Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Last Post

As of today I am formally closing the Methodist Preacher blog and removing nearly five years of posts to the archives.

Regular readers will know that I suspended posting in February. At that point it was mainly for professional reasons because I felt that my independent blog could potentially compromise a new assignment.

Other opportunities have now opened up that will require my energies to be spent elsewhere.

Over the last few months  I have in any case  re-evaluated my relationship with the Methodist Church.

My main reason for being in the Methodist Church was because nearly three decades ago I was accepted at - what I subsequently found - was one of the most unusual and open minded churches in British Methodism. Sadly time moved on, that church changed, and I became part of a handful of people that maintained it as a place of Christian worship against seemingly overwhelming odds. In the last few years I have done much of the "heavy lifting", replacing the roof, renovating the building, and restructuring the finances.

This work has been successfully completed and I now feel ready to stand aside to encourage a new leadership to emerge.

Meanwhile I find it increasingly difficult to prepare for circuit preaching due to other commitments. By this time next year I do not expect to be on the circuit plan and so therefore feel the blog title "Methodist Preacher" would be increasingly misleading.

I am immensely proud of what this blog has achieved. It opened up discussion in British Methodism on a range of topics that previously would never have been aired. Much of the discussions that were pioneered on Methodist Preacher have now moved to the the UK Methodists page on Facebook. Social media, of which this blog was a pioneer, has had a profoundly positive impact on the Connexion.

One final point about this blog's achievements:

I have taken up and documented some difficult subjects that have led to robust discussions - British Methodism's compromised relationship with the gambling industry and the role of a Methodist Minister in the Holocaust come to mind. I neither retract those posts nor apologise to anyone for raising these and other issues, hard as this might prove for some individuals.

To those who have read the blog over the last five years: thank you and goodbye. God bless you.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

They shall not pass: the legacy of Cable Street

History says that World War 2 started on Sunday 3 September 1939. The truth is that the battle against fascism had started several years before as working class people stood up for dignity and solidarity.

This week we commemorate the 75th anniversary of  the "Battle of Cable Street". This broke out when the fascists tried to march through an area of Stepney in East London heavily populated by Jewish and Irish immigrants. The working class movement of London gathered under the Republican slogan from the Spanish Civil War No pasaran – “They shall not pass”. And they didn't.

In the 1960s I went with some veterans from that famous day and saw some of the sites. Cable Street by then was already changing and the area has changed more since as the City gradually encroaches on what is now valuable real estate.

However, fascism with the ugly twin sisters of anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia still lurks awaiting its chance to find a scapegoat for the continual crisis that is capitalism. We need to remember that when soft capitalism fails, such as the current coalition government, there is a mailed fist ready to hit the working class and defend the rich and powerful. They will find a scapegoat and a solution that suits them.

Good articles in today's Daily Mirror, the BBC website and a special perspective from the Community Security Trust.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Confessional politics

When I served as a Member of the European Parliament  I occasionally asked myself whether I was  "Christian politician" or a "Christian in politics"? The reason I asked that is because when you are a Christian politician many people are very keen to tell you what you "ought" to do and believe.

This crossed my mind as I read the extraordinary and unpleasant blog post of Conservative MP Nadine Dorries about Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron.

Nadine is colourful and tenacious. Her own words explain why. Last month she tried to amend the law on abortion. Her amendment will best be remembered for David Cameron's tasteless and sexist joke at her expense. 

But her references to Tim Farron beggars belief. He decided not to support her amendment. Nadine Dorries saw this as part of a career driven personality problem. She seems to assume that MPs of faith should have supported her amendments on the basis of faith.

She says: "I'm sorry to have to do this to Tim, but he is not being entirely truthful, either to himself or the faith he professes to have......Tim disappeared into the night...... I spoke to Tim because he’s a Christian and a member of Christians in Parliament. I asked for his support.......We do conviction politics a little more seriously over on our side of the House......Tim Farron, puts being President/ potential leader of the Lib Dems before his faith.......his faith may simply be a vehicle of convenience......Some with a stronger faith than Tim may say he’s been blinded by ambition and sold his soul to the devil."

Although I write a public blog and preach I'm aware that my faith is an intensely personal thing. In politics it isn't always easy to reconcile what you believe with what is possible. It is often impossible to reconcile what others believe you should do as a Christian with what you actually have to do.

Once certain Christians knew I was both an MEP and a Christian I found a queue a mile long wanting to tell me how I should vote. Some were welcome, the Evangelical Alliance for example, were excellent in their support and briefings.

