Showing posts from July, 2008

Crowns, Collarettes and Dark Suits

Being in a confessing mood after my previous blog here's another one... I didn't go to church last Sunday night... Indeed I haven't been to church any Sunday night since I got here... And it's amazing... the world didn't end and the church actually thrives.But anyway, worse (in the eyes of many a NI Evangelical) than not going to church, I, and all my family, went to the theatre. It WAS a benefit performance for the United Methodist Community House, and we were invited there by one of the staff.The production was called "Crowns" and it was an ensemble musical celebration of the faith and life of women from the African-American tradition, and particularly their love of hats and other headgear... the "crowns" of the title.Now, without getting overly critical and putting my writer/director/actor hat on, it could have been a little less didactic and had more narrative drive and dramatic energy about it... Then perhaps I wouldn't have kept fallin…

Covenant Accountability

Every week that I have been here in Grand Rapids at 4 o'clock on a Tuesday I have attended an AA group for Methodist pastors. Actually that is not true, and is actually disrespectful to both AA groups and this particular group of fellow pastors, but it is the only analogy I can use for those who have never participated in such a group.
An initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship and inspired by the original classes and bands of Wesleyan Methodism, Covenant Accountability Groups for disciples exist in various forms across the US. Each has a formal agreed covenant which they repeat at the beginning of each meeting. I tried to memorise the covenant of this group, but failed miserably, (except for where it says that they have the form and seek the power of religion, a reversal of Wesley's classic fear), but here are a few other examples. In the meeting each member formally checks in and shares their joys and concerns, ranging across their spiritual, mental an…

Grand Visions

One of the things that became very early on in our time here was that Grand Rapids was anything but grand, in the sense of big... It has a population of around 150,000 (about half the size of Belfast proper), and does not have many of the huge skyscrapers of most other big American cities. As someone said a few days ago, it is just big enough to retain a small town feel.
However, two areas it punches above its weight are its medical facilities and its civic spaces.
Medically, the city has what is known locally as "miracle mile;" a stretch of hospitals and clinics on the north side of downtown which is second to none in terms of facilities and expertise. Thankfully we haven't had to draw on it yet for ourselves, except for getting Owain's fracture checked and his cast removed, which was done seamlessly and speedily in a spotless clinic, but I have had a guided tour of the main hospital and have been in an out visiting a few church members. As a hospital chaplain myself …

Hot-Dogs and Circuses

Sally is now happy. Her one requirement on coming over here on exchange was that she get to see a professional ball game (or baseball game for those of us not up on the technical terms of American sport), and on Saturday night that requirement was fulfilled when Sue Cuson took us to the Fifth Third Ball Park to watch the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Class A farm team for the Detroit Tigers.
Last night was not a good night, either for the Whitecaps (whose name does not refer to their headgear, which is blue, but to the whitecaps on the waves of Lake Michigan), or for their big brothers the Tigers as the latter got whipped by local rivals the Chicago Whitesox, while we watched the home team grind out a 2.1 defeat, against Cedar Rapids Kernels. In all honesty, even speaking as a complete novice to the game... the batsmen were rubbish... Well, either that or the pitchers were superb, and I have my suspicions which way round it might be. Either way, the bases only got loaded once (see how pro…

Wedding Bliss

Haven't been on for a few days... Partly because of a touch of RSI through using unfamiliar keyboards and mice for sustained periods of time, and partly because I was busy with a wedding - a full 2 day affair here with rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, the service and the reception, all marshalled by a mistress of ceremonies who kept us all in line... and as everyone knows, I respond so graciously to being told what to do... But everything seemed to go well in the eyes of the bride and groom, Liz Strong and Scott Merriman... Who have now jetted off to Disney World for their honeymoon... Appropriate given the film theme for their wedding reception.
Once again, it was a real privilege to be so deeply involved in the life of members of the congregation here... I wouldn't be so sure that people back in Ireland would be so happy to have an unfamiliar minister conduct their wedding, even if it were legally possible... which it isn't. But then I discovered that practically anyone can b…

