Millbrook Methodist Church, Millbrook, Cornwall

Monthly Message

JULY 2012

Dear Friends...

I am beginning to reflect on my eleven years in the Plymouth and Devonport Methodist Circuit. The process of my arrival began in September 2000 when I asked for permission to move from the Inverness Circuit where I was serving as superintendent minister of the largest Methodist Church in Scotland. That autumn, I was earmarked for a preaching centre in North London but to our disappointment, when we went to look, we knew it would not be the right place for us. This meant that we had to wait until the New Year to be allocated a place. I was invited to be minister within the circuit and began my time as minister of four churches at Woodford, Compton, Wotter and Chaddlewood.

I have shared with many of you before how I felt that it had always been important to me to be reasonably accessible to my roots in Devonport. Janet also has family in Herefordshire so it is important to be able to get there easily too. Geographically, Inverness was about as far away from home on the British mainland as it was possible to be. As I reflected, I concluded that through trying to engineer a suitable appointment for myself (what I call 'helping God out'), I had ended up at the other end of Britain from where I really wanted to be. Consequently, on arriving in Plymouth ready to start work in September 2001, I simply told my new superintendent minister, "I will do whatever I am asked to do to the best of my ability."

In September 2001 I joined a remarkably capable team of eleven circuit ministers but national shortages of ministers and local financial pressures meant eventually that team reduced to ten in number and I was asked to become minister of both Ridgeway and Woodford Methodist Churches a very big job that I did for two years. Following that, I had two years with just the Ridgeway Church and, since 2006, have taken pastoral charge of our church at Millbrook. During my years here I have also been acting superintendent on three occasions, a role I fulfilled for 22 months.

When people ask me what I hope that people will say about me I simply reply, "I would like them to say, 'he was sincere, he worked hard and we knew more about the Bible when he left than when he came.'" Preaching and teaching the Bible are very important to me. I am committed to expository Biblical preaching (taking the text of the Bible and asking, what does it say, what does it mean, what does it mean to me/us today?) something that requires considerable preparation. When I first became your minister I decided to put two things in place that I hoped would help the church to stabilise and grow. The first was to start the monthly evening service. I felt that we needed a regular service with expository preaching and a more modern feel that would complement the monthly morning communion service. The second was to start the Thursday evening Bible study. By having the Bible study fortnightly I was able not only to teach the Bible regularly but also to have a place to meet the church community. The two services and two Bible studies each month meant that on average I was able to meet the church community in a formal, devotional setting about once a week. It was important to me to have an evening group as while daytime groups have their place we must offer a regular opportunity for teaching, fellowship and prayer to people who are working in the daytime. Not to do so would be defeatist and, as you know, there is no place in my vocabulary for defeat.

The letter sent out to visiting preachers invites them to share in the work at Millbrook with me. Without exception, preachers have told me how much they are blessed and inspired by visiting Millbrook. It is so encouraging to all those who lead the Sunday services to see members of the congregation eagerly taking up the Bibles and sharing in a variety of hymns and songs. The records that we have kept of hymns and songs used have enabled us to introduce new songs systematically bringing a fresh approach to worship without overwhelming us with a torrent of unknown items. I am grateful to all the preachers who have worked with me, none more so than Nigel Graham, who, with Esther, has brought consistent, unobtrusive service into our community. I am also grateful to all those who have helped maintain this work since I was unwell last September.

If you ask most ministers about their disappointments in ministry they will say that they spent too much time on administration and meetings and not enough time on pastoral care. While I am one of those ministers who still values home visiting I realise that there is always a lot more that could have been done. I only have one month left now but if there is anyone who would like me to visit them at home then please let Monica know in the office (348178). Mentioning the office reminds me to offer my thanks to those who have worked with me. Joanne Dixon, Jane Spry and Monica Thompson have worked with me as 'office and minister's secretary'. They have worked hard to run a small but busy office at our Ridgeway Church, a facility which has kindly been extended to Millbrook. It would be brilliant to have a Methodist minister living in Millbrook and as Corporal Jones would have said in Dad's Army, "I'd like to volunteer to do that, sir!" Realistically, that is not an option in the near future. It seems to me that once a minister does not live in the village it does not really matter if the minister lives in Torpoint or Timbuktu, but admittedly living on the other side of Plymouth has brought its challenges. That said, the Ridgeway people are sorry to be losing their association with Millbrook as they have come to appreciate that we have been genuinely sister churches, with the same ethos and goals, albeit on a much different scale. I don't believe that geography alone should be the reason for churches being put together under the pastoral care of one minister.

When I became minister of Millbrook Methodist Church I stood in the chapel and said, "Can we fill it? Probably not. Can we get 50? Maybe. Can we get 20? I don't know, but I'm hopeful." I think from those small beginnings we have learned that we can get 20. Can we get 30? I don't know, but I'm hopeful. It's good to have realistic goals. I don't believe that getting a morning congregation of 50 at Millbrook Methodist Church in the next 10 years is unrealistic. Can you do it? I don't know, but I'm hopeful. What I do know is that it will mean not losing sight of the things that have brought us from rock-bottom to the situation in which we find ourselves today faithful biblical preaching and teaching, a balance of traditional and modern worship (accompanied by good music with musicians who have servant-hearts), prayerful Christian fellowship and a mission emphasis that constantly looks outwards and forwards, not inwards and backwards. We have had some good mission events in my time at Millbrook more importantly, we have believed that we have had good news to share, our confidence has grown and we have shown that we can not only attract but also keep new people in our church community.

A final word of thanks must go to all the officers of my churches, too numerous to mention, who have worked with me through the years. Our church council meetings have generally been happy and productive and our administration has been efficient. Our pastoral visiting has been well organised. However, our main focus has to be the Sunday services. For these I am especially grateful to everyone who has served as a steward and, while we have had a variety of instruments and music, the organists, Keith and Phil at Ridgeway, and Sue at Millbrook are not only capable musicians but have played in a way that I have found particularly helpful so they have blessed me as well as the congregation.

God bless.

John Haley