Others seemed to assume they had the right to tell me what I should think about abortion, homosexuality, Europe as "the beast", and countless other subjects. Few actually engaged in discussion, which actually is helpful. It always seemed to be "You are a Christian, you should do this: ......." And if I didn't do "this" but decided to support "that"....well, I clearly wasn't a Christian. I do know that on the morning I lost my seat there literally was a cheer in the office of one "Christian" organisation.

So I actually find Nadine's comments quite offensive. If she has a problem with a fellow Christian MP she should at least have begun  with a Matthew 18 meeting. If she believes that all members of the "Christians in Parliament" group should have voted in a particular way, she should then take it up with them. When I chaired the equivalent body in the European Parliament none of us would have dreamed of telling each other how to vote.

To publish such an awful post under the heading "Tim Farron - outed", which in itself has inappropriate connotations is clearly wrong. And just what are non-believers to make of this spat? "See how they love one another" ?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Vintage Red by John Kotz: book review

When I heard that John had published his memoirs I immediately bought a copy. I expected lots of nostalgia from my Hackney childhood and my  first faltering steps into politics. I enjoyed reading about my adopted Labour Party family but was thrilled to find that one member of my real family even had a cameo part, more about that later.

John provides lots of nostalgia for me personally, but some magnificent and important lessons for the wider Labour and progressive movement.

John's story starts in the overcrowded and inadequate housing of 1930s Hackney, then the centre of one of the biggest Jewish communities in the world. He recalls overhearing the conversations around the kitchen table of the persecution of Jews in Germany and the Spanish Civil War. For him that decade culminated in his evacuation from London.

He returned in time for VE Day and the momentous 1945 General Election. His description of the Labour and trades union movement is mouth watering to modern day activists. Youth clubs, friendly societies, the co-op, trades unions and political activity worked together to bind and build a community with active, articulate and engaged  young citizens. These young people worked alongside those who had been present at the birth of the Labour Party and they wanted to continue building a democratic socialist society.

This they did, as far as they were able, in Hackney, a rather despised, unfashionable working class borough in east London. They became active in the Labour League of Youth and then became borough councillors. People like Martin Ottolangui, Eddie Millen, Wally Wayman, Bob Masters, Lou and Sally Sherman, Stanley Davis to name but a few, and of course John Kotz himself, were giants. These were in the days when councillors were unpaid and many paid a price in terms of employment and promotion for their political activities.

The Labour Party of 1950s Hackney set about repairing the war damage and providing affordable rentable accommodation for all. They expanded facilities such as libraries and  public baths. They valued cultural activities that children and young people could learn and enjoy. John is rightly proud of the directly provided meals-on-wheels service that became a template for other progressive boroughs. It included Kosher meals for the elderly Jewish population, so Hackney  was practicing diversity long before it entered the political mainstream.

John's story is a case study in how to use local councils to build municipal socialism. John also tells at first hand of the bitter industrial disputes which erupted in London and the attempt by Oswald Mosley to relaunch his racist policies, thwarted by a united and decisive Labour movement.

But John is honest about the things which disappointed him. As leader of Hackney Council at the end of the national local government dispute of 1979 he was shocked to find that local unions remained on strike because they expected Hackney to settle above the national agreement. He clearly felt betrayed as Hackney had been in the forefront of those authorities arguing for a better national settlement and thereby supported the strike.

Then there was the ultra-lefts of the 1980s. Many came from middle class backgrounds and had only recently arrived in Hackney. Most had little experience of running local government in working class areas. Some went on to become hard right Blairites. They almost run the borough into bankruptcy with the collapse of the very services that had been built by a previous generation of Labour councillors.

John charts the embrace of Tory policies during the Blair years and shows just how far Labour now has to go to win electorally and regain the trust of our people. His final chapter is entitled "Still an optimist". At the age of 80 he says "I still have faith that ordinary people when faced with the problems of capitalist economics, world poverty, wars and the need to deal with the problems of climate change, will seek a better way for everyone to live a fruitful and peaceful life"

But I must mention the one paragraph featuring a member of my family. In 1968 there was an earthquake in Hackney when the Tories briefly  took control of the council. Let John take up the story:

"When Labour was in control of Hackney, we used to fly the red flag on May Day  to celebrate International Workers Day. When the Tories won control, one of the first resolutions they passed was to destroy the council's red flag. The Tories searched every room, desk, and cupboard in the town hall for the flag, but never found it. In the subsequent council election of 1971, we won back every seat. At the count, after it was clear Labour had won, a town hall porter  came to me with a brown paper parcel and said "Councillor Kotz, I think you may be needing this." It was the red flag.

The town hall porter?  He was Uncle Mick married to my mother's sister Marion. An example of working class solidarity.

