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Sabbatical Musings 5 – London

This is my last blog about my sabbatical – I promise. It was really fantastic to spend a week with my bro in law Andy, to get to know Jenny, his wonderful fiance, a bit better and to meet some of his gang in London and see what he was up to. I really enjoyed and getting a flavour of the missional stuff the guys are trying to do in centre of the city and to see Andy in action with the Christian Socialist Movement. I got a brief tour of Portcullis House and the Houses of Parliament. 

For old times sake we even took in an Andy Flannagan gig in a place called Burgess Hill, about 6 miles north of Brighton. The gig was organised by Burgess Hill Fairtrade group as part of a Fairtrade and Freedom Festival during Fairtrade fortnight (not easy to say, never mind read). The gig featured Andy alongside Gareth Davies-Jones (orginally from Bangor, Co Down), Julie Hall and Rob Halligan. It was a good nights entertainment. 

There was no end to the sporting options with Andy introducing me to ‘Top Golf’, ‘Urban Golf’, Saturday morning touch rugby on Wandsworth Common, and  then cycling 26km around Richmond park. 

Truly an event packed week! Thanks Andy for the good times and the camp bed!


May 1, 2009 Posted by | Family, Sabbatical | Leave a comment

Sabbatical Musings 4 – The Music Resource Group

In 2004 the Conference of the British Methodist Church decided to appoint a ‘Music Resource Group’ (MRG) to look at publishing a supplement for Hymns and Psalms. By 2007 the MRG / Conference and Methodist Publishing House decided that a supplement was not practical and that a completely new resource should be published with a rolling update resource online. Historically the Methodist Church in Ireland has been invited by the British Church to send a representative to join the particular group planning for such worship resources, not that the Methodist Church in Ireland will necessarily adopt the resource, that is up to the Conference to decide. The invitation came following the British Conference of 2008 and I was appointed by the Irish Faith and Order Committee in the Autumn of 2008. During my Sabbatical I have begun to attend the MRG meetings. This has been a real privilege, not to mention a real eye opener! The group are pretty far through their work, but there is lots of work and numerous issues/hurdles still to be overcome. It has been great to meet a group of people who, though, they may have different perspectives are 100% committed to producing the best possible resource for the worshipping church. I suppose the big challenge is the amount of ‘flak’ that seems to fly round in all directions whenever you open up a debate on the issue of worship and music…. after all everyone has their favourite, hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. The MRG in its wisdom had decided to publish a list of songs for the resource and ask for feedback and has received numerous responses, some positive, others negative. The focus now is on ‘finishing the job’ and no doubt when we get there many may not be happy… but hey.. that’s church. We are trying to produce a practical, publishable, usable resource, which reflects Methodist doctrine and the best of modern hymns and contemporary songs that are already in use in many of our churches. No easy task, prayer needed!

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Sabbatical, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sabbatical Musings 3 – Bulgaria revisited

Learning to ski was definitely one of the highlights of my three months. As outlined in a previous blog… the thrill of learning to do something completely new was fabulous. I promised my partner in crime that I would stick up some of this pics… so here goes:

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Sabbatical | Leave a comment

Sabbatical Musings 1

Ok, so it’s all over! Only seven years to go until the next one. March has been really busy, so I haven’t blogged, but I promise over the next couple of weeks, despite the crazy Easter schedule, to write a few blogs by way of reporting on my Sabbatical. Some of you will immediately see through this cos you know I have to write a report for the Methodist Church in Ireland’s Sabbatical committee, and in so doing I will receive the second half of my Sabbatical grant! I thought I may as well share my ‘report’ with others!

On the sheer entertainment front of my sabbatical I managed to find over 190 geocaches in my three months. (I know that’s sad). This included finds in Tenerife, Bulgaria, Moss side in Manchester and central London. I really enjoyed the walking and exploring some new places. I managed to make my brother in law and an old uni mate very excited about geocaching and have possibly caused my youth worker to become addicted as well.

The other really entertaining part of my sabbatical was learning how to ski. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the experience, but I really did, to the point of wondering why I had never done this before! I can’t wait to go back again!

I promise to put up some pics in the next few days, and I will be blogging on my experiences in preparing for Queen’s and with the Music Resources Group.

Of course, I also did a fair bit of reading, completely all the required reading for the Arrow course and a couple of other books in addition to those, and I got my Arrow assignments done.

Beyond these blogs, I intend to keep on going… but you never know!

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Sabbatical | Leave a comment

Why did I never try this before…?

This skiing lark is fantastic…. admittedly there are parts of my body that I didn’t realise I had, hurting… but such pain is worth it. While Joolsy went off and enjoyed the faster runs, I joined a beginners group in the ski nursery under the guidance of a quite excellent teacher, ‘Bobby’! By the end of the day I can ‘stop’ (no mean feat), parallel, snow-plough, turn, manage a green slope and even get off the button lift without falling over! The hotel is pretty comfortable and the food ok so far.

Only negative thing… smoking… all around you… you forget what it is like!

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Sabbatical | Leave a comment

Sabbatical update!

