THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE CONFERENCE – MRS BARBARA EASTON
VISIT TO THE CUMBRIA DISTRICT
27 February – 1 March 2022
Celebrating its first in-person Vice-Presidential visit for some years, the Cumbria District welcomed Mrs Barbara Easton to the county from 27 February to the 1st March 2022.
The visit began with a Sunday evening District service at Penrith Methodist Church, streamed also on YouTube. Through an interview and in her sermon, the Vice President greatly encouraged us through her ideas, illustrations from around the Connexion, and sheer energy! It is not a cliché to say that the congregation was hugely inspired, as attested to by those present or online.
On the Monday, to gain understanding of the agricultural, economic and social challenges facing the rural areas of Cumbria, the Vice President visited two Methodist farms in the Eden Valley or edging up onto the steep-sided Pennines that were situated in the Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Tebay Circuit. Surrounded by sheep ready for lambing, recent born calves or various diversifying initiatives, Barbara asked perceptive questions and listened attentively. The same applied when visiting helpers at the Sands Methodist Church foodbank in Appleby. Ecumenically run in an impressively sensitive and discreet manner, the foodbank reaches ever-growing numbers across a wide area. Anonymised stories of concern and hope were shared, including of the little girl who, on receiving a food parcel, exclaimed excitedly: ‘Look, Mummy, apples!’...
That evening, the Vice President conversed by Zoom with some 35 local preachers from around the District. Through stimulating reflections and questions, Barbara encouraged our vocations, but also the good exercise of them: how might preachers more inclusively lead worship, in terms of language, concepts and reach, but also in terms of it not being about them, but about feeding and enabling the participation of the whole people of God?
Tuesday involved a visit to Langwathby in the Kirkoswald and Alston Moor Circuit, initially joining the East of Eden Mission Community staff meeting, comprised of Methodists, Anglicans and a Pentecostalist. After sharing morning prayer, the Vice President heard about the joint Preaching Plan which has evolved so that there is no longer any competitive worship between Anglicans and Methodists on Sunday mornings: congregations join together in each community for worship alternating between the parish church and the Methodist chapel, or in some cases choosing to go forward by concentrating on one of the buildings. (The ecumenical county of Cumbria is divided into approximately 35 ecumenical Mission Communities at various stages of development and involving various denominations.)
There followed a visit to the local primary school where a link has been established via Zoom with a Methodist School in Argentina as part of the District’s link with the Methodist Church in Argentina. Stirred by the children’s presentation and returning to the chapel for conversation with some District representatives, further conversation ensued about Cumbria’s ecumenical and world church partnerships, and regarding the District’s Methodist Women in Britain fellowship and initiatives.
Throughout the Vice President’s visit and by her witness, insights and personality, Barbara encouraged us in faith and service, including by deeply affirming the ministry of the laity. Therein lay a challenge, for she reminded us that ‘laos’, the Greek word from which ‘laity’ is derived, generally means the whole people of God, which sometimes we forget, or which sometimes we unhelpfully reduce to meaning the ‘non-professional’ or the ‘non-ordained’, implying that something is lacking or second class. Barbara asked how we might better describe and grasp the rich possibilities of everyone’s part in God’s purposes? Thus alongside encouragement and inspiration, genuinely and gratefully received as the Vice-President connected us to the wider Methodist people, we were challenged to grow in grace and understanding, so that, in our engagement with one another and attentiveness to the world, we might truly be God’s people for all.