I would urge anyone involved in Labour politics to read this book. Every page has a lesson for today about building the world for tomorrow.

Vintage red: the story of a municipal socialist John Kotz, Manifesto Press Price £9.95 ISBN 978-1-907464-06-5

Update:  Nice review in the Morning Star

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A British Methodist speaks to a French newspaper about the riots

Regular readers will know that the area around our church has been convulsed by riots in recent weeks. On Friday I went to place a floral tribute at the site of the death of three local young Asian men in Dudley Road. I was approached by a French journalist. This what I said  Back in September and please keep praying!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Dudley Road deaths: Methodist statement

City Road Methodist Church is located a few hundred yards from the site of one of the most horrific incidents of this week's rioting - the killing of three men protecting the shops on Dudley Road from looters.

The stewards have placed the following message on the church notice board.

We would like to express our profound shock at the deaths of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir  on Dudley Road this week.

We extend our sympathies to their families, and our respect for the measured way in which the families and communities have responded to this tragedy.

We continue to join with all men and women of goodwill in praying for the peace of our community.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Utterly, utterly shocked - a church that needs your prayers

There is a Methodist Church  where newly arrived Black people were asked to sit in some designated rows at the back. When they saw fellow white worshipers in the street the Black people were ignored. Matters came to a head when a steward - a lovely man - asked a Black man to help take the collection.

The other white stewards called a meeting and insisted that no Black person be allowed to take any part in leadership. Several Black people then left and to this day worship elsewhere if they worship at all. There is a suggestion that some of the white Methodists  may have been active in racist politics.

When did this happen? In the late 1960s.

Where did this happen? In my own church.

Why hasn't anything been said before? Because we didn't know.

How did we find out? A student from Queens did some systematic pastoral visiting and gradually uncovered the story over the last three months.

What are we going to do about it? Paul our Minister started the process this morning when he acknowledged it had happened and apologised. We believe there are about 40 elderly people out there who over 43 years later are still hurting from this racist abuse. A programme of visits is being organised by a circuit lay minister.

We always knew there was a dark shadow over the church. None of us could put our finger on it. Some thought it was a flirtation with freemasonry, others ascribed "spirits" of disappointment and so on, but we didn't know.

We also knew there was some sensitivity about race - we are a rare mixed race congregation - but no one  ever said that this had happened. Now a lot of things fall into place. We are beginning to understand why certain divisions appeared but no one helped us address these issues by explicitly saying what went on. There was a spirit of negativity which seemed beyond anyone's comprehension

Having lost many of our Black congregation - mainly newly arrived migrants from the West Indies - many of the white congregation simply joined the "white flight", leaving the area and the church. Within five or six years ofter the incident over the collection the church was on the verge of closure. Then something wonderful happened which I have described elsewhere.

When David the student from Queens first told me his findings my jaw dropped. I feel as if I want to cry. I'm broken hearted that our church is  perceived by people in those terms.  

I remember all the effort we've put in. But for nearly half a century we had been carrying this burden of which we were completely unaware.  I need as a white person to understand why at no point in my 27 year's membership I hadn't stumbled on this horrible truth. I've since discussed it other people who were in the church in the 1980s and 1990s. They too are utterly shocked that the racism was so overt and obvious.

We know that it isn't acceptable now. But it wasn't acceptable then. This was out and out racism on Methodist premises amongst a Methodist congregation with Methodist people as both perpetrators and victims.

In recent weeks we have been undertaking essential repairs to our roof, treating dry rot and removing tons of rubbish that had accumulated over many years. We have developed an "empty room" policy. If a room is not used we want the rubbish out.

That is how we feel about this terrible blot on our reputation. It has made us more determined to physically clean the building. We probably will be issuing a statement acknowledging that this happened and offering an unreserved apology.

We are not going to burden anyone by asking for their forgiveness, nor are we asking anyone to forget. Far from it, we need to understand that Methodism and the Christianity of which it is part is not immune from the various evil spirits, including racism.

Every single white person involved in these incidents have long since left the church, the area or died. I just hope that this was just one incident and was not repeated in other Methodist churches.

However they have left behind a terrible legacy of which we have only just become aware. We now need to take this forward. We need to pray for healing. We need your prayers.

Thank you for reading this.

The night we were bombed

The shaft of light in the middle of this picture is a reminder that for a few hours in 1943 the future of our church was in the balance. A German raid had left a trail of damage through Rotten Park, two houses fifty yards down City Road had been blown up.