In this (and Every) City

Came across this video and song through Facebook. Being an old fogey who doesn't do Mannafest or Summer Mudness any more, I had never heard of Blue Tree, who I am reliably informed are a Norn Irish band. I think it struck chords with me tho' not because of pretty pictures of my home town, but because I am totally convinced that the church needs to come up to speed with God's vision and heart for the city. Not just Belfast, but Grand Rapids and every other city under heaven, for which the New Jerusalem of Revelation is the grand Metropolitan plan.


Hearts in Step

To return, briefly, to my experience in the Bishops' Parlor on Saturday morning, it really did disquiet me a little, and meant that I probably didn't tune in to what was happening in the service as quickly as I might. But I was shaken out of my self-centredness by a group of dancers from the Hearts in Step Dance Academy, performing a liturgical dance entitled "I Belong to You." Now, those who know me as the curmudgeon that I am, will know that I don't have a lot of time for wafty, wavey liturgical dance. And I don't think that "blessed ballet" would go down that well in Ballybeen. However, this particular dance ensemble were a group of physically and mentally handicapped young people... They assembled in their starting positions at the beginning of the piece, then the recorded music started with a jolt... The participant looked at each other... it was clear that something had gone wrong (I found out later that someone had started the music in the wron…

A Lake?

Over the weekend we spent a substantial period of time on or around the water. I've already blogged on the beach volleyball at Muskegon. We then spent Sunday afternoon having a picnic at Sue and Dale Sullivan's house on a dammed river up at Newaygo, where both Owain and Ciaran had a go at driving/piloting (not sure what the correct term is) a speedboat belonging to David McKellar, another member of the congregation. For those alarmed at such an idea, fear not, Owain managed to end the day without any additional broken limbs or accidents of any kind, indeed was really very good at it... It was has father who nearly broke his knee and cracked a rib trying to get himself and Ciaran on to an inflatable. Never did manage it for any length of time, but everyone had a good laugh watching me try, so it wasn't entirely wasted. On late Monday afternoon another church family, Chris, Connie and Patrick Avison, took us to the beach at Grand Haven, and we had another lovely evening, play…

On Bishops and Beach Volleyball

Saturday involved two events that don’t happen too much back home.
First thing in the morning I took part in the consecration of a Methodist Bishop, in the concluding act of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference 2008, which was unusual for me given that we don’t have Methodist Bishops back home.
Then I spent the afternoon in Muskegon on the shores of Lake Michigan watching the finals of a beach volleyball tournament… and before anyone thinks that I was just leering at scantily clad fit young women, let me assure you that I watched the men’s and the women’s competition. But much though I would love to wax lyrical about the deeper significance of beach volleyball, I’m actually going to reflect on how I spent the earlier part of the day.
My role in the service was simply to carry the Christ-candle in the opening procession… an act which would probably get me kicked out of many evangelical circles back home, which aren’t into candles and processionals and the like. I’m not much for the…

When the Saints Go Marching In...

I was checking out different websites for this old New Orleans jazz standard for a service I am doing this Sunday, when I came across this amazing variation on the theme with Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye. I posted it on my Facebook page... yes I have entered the weird and wonderful(?) world of Facebook... But I thought it was worth posting here as well for more general access...

I want to be in THAT number!!!!


