfast City Centre – to the city hall and around about.  Not enough time to go everywhere ~ still we saw a little of this great city!

The sign said, ‘Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what is for lunch’ 😊 And so we went off to meet my old friend, Ali and her husband, Chris – for lunch. Once upon a time, Ali and I taught together in Mwanza, Tanzania; now she lives in Newtonards, where Chris is the vicar. Her accent sounds really Irish to me, but all the locals say she sounds very English. Actually she’s from Suffolk!

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A very very huge thank you to John and Margaret for their wonderful welcome and amazing hospitality, and to Ali and Chris and all the lovely people of N. Ireland too for their warm welcome. Sorry not to be able to visit everybody I would have liked to – ah, next time, next time!  And next time for shopping too….

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And on Thursday afternoon, on our way back to Coleraine, finally, it rained. Ah, rain at last! I’d been in N. Ireland for 4 days, and saw no actual rain until my final day. All 5 minutes of it, enough for cars to use their windscreen wipers. John was delighted, “so finally you can see some real Irish rain!” YES!  A trip to N. Ireland is not complete without some wet stuff to make you feel welcome. So they say, anyway. 😊😊

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Goodbye N. Ireland – until next time.  And so to Belfast Airport this morning for my short flight back to Manchester.

Ah it was fun trip ~ I just LOVE Northern Ireland!

Welcome to East Anglia!

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East Anglia is a land of big skies. They go on forever, and change colour frequently at this time of year as an orange sunrise gives way to blue skies ~ that change to grey to black, and the storm clouds come, the rain pours down and then the sun comes out, leaving rainbows and white fluffy clouds. Never boring, in fact I spent half of the weekend chasing skies of different colours all over everywhere!

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At this time of year, the fields are full of sugar beet – or corn stalks after the harvest, or green grass of the common land, being grazed by a few friendly horses.  Cows too, nearby…

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The village of Mellis in north Suffolk is one of my CMS Link Churches, and I’ve just been staying there for the weekend. Actually it’s part of the benefice now called South Hartismere, and one of 4 parishes that my father took care of as vicar, way back in the 9 years before he retired in 1996. These days there are 8 parishes, wonderfully taken care of by Rev. Julia Lall, and they’ve been supporting me for many years. On previous visits, I’ve always stayed with Julia, churchwarden of Thornham Magna, but this time, I’ve had the honour of staying with the churchwarden of Mellis, Betty and her husband, David. So hospitable and welcoming. Even the cats love to share their space with visitors. Thank you!  This is Betty lighting the candles in the church, ready for the service, with the church teddy bear, Fr. Ted all ready too…

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Mellis is very unusual, in that central to the village is a huge unfenced common, and virtually all the houses are built around the edges of the common. Most are hidden behind hedges and hard to find, with just the roofs peeping out above the trees, many of them thatched. This being Suffolk, lots of the houses are pink. Suffolk is famous for its pink houses, due to the whitewash traditionally being mixed with oxblood – as a binding agent, or maybe to ward off evil spirits, or both.  These two are actually in the neighbouring village of Thornham Magna ~ the left photo is of the Four Horseshoes…

Also peeping out behind the trees on the edge of Mellis common is St. Mary’s Church. This area has lots of churches dedicated to St. Mary.  The church took ages to find, despite lots of signposts to ‘St. Mary’s Church’! Eventually I found it hiding behind the trees, and on Sunday at 10:30 am, it was the Mellis Harvest Festival – in the pouring rain, which stopped mid-afternoon, and the sun came out. But the church looked stunning anyway. We had a lovely service, with children from the local school and over 40 people there. I did the talk and there was sherry on offer afterwards. Sherry!

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Earlier on the Sunday morning, I also preached at the 8:30 am communion service at Thornham Magna, (also St. Mary’s, but Mary Magdalene) led by the vicar, Julia. I presented her with an artillery shell cross from Taiwan, also one for lay reader Jean, in honour of it being the 50th anniversary next year of women first becoming lay readers. These ladies are doing a great job in rural Suffolk!

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Thornham Parva is not far away, the church is really incredible – and very famous, due to its thatched roof, and the retable inside. And of course, surprise, surprise, it’s also dedicated to St. Mary…

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And finally there’s Gislingham Church, yes, another St. Mary. This one was closed for repairs. Gislingham is the largest village in the immediate area.

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The telephone boxes of this area are interesting, the one at Mellis is now all stained glass showing local nature scenes, while the one at Thornham Magna is a bookswap…

And just up the road, in the neighbouring benefice of North Hartismere is my good friend, Adrian Watkins, he’s been vicar there for the last 3 years, based at Oakley.  Adrian was one of our favourite regional managers at Church Mission Society (CMS) in London and then Oxford, but then he left for theological training. Really miss him at CMS. So I just had to visit him. What’s more, he’s a successor to Rev. Christopher Idle, who was vicar at Oakley and some of the other churches in the area – and whose 80th birthday party and book launch I had attended last weekend in London. Gosh, it’s a small world! Adrian has a very large rectory and a very small dog. Quite some contrast. And he has lots of special hens and guinea fowl with all sorts of unusual names. And y’know what, his church at Oakley is not (repeat, not!) dedicated to St. Mary. St. Nicholas, in fact. Yippee!

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And what else? Well, a visit to northern Suffolk would not be complete without a visit to Norwich, so that was where I went on Friday on my way to Mellis. Actually Suffolk is in the Diocese of Edmundsbury and Ipswich, but Norwich is, well, THE place to go. I went first to visit a friend, then down to Norwich Cathedral. It’s quite a place. Free to get in, suggested donation of £5. A bargain, guys! There’s a labyrinth in the cloisters, 3 beautiful modern windows and an amazing font kind of made of a chocolate machine (yes, true!), and the most stunning glass door to St. Catherine’s Chapel, with words from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets engraved on the door. Not easy to photograph, but well worth seeing. Must visit! And one day I hope they’ll offer tower / steeple tours like lots of other cathedrals. I just love tower tours!

There’s plenty of other stuff in Norwich. Nearby is Mother Julian’s cell in a church. I went to check it out, but let me be honest, I didn’t like it, so there’s no photos to show you.  But I can highly recommend visiting Colchester, where I was visiting my good friends, Shelagh and Richard, for 2 days, in-between visiting London and Suffolk. The day we visited the town it was dull and a bit wet, but there’s tons of old Roman stuff to see, the castle and the walls and a huge number of churches. Some have been converted to music centres and theatres, but the most interesting was St. Helen’s Chapel which was built in the grounds of the Roman theatre, possibly by King Offa in the 8th century, then restored by the Normans in 1076, and these days is used as the town’s Greek Orthodox Church, with an amazing icon of St. Helen of Colchester, the town’s patron saint – she was mother of Constantine.  It’s a real surprise to enter the church and see what’s inside!

So a wonderful time had in East Anglia. Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome. This was the view as I left the area yesterday heading for the flatter lands of the fens. But hoping to be back in East Anglia in a few weeks time – for Part 2!

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