A bomb came through our roof, left a hole and then landed on the church floor where some brave soul defused it. The roof was repaired and the incident forgotten. That was until last Thursday when the roofers found a round hole in the pitch and horsehair felt that had been used to cover the rafters in 1903. Underneath in the woodwork was the hole that has been unnoticed -for many years. Next week the hole will be covered up and the incident again forgotten.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Jews and Methodists repair rifts - Jewish Chronicle

This morning's Jewish Chronicle carries favourable coverage of Monday evening's fringe event.

My comment earlier this week is here

I note with interest that this event was not covered by any other Methodist bloggers, which I think a great shame given the significance of the occasion.

I also note how little coverage and enthusiasm there appears to have been for the anti-Israeli fringe  meeting held on Tuesday evening. But then it isn't a good idea to invite a speaker who praises suicide bombers as "martyrs"!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Otto von Hapsburg - a good friend

One of the more unexpected turns in my life was to end up on first name terms with the Crown Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Otto von Hapsburg, who died on Monday was, like me, a Member of the European Parliament. Just occasionally the system of sitting people in alphabetical order for meetings meant that we sat alongside each others as "H"s.

We were both diligent attenders at the Friday morning sessions in Strasburg where agriculture and rural affairs were the staple diet and occasionally even crossed swords in debate. He and I vied for the title of the best annual attendance, which normally ended in a tie at 100%. On the one year that I lost my title bid due to an operation just two MEPs  (apart from immediate Labour colleagues) rang me to find out how I was - Otto and Ian Paisley!

I will not try here to write an obituary, but  simply remember him as a colleague. What really impressed me about Otto was that despite his title and - I assumed - wealth, he was prepared to put himself forward to election. He and his son had some fairly definite and democratic views about royalty which I found impressive and refreshing.

He loved, and was never cross about the constant retelling, of the urban myth that he once went into the television room in Strasbourg, was told that they were watching the Austria-Hungary world cup match and asked who were they playing.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Wonderful Methodist fringe event at Southport synagogue

Congratulations and thanks are in order to the Jewish British Board of Deputies and our own Methodist external relations department who came up with the idea of a Jewish cultural evening and seder meal as a fringe event to our own Methodist Conference.

The local synagogue  in Southport pulled out all the stops and made us feel very welcome. I was, incidentally, very touched by the personal invitation  from members of the Jewish community despite not being a conference delegate.

There were about 120 delegates present making it one of the biggest fringe events ever held at a Methodist Conference in living memory. Rabbi Saunders - please G-d let us have Ministers like him -  introduced us to the fabric and layout of the synagogue. Much of what he said resonated with members of a denomination which started worshiping in fields and barns.

The Rabbi then led us into the community hall where there was an exhibition on the Jewish Way of Life (by the way this will be open again this evening for delegates who didn't make it last night). We then sat down for a splendid meal as the Rabbi explained each element of the meal, and described how they mixed worship and education with food, much like a good Alpha course!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A whole culture has evaporated in our lifetime

I read with interest Robert's post on attempts to revitalise a Sunday School in the Methodist Church closest to Birmingham city centre. Let us hope that God blesses this initiative in an area with as much need as that surrounding our own church.

But Robert's post got me thinking about Sunday Schools and the whole culture that it represented. It also reminded me that within my own quarter of a century of preaching Sunday Schools and children's work have simply disappeared across whole swathes of the Christian community in Britain.

It is not an urban myth that some churches celebrate the Sunday School Anniversary long after the Sunday School is closed. To my knowledge a church in our circuit - now heavily dependent on the excellent West Midlands "Ring and Ride" scheme - consisting of six elderly people, still marks the anniversary.

When I started preaching in the 1980s it was taken for granted that during  the morning service the preacher would be expected to include a short children's story and ascertain with the stewards the best time for the children to leave for their classes. I still do some children's talks, but it certainly is no longer a universal requirement. Where children's work continues new schemes are used such as Godly Play or Mucky Church.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The European Parliament under scrutiny

Yesterday I was at the London School of Economics where the European studies department hosted the launch of the 8th Edition of the standard textbook The European Parliament. It has been extensively updated to reflect the growing influence of the EP following the Lisbon Treaty and the enlargement to the East.

Only one of the authors, Michael Shackleton, was present but he was joined in a panel discussion by former MEP and government minister David Curry, Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform, and Sara Hagemann a lecturer at the LSE.

The main theme to emerge was that the EP has now grown beyond its institutional battles with the Commission and Council and was therefore able to enter a more ideological phase. During my mandate (1994-1999) I remember countless clashes with the other institutions that just reminded us how powerless the elected part of the European Union governance really  was. However, even with its new powers the EP will struggle for legitimacy and credibility.

