Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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Day 1: Holy Conferencing

Greetings from London! Over this year, London has become one if my favorite cities. It is full of life and has a sort of personality to it that I cannot really describe. Every other time I have been here I have always been a tourist, showing people the main sights. This time, however, I have a job to do.  I am helping with the media team at the British Methodist church’s Annual conference.

Conferencing is one of the defining features of Methodism. Ever since John Wesley gathered his local preachers for the first time in 1744 Methodists have gathered together yearly (if not more often!) to share in fellowship, worship, but most importantly to make decisions about the future direction of the movement.  My first Annual Conference in 2007 was where I made my First public declaration of my call to ministry, so these meetings will always have a place in my heart.

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Site of Conference 2013

Conference this year is at the Methodist Central Hall. It is a beautiful venue right across from Westminster Abby in the heart of London. As I walked in from the train station past the Eye and Big Ben it was hard to believe that this was my life!

I am really looking forward to experiencing how our British cousins do Annual Conference. There will be a lot of things that are the same. Budgets need to be passed, elections need to be had and presentations need to be made about the various ministries of the church. There will also be a lot of things that are different.  A president will run the meeting instead of a Bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be addressing the Conference and nature of the issues will be different as well. The best part, however, is that I will have the front row seat to it all. As part of the media team, I will be keeping the website up to date as the conference goes on, live tweeting conference events, helping with speakers and anything else that the team needs me to do. The days are going to be long, but my commute to and from London will provide some time to write and reflect on the days events. If you would like to follow the events of Conference you can go to: http://www.methodistconference.org.uk or follow #methconf on Twitter. You will undoubtedly see me and many of my friends on there with updates, thoughts and more than a few humorous asides. It is going to be a great time!

(This is a series of blog posts during the British Methodist Conference. For the following posts click here: Day 2)


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On Wearing Sandals in the Winter

A few weeks ago, I was working on a paper late in the library and so I went to my room to get into some more comfortable clothes. It was a bitter cold night with snow on the ground, but the library (as always) is practically a sauna. So, I put on my Duke sweatpants, hoodie, and sandals and headed downstairs. As I walked by the snow I thought to myself: “This is me.” It was a strange thought, but also a realization. For most of my time thus far, my sandals had been merely a novelty item I brought with me as a joke when I was packing. “When am I ever going to use these!” I said as I tossed them in my suitcase. However, that night, wearing the essential Florida footwear, there was a connection to a part of me which somewhere had become “de-colonized” (I just made that word up. It needs to be a thing!).

Over the past few months I have noticed several shifts and movements in who I am. When I first got here I was so fascinated with British culture. How they ate, how they spoke, the clothes they wore. Everything about them was endlessly fascinating. In the name of cultural investigation I started using my fork tines down and using the British “pile method” where you stab a piece of meat or potato and then pile everything else up the fork: peas, carrots, gravy, etc. It is quite fun and also really efficient. As I chanted the psalms and prayers I began to subconsciously do so with a slight English accent. This one amused the other American who is with me as well as many of my English friends.

Then in January, Jessica came to visit and these slight changes became all the more apparent. It was a little surprising when I realized that what had begun as a curiosity quickly had become a habit. For the next few months I responded to this by consciously reasserting my “American-ness” I returned to eating with the American “scoop” method and made sure to use the word “ya’ll” as much as possible. There was something desperate in my attempt to retain my cultural and national identity.

Eventually, however, this proved to be a lot of work and also began to seem affected. My experience thus far has changed me in more significant ways than I have even begun to understand. Having experienced British culture, as I mentioned in a previous post, I have already developed a more global perspective, however, I have also become more “American.” I do not mean that I am going to buy some patriotic clothes and walk around singing “My Country Tis of Thee,” but I am also not ashamed of where I come from. The USA is not a perfect country, and I don’t believe that it is the best one in the world, but it has helped to make me who I am and it is my “home.”