The Dr. Doolittle Service

Well, I've put off blogging about it long enough... but it is now time to comment on last Sunday's service here in Faith UMC, which was outdoors and included an act of Blessing for Animals... It supposedly came about as a suggestion by the Worship Team here, to which Geoff Hayes, the incumbent minister said, "That's a really good idea... But I'll be in Northern Ireland!" I suspect it may have been his revenge on me for leaving him to feed our cat, even though he is allergic!
But lots of people on both sides of the Atlantic have laughed their legs off at the whole thing, especially since I am borderline phobic about dogs. Different people helpfully suggested different incidental music, including, Bob Dylan's "Man Gave Names to All the Animals", Dr. Doolittle's "If I Could Talk to the Animals", or the theme tune from the Vicar of Dibley, in tribute to an episode of that dreadful sitcom when the said vicar hosted a similar service.
I wo…

An American Funeral

Today, on the hottest day of the summer so far (31 degrees C) I donned my clerical robes to do a funeral here. I wouldn't normally be so insensitive as to blog about a funeral... But I got the permission of the immediate family in this case. The deceased was a lady called Edna Seamons, born Edna Earl Wilhite in Meridian Missisippi in 1925. She had been seriously ill for over 10 years and hadn't been out much, so that, combined with a break up in the family meant that it was a relatively small funeral. But it was a real celebration of her life and it was genuinely a privelege to take part in it. Thankfully I didn't have to do the main address as the family asked the chaplain of the local hospice, Steve Shick, to do that, as he had built up a good rapport with Edna over a prolonged period.
It is strange how these things work out, but here I am in Michigan doing a funeral today, and my exchange partner in Dundonald will be doing one tomorrow. And I am sure he will notice many …

First Impressions of the “Marching Season”

David Campton has invited me to reflect on some of the similarities and contrasts between our American July 4 Independence Day observance and the Northern Irish July 11/12 Orange holidays. This has been a difficult task, because while I have some understanding of the American holiday, there are historical complexities and cultural subtleties that lurk beneath the surface of the Northern Irish observances. It’s tempting to sound like an “instant expert” and draw conclusions and make judgements that are both naïve and inappropriate. Having said that, here are some of my impressions.
Our first taste of the “marching season” observances came on July 1, referred to as “the mini-Twelfth.” This is the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during the First World War, where the Ulster Regiment suffered significant casualties. The one-hour parade of flute-and-drum bands, accordion bands, a few floats, and hundreds of marching Orange Lodge members, was a prelude to the parade we watched…

The Big Question

Whilst my "brethern" were walking the highways and byways of the traditional routes of Northern Ireland on Saturday, I was sitting on my backside looking after the boys at the "parsonage" of Faith UMC in Grand Rapids, because Saturday was a "ladies day" over here. Sally was speaking about her work with Dundonald Family and Community Initiative at a United Methodist Women's event in the morning, and then attended a "Life Party" in the afternoon. For the uninitiated a "Life Party" is another term here for a baby shower.
Anyway, I asked Sally if she wanted to post any reflections here as in a "guest slot" but she declined, saying that there wasn't anything extraordinary to report... Except, that is, for the big question she was asked after her presentation in the morning...
After speaking about the difficulties and the delights of working in a community development programme in Ballybeen she opened the floor to questions..…

Two from Faith Central

Just a quickie to point up two interesting pieces on Libby Purves' column Faith Central. The first points to a movement urging prayer at the petrol pumps here in America... Which is typical... Don't bother your ass doing anything yourself to conserve the resources of the earth that God put into your stewardship... Just pray that God will bail you out. Not just typical of America and its attitude to fuel, but to western Christianity and its attitude to God.
Anyway... by comparison to the US, back in the UK we don't need a short prayer meeting but a 24/7 prayer vigil... and it will probably only be a short time before someone suggests one.
Then she picks up on a 1969 interview with John Lennon which the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 broadcast this week (Radio 4 keeping up its reputation for being topical and up to date) in which he explains his "We're bigger than Jesus" comment about the Beatles, which was widely castigated at the time (and responded to by L…