There was one interesting development of which I was unaware. The two main European political families will each go to the next European elections with a designated candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission. In the past the selection of the Commission President has been an unseemly carve up. My suspicion is that will remain the case. However the next European elections, due in 2014, may offer more transparency than previously.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dealing with depression

Another Methodist blogger, a minister, is suffering from depression. Like Winston Churchill he describes this attack as "Black Dog".

Sadly I'm concluding that a large proportion of Methodist Ministers in the UK suffer from varying kinds of depression. I don't have any statistical evidence but I have noticed since interacting with more ministers on the social media they seem to go AWOL for a few months and then return mentioning depression and stress for their absence. It does seem that  there are occupational health issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps something is wrong with our selection procedures or support systems. I don't know.

Just a couple of times in my life I have faced depression. I've never had it clinically defined but I've had periods of hopelessness, a loss of control, a complete lack of energy, and a profound feeling of disappointment. Both periods coincided with a time when I felt especially deprived of my faith

Monday, 30 May 2011

Imagine I did it my way

Dave Faulkner a Methodist Minister  and blogger had a rare Sunday off yesterday, went to a church which he doesn't identify on a "no names, no pack drill" basis, and stumbled on one of the hobby horses I rarely mention here - the inappropriate choice of secular music for a religious services.

In Dave's case his eyebrows were raised by the organist's  choice of John Lenon's Imagine to play before the service. It's the one that contains the lines "Imagine there's no religion" with its implication that the world would be a better place without us sky pilots and G-d botherers.

Dave admits that when requested for funerals he blocks it and encourages another choice of Beatles music such as Twist and Shout.

My hobby horse is that awful song by Frank Sinatra I did it my way . I thought it was an urban myth in the 1990s that people actually chose it as a funeral hymn. In 2005 the Co-operative Funeral Services (who will be sorting me out when the time comes) published a survey showing it was the most popular of all secular tunes at funerals.

Even then I wasn't convinced that anyone could be so crass as to play it at a funeral until a few weeks ago when I passed the larger chapel at a crematorium , we were in the smaller chapel.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Steventon Fire Brigade

A couple of weeks ago I published a picture of my great grandfather, Alexander Rowland Jones, with his engine The County of Pembroke. I found a cache of families photos during a sort out. Here's another photograph of  great grandfather Jones with his men in the Steventon volunteer fire brigade.He is top right in the peaked cap. I've been trying to date the photograph. Obviously we know that it was taken sometime between 1890 and the 1920s. My feeling is that had it been taken after the First World War there would be more service medals on display. It could be that the four medal holders had served in the Boer Wars placing it sometime between 1902 and 1914. If any readers know anything about the subject I'd love to hear from them.

Just one thing about Steventon: historically it was part of the Royal County of Berkshire. In fact my grandfather fought with the Royal Berks. There was great anger in that part of the family when Steventon was transferred into Oxfordshire as part of the reorganisation of local government in the 1970s.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The man who persuaded me that pacifism wasn't always right

Today I rejoice that  Ratko Mladic may soon face justice. His crimes in Sebronicia persuaded me that there were times when military force was necessary. My pacifism died with those he massacred.

A couple of years ago The Independent produced a damming report on the war crimes of the Serbian forces. I posted this in July 2009 and it provoked an interesting discussion:

'There aren't many people who can explain how and when they ceased to be a pacifist. I am one such person.

Today's moving and painful article in The Independent on Sunday reminded me of the course of events that changed my philosophy and even to a small extent how I expressed my faith.

I had been elected to the European Parliament in 1994. One issue I could not miss was that of the terrible things that had happened in Bosnia. I have mentioned before a terrible moment when I met the full force of the evil at work in Bosnia:

"I remember a Muslim woman from Tuzla, a Muslim community in the former Yugoslavia, visiting me in my office in Brussels way back in 1995. She told me something of the breakdown of civil society. For some reason I had to leave my office to meet a visiting delegation. When I returned I suggested we (myself and my research assistant, a young woman) prayed for her and her family.

When we finished praying her face was awash with tears. "No Christian has ever prayed for me", she sobbed.

Afterwards my research assistant explained that while I was out of the room the woman mentioned that she had been seriously sexually assaulted by Serbian soldiers who she knew to be Christians because they were wearing crucifixes"

"No Christian has ever prayed for me"

A few weeks later the town of Sebrenica was surrounded by the Serbs. There was a tiny force of ill equipped and out numbered Dutch soldiers, supposedly part of a European peace mission.