So, for now, I am just enjoying the tension. Now I use my fork in whichever way seems most appropriate for the meal and still slip into accented liturgy, but my sandals are out and ready for action! That is once the snow stops falling…

Durham Cathedral in the snow.

Durham Cathedral in the snow.

Snow from Feb 23. Not exactly sandal weather...

Snow from Feb 23. Not exactly sandal weather…


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Duke Article

One of the things that I have tried to do while being here is to remain connected to Duke and the community I built there. For my first post of reflection, I wanted to share with you an article I co-wrote with the other American student who is here with me Kayla for the Divinity School’s student newsletter. A version of it is due to be published in a few weeks by the WSC in their newsletter as well. I have made a few edits to it for the sake of clarity and because I can and also added links to explain some of the terms.

Greetings from England!

In case you have been wondering where we have been, or who we are, some background is probably helpful. In September we began a one year exchange program with the Wesley Study Centre (WSC) in St. John’s College at Durham University in England. As we begin our new term, we wanted to let our Duke community know how things were going. Having been here for several months, things that initially seemed strange have become normal. Durham Cathedral (a place of prayer for over 1,000 years!) that towers over our college no longer gets called the “chapel,” having tea (with a bit of milk) has become a mainstay of any social interaction, and the words, “circuit,” “mission” and “”The Doctor” have become part of the normal vocabulary.

While these may seem like incidental changes, taken together they hint at a much more foundational change in who we are as students, ministers, and Christians. One of the most significant changes has been that by studying and worshipping with the British Methodist Church and the Church of England, we have begun to see ourselves as part of Christ’s world-wide Church. We are studying with students from South Africa, Germany, China, and Brazil, however, the whole ethos of this place seems to look outward. The two central concepts which shape the majority of conversations in the classroom and common room are mission and practical theology. How does the Church discern and participate in what God is doing in the world? How is what we are learning going to shape how we do ministry in our churches parishes?

While neither of these are new questions to us coming from Duke, the ways in which they are asked and the answers they are giving have a unique and powerful particularity. As part of our studies we have both been given the chance to be placed in a Methodist Church (similar to a Field Ed) where we are able to put some of these questions and answers to the test. After adjusting to British worship styles and hymnody, we have found that there is a great freedom in ordering the worship service. Many services are done in “café style” or are particularly shaped by the needs of children (called “Messy Church”). There was a service over the summer at a Christian conference which was called a “Goth Eucharist.” Such creativity and intentionality is a lot of fun and has given both of us permission to be creative as well. Last term, for example, we both led the daily morning prayer according to the United Methodist Book of Worship.  While some people said it “felt like a holiday,” for us it felt like a little bit of home.

It is certainly difficult in a lot of ways to be away from you all. There is no place like Goodson Chapel, of W0016, however, as you begin this semester know that as we gather to pray in a small chapel in Durham, England that you are in our hearts and prayers. We look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences next year when we return!

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

[Note: Kayla has also been blogging her trip and often includes video blogs. Some of which I feature in. If you are interested check it out: http://kbharward.wordpress.com/]


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On Politics (How the Catholic Church is teaching us how to be Christians…again)

It is rare in our constant barrage of news that a story bursts onto the scene with as much force as did today’s announcement by Pope Bennedict XVI that he would resign at the end of the month. I was in Chile when John Paul II died and the grief was palpable across the land. Therefore, when Bennedict at the age of 85 announced that he was stepping down he took the world by surprise.

Being the news junkie that I am, I immediately went online and started listening to the BBC’s live coverage (When in England…). It is always interesting when “secular” reporters and historians try and understand and analyze the Church, however, the reporting and response to this story seemed to demonstrate how Church politics should interact with the world.

The BBC news anchors wanted to get comments and responses by prominent Catholics in England, so they turned to a group of people who are never known for being camera-shy, politicians. In this case they chose several Conservative MPs who happen to be Catholic. After getting their initial reactions the anchors began to pivot to his motivations in stepping down, and the ways in which his resignation is going to make the church more conservative or progressive. All very standard questions, and ones which I am sure will be analyzed and debated from now until the white smoke emerges from St. Peter’s, however, none of the MPs were going to take the bait. Ann Widdecombe, getting notably frustrated with the questions exclaimed, “Stop talking about this as if it is politics, this is the Church, this is the Holy Spirit” (approximate quote). It was this statement which stuck with me. “it is not about politics.”

