Friday 6th January 2017: The evening opened with attendees sharing a grand 'Jacobs Join' meal before proceeding into the Church where our Minister, Hilary, welcomed everyone and introduced Rachel Lampard.
The Praise band led us in singing the hymn 'Longing for Light'. Alison Critchley then spoke of the plight of the poor in some of the local council estates, also of the work of Urban Outreach and the homeless scheme.
We then sang the song 'Streets of London', with a Bolton theme. It's shocking to think that this song is still so relevant today, over 40 years after it was composed.
The singing of the hymn' Beauty for brokenness ' was followed by a prayer of thanks to God for the hope He offers to us in this broken world.
Rachel Lampard then gave an informative and thought provoking talk she entitled 'Dandelions and Barstools'.
The theme of the President of the Methodist Conference, Roger Walton, and Rachel Lampard in their year of office is 'Holiness and Justice' and how these affect the way we, as Christians , view the world and act in it.
She briefly told us of her work as part of a Joint public issues team, seeing people from all walks of life. Politicians , for example, at the Tolpuddle Festival, telling us of the shared values of the Methodist Church and the early labour movement, in their aims of justice and the belief in the love of God for everyone. Also the Conservative Party Conference, meeting Christians whose politics are a vocation and who face abuse for their work.
Rachel's work of visitation and encouragement has taken her to schools, congregations all around the Connection, to Bristol prison, to a Youth Assembly at Swindon and to a Black majority Church in Bermondsey, which she used to attend and where she was welcomed back as a daughter of the Church. She then told us two stories about what God does when we are most in need.
The first was of a family in Ashton-under-Lyne, whose father had been killed in a devastating house explosion. The local Methodist Church opened itself to the family, supporting them and being a base for them, whilst they were homeless and grieving. Although the family hadn't been a 'Church' family, they feel like they're part of the Church now and the Church has grown in depth through this - people feel Blessed.
Secondly , she has visited the Bishop's compound in Lahore, where the tiny minority of Christians live under constant threat. Despite this, ten young people of different backgrounds: Christian, Muslin, Hindu and Sikh have formed the 'Band with no name', singing Sufi poetry set to music, without regard to their differences in faith.
We then saw three pictures by Ric Stott, a pioneering preacher , who through his artwork challenges us to go out of our comfort zones, to embrace different questions, being the 'pesky' ones in vulnerable places, making a difference to the injustices in the world.
A period of input from the Congregation included the question, 'How can Holiness in Church lead to justice?'
Rachel answered by saying that it plants seeds in Pastoral care as we come to know each other. being compassionate acts to open our inner selves, and in this way, we find God.
In closing , she said that we're still not good enough with people who are marginalised and we must not let prayer act as our comfort blanket, without taking the actions needed to help.
Our final hymns were : ' I the Lord of sea and sky' and ' God 's Spirit is in my heart'.
There was then a presentation to Rachel by Peter Haslam, our Senior Steward, who gave a vote of thanks. We then shared the Grace together.
Kindly written by Joe Leighton