The Dutch did not have the stomach for a fight. Neither did the rest of Europe. I well remember the impassioned speech by a young Green MEP Alexander Langer. He pleaded with the Parliament to do something, anything to help the people of Sebrenica. He pointed to the sheer evil that was about to unfold. Some of us, breaking party lines, supported his motion calling for military intervention. It was probably the first time in my life I had supported the use of violence.

For Alexander, who had become the voice of Sebrenica, the stress was too much. The weekend after his resolution was defeated, he hung himself. A good man who still had much to give.

A few days later we saw the men and women of Sebrenica being seperated. The men were taken to their deaths, the women became homeless widows.

That is why I am no longer a pacifist, much as I respected good men like Donald Soper, I realised that there were times when the military option was the only option available.

Please read the Independent article. This happened about 600 miles from where I am sitting now. The problem is that I and thousands of others did just that, we sat.'

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Church to spend thousands on Medieval mumbo-jumbo case

The British Methodist Church, which is always claiming to be facing serious financial difficulties, is about to launch an expensive legal case, the sort that will cost someone in the region of £250,000 to prove that Methodist Ministers are "office holders" rather than employees.

Rather strangely they have issued a press release boasting about this legal extravagance.

It arises out of a case in Cornwall earlier this year when a judge ruled that "all the indications point one way" that a Minister is an emplyee and remitted the case to an employment tribunal.

The Methodist high command appear to be terrified of an employment tribunal (which they should be, because believe me, throw up all sorts of things) and are taking the case to the Court of Appeal. I gather that the "office holder/employee" in this case has the backing of Unite, her Union, and from my experience they can have very deep pockets. If the Church looses the case they may have to pay costs, which will be very expensive.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Reform of the House of Lords now!

Some of my best friends are members of the House of Lords. I respect them. But I don't respect a legislative chamber with 800 members none of whom have been elected by popular mandate. The US does with a Senate of just 100 members, all elected. Why can't we?

I am alarmed to find that there are unofficial quotas that no one talks about. So many from Wales, so many from Scotland, a few Catholics and two - yes two - Methodists. So that's me and Terry out of the loop until Katherine or Leslie turn up their toes.

How peers are nominated remains a closely guarded secret. Even my friends in the chamber are reluctant to give away too much. But there have been blatant cases of MPs giving up their safe seats in the Commons to make for a court favourite. If that sounds medieval, it is, because it is medieval.

On top on the nominated peers sit the bench of Bishops. How can we justify the Church of England having automatic representation in a Parliament that legislates for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? And then we have the nonsense of hereditary peers - admittedly less than there were - but still there by right of birth.

The whole place is a mess. It is no way to run a country. Our local authorities, the devolved assemblies, the European Parliament and the Parliaments in many other countries are uni-cameral.

Why not a House of Parliament with just one chamber? Let us turn the Palace of Westminster into museum, hotel and tourist attraction. My friends who work there tell me that it is not fit for purpose.

Let us find a nearby building that could house the new chamber with all the mod cons - it really is a revelation to visit the Welsh Assembly with their high tech facilities. In fact I know just the building across Parliament Square and the owners could negotiate a very good lease, whilst keeping it available on Sundays for other activities.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The County of Pembroke

I was having a bit of a sort out yesterday when I came across this photograph of my great-grandfather, Alexander Rowland Jones (right), in front of his engine the County of Pembroke No 3839. The family then lived in Steventon which already had a special place in the annals of the Great Western Railway. His branch of the family had settled in Ironbridge Shropshire in the very early 1800s  having moved from North Wales, possibly Wrexham or Oswestry (which I know is in England - just). On their way they stayed in Wolverhampton, Aston, and Woolverton.

Monday, 25 April 2011


No posts for a few days. I shall be here cheering like mad for the English team in the men's final and watching carefully the contribution of a certain preacher on note. Even the circuit super is coming!

Friday, 22 April 2011

A packed Good Friday service

We made our plans very carefully and catered for about 70 - tea, coffee, hot cross buns, hymn books. All the surrounding churches were invited. We knew something special was happening when two young men walked in off the street and wanted to know if we were having a special service. They lived on City Road but worshiped in Handsworth.

Then the others began to arrive. First in ones and twos, then whole families. There was a frantic effort to find more chairs, we had to start finding the odd seat here and there. Then we had to make the mircophone work harder so that the service could be heard in the overflow foyer. Fortunately we had a reserve supply of UHT milk. Shortly after the service started there was not one vacant chair and we had run out of hymn books.

We always pray for a full church and we learnt today that being full could create problems. A couple of years ago we had a special church meeting to discuss closure. This was a day we thought we would never see.