As a United Methodist, I come from a church which has a polity defined by democratic processes and a long history of church politics that is made (often embarrassingly) public every four years at General Conference. Just on Sunday I was explaining to a friend of mine at church what the “confessing” and “reconciling” movements were in the UMC. We are a Church where talking church has all too easily become talking politics.

Stanley Hauerwas is quite fond of saying that “A new political alternative began in the belly of Mary.” When I took his ethics course I was confused for the first part because of his use of the word “political.” The way society (and the Church) has trained me to use this word is in terms of Right/Left, Conservative/Liberal, Republican/Democrat. It was impossible for me to fully understand what he meant with this limited definition. I cam to realize that he used political in its purest form which is to describe the interactions between people in community. In his view, we as Christians by necessity must be reconstituted through our relationship with Jesus so that our Christ-shaped lives interact with everyone else in ways that are a radically different than those of other non-Christ-shaped people. In doing this we exist as a Church with a radically different “politics.”

As we enter into a time when our Catholic brothers (and sisters) are beginning the process to select the new pontiff, there will certainly be many news stories, rumors and secular-sounding “politics” which will dominate much of the coverage. However, it is my prayer that the Church will learn to keep its eye and focus on the Holy Spirit’s presence in this political actions, so that our Christian politics may be a witness to the world that even after 2,000 the Holy Church of Christ still operates according to our understanding of God’s will for our lives and not the petty desires of our own.


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Advent Devotional: Prepare the Way…

[Note: This devotional was written for the annual Trinity UMC Advent devotional book. If you would like to receive the rest of them through Epiphany, click here and sign up for the “Daily Scripture E-mail.”]

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1–2 NRSV)

Something I have been doing a lot recently is packing. It is the hardest part of getting ready for a trip. It is tough deciding what you need and what you need to leave behind. However, the best part of the process is imagining what you will be encountering, so you know what to bring. This is what is happening in this passage. Malachi’s messenger proclaims the Kingdom of God and tells us to get packing. Because we hear Jesus’s declaration that the Kingdom of God is drawing near (Mark 1:14), we can begin to imagine the day with no poverty, war, injustice, pain, or death. It is this vision we receive which orients our lives; which actions and habits we need to keep, and which we need to leave behind. Do our priorities today mirror God’s ultimate intention for the world? Are we preparing ourselves and our world now for the Kingdom of God?
Prayer: God of Grace and Love, you have made us your children through the life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. As we celebrate his birth and await his coming again, let our celebrations turn to actions so that Your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Little John Wesley being used as a sermon illustration at Bearpark MC

Little John Wesley being used as a sermon illustration at Bearpark MC


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Best of British Youtube

Since this was finals week for Duke, and having finished my first term in England, I thought it was appropriate to present some of the best viral videos which have been around college. These include some music, some comedy, and of course, some cats. I hope you enjoy! If you have any other favorites I have missed, please put them in the comments!

-Drew

The first is a sketch from a TV show “Comic Relief.” Understanding accents is a tough thing, understanding who is English, who is Scottish, and who is Welsh is another thing in its entirety. This sketch features David Tennant who was the tenth doctor on the hit TV show, “Dr. Who.”

The next video is one which a friend of mine showed me called, “Gap Yah.” In the UK it is very common for students to take a “gap year” either before or after they go to “Uni” as a way to see the world. The stories I have heard have all been really interesting about some of my friend’s experiences. This video “takes the Mickey” out of all of that experience.

The next video represents the depth of a funny cat video. It is short and French which in England makes ir quite amusing.