After a busy January it has been a quiet couple of weeks. I’ve done a fair bit of walking and some reading. Managed to grab a few geocaches whilst in Sligo for the Re:Call retreat… including a drive through the sea on the causeway over to Coney Island. Really glad to find this one as you have to get the tidal timings right! I also had a good walk around Cairn wood in the Craigantlet hills and this week a day around Carrickfergus when I made 16 cache finds in a day… including a great wade through snow at the Woodburn Reservoirs. 

On the reading front, I am nearly finished Alain De Botton’s  ‘Status Anxiety’ – fabulous read, and I’ve started ‘Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most.’ by Bruce Patton et al. I will offer some thoughts on those in due course. 

Busy times lie ahead with a week London at the end of February, including a University Chaplain’s study day, I am going to ski in Bulgaria for 5 days (never done that before… am I mad?) and a few days in Manchester in the middle of March for a meeting of the ‘Music resource group’ of the British Methodist Church which is looking at a replacement for the ‘Hymns and Psalms’ hymn book.

It’s scary how time flies so quickly. Another 6 weeks and Sabbatical will be over, then we will be into Easter and it will be only 3 months until we move house and start work in Queens!

Here are a few pics of/from the lovely Coney Island just off the coast from Sligo:

February 14, 2009 Posted by | Geocaching, Reading, Sabbatical | 1 Comment


The dust is settling on the Methodist ministers retreat in Sligo last week. I was involved in the organising group for the conference and I have to admit that I get a buzz from being involved in organising such events / conferences / retreats /festivals… it’s something that I know I can do… logistics tend to come naturally to me! However through all the conference/festival experiences I have been involved in the last 15 years… Summer Madness, Re:Call, New Wine etc… I have learnt that you’ll never keep everyone happy, and you will never organise the perfect conference… whether it is speakers, music, worship styles, venue surroundings, air conditioning, bookstalls, screen positioning, food…. or anything else… there’s always something that someone won’t like.  

This was the third Re:call conference that the Methodist Church in Ireland has held… the first one in 2004, the last one in 2007… for me it is a great opportunity for the ministers of the church to get together in a setting that is not some kind of official / business meeting. The space to relax and spend time together, I believe, allows God to do something amongst us that we are not even aware of. it reminds us of that most important reality… we are not in this alone. It’s a chance to catch up, to share stories –  good times and difficult times, as well as to pray, praise, reflect and learn together. 

I always try and take one ‘key challenge’ away with me from such events cos one is usually about all I can handle. I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear Graham Cray speak on the changing context for the church’s mission, the need to make discipleship  a priority, and learning how to discern the way forward. Graham reinforced something that I have heard before and that I have even been heard to witter on about once or twice!

There is no discipleship without mission and no genuine mission without discipleship!

It has often been said to me by well meaning church members in all sorts of places that ‘we can’t go and engage with the community around us until we get ourselves sorted out’ – the problem is of course, that within the church we will never ever get all our problems, challenges, disputes sorted out…as Graham Cray put it.. ‘you can’t sort people out to be disciples and then go for mission, they will only start becoming disciples when they go on mission.’ God points us out of our church buildings, out of our spiritual comfort zones, beyond our conferences, retreats and festivals (good or bad as they can be) to a world that Jesus came to reach!

I didn’t enjoy every aspect of the Re:Call retreat, it wasn’t the perfect event but there was definitely a lot more good than bad! With the benefit of hindsight there are things that I would change… but the important thing is that such retreats give God the opportunity to speak to us if we are willing to listen, to refresh and  to challenge us again, even with one key idea, and that is enough for me.

February 2, 2009 Posted by | Faith, Sabbatical, Spirituality | 1 Comment

Sabbatical Plans

Thought I might outline my strategy for the next three months. There are probably 4 things that I am going to do:

1. Spend more time with my family… this is a break from the regular ‘out 5 nights a week’ routine… more time for Ruth and the kids… more jobs to do around the house! Though, by the end of it Ruth might be sick of the sight of me!

2. Christian leadership. Over the last 18 months I have been involved in the ‘Arrow Leadership Programme’… an intense series of residential teaching weeks, peer cell meetings, a mentoring relationship and some assignments. This has been a tremendous blessing and challenge. I want to use a fair proportion of my sabbatical time reflecting and disseminating the Arrow material. Trying to think through the what Church leadership looks like going forward. ‘Arrow’ was designed by a chap called Leighton Ford and is now a worldwide recognised programme for ‘young’ leaders in Local Church and para church ministry. For more info check out

3. Preparation for QUB. In the Summer of 2009 we will be moving from Newtownards as I am designated to become the Methodist Church to Queen’s University Belfast from 1st July 2009. There are a few things that I will be able to do in preparation for this move, including a ‘higher chaplains conference’ in London and a couple of visits to University Chaplaincy situations in England.

4. Geocaching. This is ‘geekville’! I love technology and I don’t mind the odd walk… so a combination of the two is fantastic! Geocaching is like ‘treasure hunting’ using a GPS receiver and the internet for clues. You have to find the ‘cache’. They are located all over the place, from roadsides to mountain tops. If you are intrigued have a look at

Beyond these 4 main aims… there is the Methodist clergy retreat ‘Re:call’ in Sligo, and my role as the Irish rep on the Music resource group of the British Methodist Church which is looking at the provision of a new Methodist hymn book! 

Plenty to keep me going!

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Family, Geocaching, Sabbatical | 1 Comment