We sang some lovely hymns and heard again the awesome story of Good Friday. It was wonderful to share with our friends at City Road Baptists, St Germains,  Christ Church, and people from several other churches. A great morning and a fantastic start to the Easter break.

Friday, 25 March 2011

My first job

On Tuesday evening I was due to meet a friend for tea in the Liverpool Street area of London. I had a few minutes to spare before we met and decided to take a look at Curtain Road, just to the north of the station.

The area has undergone massive changes since I lived in the area as a child. Where there were scruffy buildings and bombed sites are now massive office blocks.

Curtain Road  was the site of one of the original Elizabethan London theatres. It's other claim to fame is that it was the location of my very first full time job.

At the age of sixteen I made my way from Hackney to number 23 Curtain Road, a then modern office block and home to the London headquarters of Gestetner duplicators. It was 1964. In those days children from Hackney's secondary modern schools were given fairly stark advice - get a job as an office boy or become a machine minder in a factory, and if you had a Dad who could pull strings, get into Fleet Street.

Well I became an office boy. It was not as easy transition from school to work. Most of the staff in my office were "Essex girls" and I could not join the conversation. However the credit controller was a very well educated  Indian and he took me under his wing.

It was interesting to see the accounts. (Am I about to break commercial confidentiality?) Some firms had massive discounts. These included the Communist Party of Great Britain - quite a good customer - and the Leysian Methodist Mission, who really didn't spend very much at all. The credit controller explained to me that discounts were sometimes offered on the basis of sentiment rather than sales. I don't think he approved of this system as it depressed the monthly sales figures which determined bonuses.

My career trajectory was apparently pre-ordained. After a couple of years in the office I would go on the road with a rep for a couple of months and then be given my own accounts. I'd have a reasonable, though low salary, with a very progressive commission structure. I would have nothing to worry about. Gestetner was the world's leading brand. The Americans and Japanese were experimenting with photocopiers but these would be far too expensive for most offices. My job would be safe.

In 1997 when in Japan I met the MD of the company that had bought up the shell that was left of Gestetners. They had bought the company for a song, sold off the property portfolio, took on the goodwill and absorbed a fraction of the UK workforce.

Now looking grubby and dated 23 Curtain Road still stands and is the home of several office service companies using and selling the products that swept Gestetner duplicators from the office.

What happened to my glittering career as a sales rep? Well when the GCE results came in I found that I had passed commerce and English. But the English result was a real surprise as I had got it at grade 1, the equivalent of an A star today.

Our secondary modern had just become a comprehensive. There was a catch up sixth form. I returned, and two years later became the first student from the school to go direct to university at a time when only 1 in 100 boys from Hackney stayed in education beyond the age of 18.

Walking along Curtain Road, peering through the windows, remembering the Essex girls and the sales reps, certainly brought back some memories. Just for a moment, I did wonder, did I make the right decision? Life would have been very different had I stayed.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The progressive case for Israel

One of the surprises in recent years has been the way in which traditionally progressive organisations in the UK such as parts of the trades union movement, the Quakers and the Methodist Church have come to view Israel as an oppressor. This is surprising because the State of Israel from its outset has sought to proclaim the highest and most progressive Judeo-Christian values.

Part of this can be put down to the well funded and constant campaigns that are financed by oil. When I was young my Jewish neighbours used to say that it was all because Moses lacked a sense of direction. Had he turned right instead of left, the Arabs would have the oranges and the Jews would have the oil.

There are those that have grown rich on oil, who have all the resources necessary to run campaigns against the only democratic state in the region. Many workers in the region envy Israel with its free trades unions, freedom of speech, intensely democratic parliament and open society.

It is no accident that a recent poll of Arabs living in East Jerusalem shows that many would prefer to remain part of Israel   and continue to enjoy access to the same services as Israelis, including health care, education, unemployment benefits and pensions.

However we have to understand that anti-Semitism is still very much part of the darker side of western societies. We only need to read 19th and early 20th century English literature to realise how casually it was an accepted part of our culture. It went underground after the horrors of the Holocaust and is now re-emerging disguised as an attack on Zionism. Not all, but many of those campaigning against Israel are anti-Semite to the core. It is a form of racism to which the British left, and out own church,  must not indulge or excuse.

The Jewish Chronicle recently carried an impressive article by Robert Philpot  which sums up the case far better than I can. His critical argument is:

Israel is, after all, a country founded on social democratic principles; and the Israeli Labor Party, which, alongside our own Labour Party, is a member of the Socialist International, was the country's dominant political force for decades. 