And finally, this is my favorite discovery of this year. It is a song written for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee this year by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber. For me it represents the absolute best qualities of Britain. For a country which had colonies all over the world, this video celebrates the diversity of the Commonwealth and the beauty of this place.  It is multicultural, celebratory, and humorously self deprecating (See Prince Harry on the tambourine). Enjoy!


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Update from Me and LJW

Wow…My first term in England is almost over, Thanksgiving has gone, Christmas is just around the corner, and as I knew would happen, it has been a long time since there has been a post on here. There have been lots of posts in my head, but none have been finished. I blame the quick succession of papers, presentations, and long conversations in the common room over cups and cups of tea. So, what I thought I would do is to give an overview of the past few weeks through a massive Little John Wesley update. LJW is a very helpful companion, because if I don’t do fun things every now and then, he gets rather cross with me. I know what you are thinking: How can his stitched smile look scary? Trust me. It does. So, here it is

LJW and a Monk

LJW and a Monk

Right after All Saints Day, The Methodist students all took a retreat to the monastery at Ampleforth Abby. It was a great time together. We focused on the “I AM…” sayings in the Gospel of John with brief devotions throughout the day followed by longer periods of personal reflection and rest. After a busy few weeks, it was a very welcome break! It was also very nice to be at an Abby and participate with the monastic order of prayer. Monastic worship has been meaningful to me for a long time and sitting in the choir with the monks was beautiful as their chants and prayers washed over us. After five long weeks of getting used to England, classes, and each other, to be able to get away from college, and gel as a community was more welcome than many of us realized. The one downside was that our Anglican friends were not there. They had a retreat for themselves, but sharing stories when we returned helped to bridge the gap.

LJW visits Whitby

LJW visits Whitby

The week after Reading Week was my birthday! Birthdays are one of those times of the year when you can throw a party and invite your closest friends and family and have a good time. This year was the big quarter century mark, which makes me feel rather old. As I thought about how to celebrate my birthday, I decided that I wanted a distinctly English experience. Which means that it needed to include Fish and Chips. This was also significant because my birthday was also my two month anniversary in England, so a Chip shop needed to happen. After much research I discovered that the town of Whitby has one of the best Fish and Chips in the country (as well as the best Mushy peas! Don’t curl your nose up. They are my favorite English side dish after the Yorkshire pudding). We woke up kinda early,went to McDonalds for Breakfast (“American” Style), and then off to the beach. It was VERY cold and very cool. Whitby is where Dracula was set, as well as beautiful lighthouses, and a ruined monastery. Kayla, who is my fellow Americah came along for the fun as well as two of our friends who are Anglican ordinands. Road Trips are always exciting, so it was good to have fun people to spend the day with.

LJW enjoys a Thanksgiving Meal

LJW enjoys a Thanksgiving Meal

The next exciting holiday was Thanksgiving! If you ever want to feel out of place,try explaining Thanksgiving to someone in England. I was surprised how many people had very little idea of what the holiday was all about, so it was fun sharing the story of pilgrims, Indians, massive feasts and subsequent oppression and unrest. To celebrate Kayla and I taught some of our fellow students how to draw hand turkeys. For me one of the highlights were all of our British friends wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving. It represented the hospitality which I have received time and time again since I have been in this country. Here was a very American holiday which could have been entirely depressing and a stark reminder of how far away from home I was. However, with each cheery greeting I was reminded that the heart of the holiday is the love of family and friends. Therefore, as much as I missed home, at the end of the day, I was thankful for the new friends that I have made and the community we have created. This was brought to the foreground even more over the weekend when Kayla and I forgot about our pending papers and spend 15 hours in the kitchen of some friends’ house cooking up a “proper” Thanksgiving meal. It included all the fixin’s from both of our families. There is nothing like a post-Turkey coma to remind you of home :).

So, there it is. Next week is our last normal week of classes. Following that is a week-long intensive class followed by a four week break. There is more to come, but I hope that this will appease those of you who have been checking and not seeing any changes. Here is a gallery of more pictures from the past month. Click through and enjoy!