Indeed, it is because of those social democratic principles that Israel's attributes are undeniably progressive: a free and vibrant media; a robust and independent judiciary; strong trade unions; a generous welfare state; and a commitment to free, world-class education that enables Israel to have one of the highest-skilled workforces on earth. 

Contrast, too, the equal rights which women, gays and lesbians and other minorities enjoy in Israel with the second-class citizenship and persecution meted out to such groups in most, if not all, of Israel's neighbours.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Up the O's!

Can't do much posting tonight - I'm working in north London and it is a very long commute.

Many of my colleagues are supporters of the football club Arsenal.

Anyway they are in a state of mourning at the moment following their disastrous loss against Birmingham City. I must admit its one of the few times in my life that I've ever emitted any squeak of appreciation for the Blues.

Tonight though is different. My own team from way back when, Leyton Orient, take on Arsenal following their quarter final draw.

The last time I really gambled I put £20 on Orient to win the FA cup at 150/1. I placed the bet right at the beginning of the season before the very first round. That was way back in the seventies. All my friends tried to persuade me to lay it off when Orient got into the semis. I probably would have been able to take  away £1000 - a lot of money in 1978. Once the ball was kicked the bookies offer would be off the table.

Alas Orient were drawn against Arsenal. And we lost badly. My sentiment - I'd like to think it was principles -meant that I was about £7000 worse off in today's money. I haven't gambled since.

I shan't be at the match because I have a previous dinner appointment. But I shall be willing Orient to avenge that semi final and my £20 stake. Up the O's!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Methodist Church faces legal challenge over discrimination

The Methodist Church is to face a legal challenge over its discriminatory campaign against Israel.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that lawyer Paul  Diamond will argue that the Methodist resolution passed in the summer is in breach of European human rights law and a wide-ranging European Union directive on racism. 

By singling out Israel, rather than other countries with often worse human rights records, Mr Diamond will claim the church is being deliberately prejudiced against the Jewish state.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

European Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast - 40th Anniversary

Today in Strasbourg Members of the European Parliament will gather to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the prayer breakfast. This has met monthly in Strabourg and should not be confused with the annual event in Brussels.

As a former Chair I was invited but work commitments prevent me attending. However I sent this short message:

May God bless you all in Strasbourg as you comm orate 40 years of praying for the work of the European Parliament and the peoples and causes that it represents.
When I was elected in 1994 I was astonished that Fred Catherwood suggested that I led the prayer breakfast. I was so unprepared and out of my depth. When he explained that it was "ecumenical" my hair stood on end. That didn't fit my view of Protestant witness.
However I felt that God used that time to remind me that He is Lord and sometimes we find ourselves doing unexpected things. I think the 1994-1999 parliament was something of a transitional period for the prayer breakfast. The original founders had left and the new influx from the rest of our common European homeland were still to join. Sometimes simply maintaining a witness is all that the Lord requires. 
I would like to especially place on record my love and respect for Stephen  and Janina. Both gave me and my wife Claire a new insight into Catholicism that I found inspirational.
I absolutely loved our monthly gatherings in the salon blue. It was a time of calmness in a busy week.
Two meetings really stand out. I remember Alan McCartney giving a wonderful introduction to Psalm 121. Until then I had hardly read that piece. Alan opened up a new vision and sometimes I go to that passage and think of his inspiring witness.
It was also good to sit and pray with someone who would be a traditional political foe of my own party. Another of the fascinating aspects of the prayer breakfast.
The second occasion was the day after the election of  Mr Gil-Robles as the President of the Parliament. Much to the surprise of his new staff he insisted that his first appointment on his first full day in office was to join the prayer breakfast as usual. I remember the look of real humility on his face as we gathered round, laid hands on him, and prayed that the Lord would bless his Presidency.
I was really disappointed that I was unable to continue being part of the prayer breakfast and part of the Parliament. However I have been thrilled to hear that it is now going from strength to strength.
My prayer today is that we continue to ask for the revival that Europe so desperately needs. There are changes we need that no amount of legislation will ever achieve.
I give thanks for the man from Macedonia who asked the Apostle Paul to come and witness to us. Acts 16 shows that there was just a handful of believers but they had a certainty and a boldness. In our dark times we may feel alone and few but small numbers can still be a great witness.
Your witness continues to bless the Parliament and  blesses the people of Europe.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Oh Carol

Had she lived my dear friend Carol Adams would have been 62 today. We used to chuckle at the soppy words of Neil Sedaka's song as we wondered around Hackney as teenagers. When we met many years later she told me of her plans to upgrade the status of teachers through the creation of the General Teaching Council of which she was the first Chief Executive. Sadly one the first and most destructive acts of our horrendous coalition government was to announce the closure of the GTC.