Made the Back Page

Acheived a lifetime ambition yesterday in making the back page of a Saturday newspaper... OK it was the religious section and not the sports section of the Grand Rapids Press... But a man can dream. Mind you, it should have been the fiction section as it begins by telling readers that I "fled" Northern Ireland in 1985...
For those who want a laugh the link to the internet version is printed above, although I'm not sure how long it will stay live... so I have also included the text below. Neither includes the best part of the paper version: a photograph of me in the sanctuary of Faith Church which is one of those rare ones that don't make me want to run out and buy up every copy of the paper and destroy them all! It's the text that makes me want to do that. A classic case of a reporter hearing what he wants to hear through a filter of years of dramatised/romanticised accounts of our conflict. The quotes from me are generally verbatim, but the surrounding bits are …

Contrasts in Community

Last night found me and my family eating sloppy burritos with friends before taking a dip in their pool and then sitting and chatting on their deck in nothing more than a tee shirt and swim shorts. Slightly different from my normal 11th night of recent years which has involved walking around the local bonfires and chatting to people in various states of intoxication.
But that was not the only dramatic contrast with home yesterday.
During the day Sally and I also went on a tour of 3 social engagement programmes/programs of Methodist origin... Community House, a family support centre in south west Grand Rapids, and both NECOM and SECOM (the North End and South End Community Outreach Ministries respectively). The former programme could have been any one of a hundred similar ones back home (although much better thought through and professional than most... but then they have been around for over a hundred years, giving them time to get their act together.) However, the two Community Outrea…

Happy Birthday Old Man

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear David. Happy birthday to me. Yes. I am now officially one year older. 21 plus taxes... But it doesn't look any better whatever exchange rate you use. It was a slightly weird birthday this year. First I woke up feeling less than A1 after a somewhat nauseous night... I think I had a dodgy sandwich from a deli yesterday... Won't be going back there again.
But then I spent most of the rest of the day in the company of significantly older people. First, I and the rest of my family shared a wonderful potluck lunch with the members of the "Young at Heart" Group at Faith UMC. They even made sure there were sugar free desserts for me to enjoy.
Then this evening we all went across town to Clark Retirement Community, where we had supper with Rev. Bob and Mrs. Bea Horton, before speaking at their midweek chapel service. It is a huge complex for around 400 residents, ranging from those who live independently in townhous…

The Woman in the Box

Occasionally I have heard it said that having a relationship with another person outside of a marriage has actually enhanced the marriage. I have never believed that.
However, I truly believe that my marriage to Sally has been enhanced during this trip by my developing love for a dusky voiced American lady, called Maggie, or Magellan Maestro to give her her full name. She happens to be imprisoned in a small electronic box and tells me where to go when I am trying to navigate my way around this strange place where people drive on the wrong side of the road (Although I definitely have the easier part of the deal in this exchange... I only have to cope with driving on the wrong side of the road... Geoff has to drive on the other side of the road, use a manual car instead of an automatic, and must cope with the shock of our petrol prices!). She is the electronic voice of the Satnav (or GPS as they call it here)which a couple called Laurie and Ed Bawden have leant us for the duration of ou…

Natural West Michigan

One of our first memorable experiences on arriving in Grand Rapids was discovering a dead skunk lying outside the church. He has long since been removed but his memory still pungently remains.
Thankfully most of our subsequent experiences of West Michigan wildlife has been less aromatic. We've seen some amazing birds around the area including bright red cardinals, we've had rabbits and squirrels in the back yard and others have told us that there are also deer roaming around the district, but we have yet to see any up close. I am, however, being slowly eaten alive by the insect life here...
This morning Bill and Beth Murray attempted to take us on a visit to the local Blanford Nature Centre to see some more exotica, only to have yet another thunderstorm cut short the expedition. Although by that stage we had already seen a number of different hawks, some turkey vultures, a couple of varieties of owl, some turtles and a bobcat that was seriously freaked out at the impending stor…

Like Precious Oil

Today, the theme of our service at Faith United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, was our call to be United, as in the affirmation that we believe in ONE, holy, catholic and apostolic church... rather than anything to do with that football team from Manchester who must not be named.
We shared in communion, that sign of our unity in Christ, which sadly so often is a sign of our disunity as believers, unable to commune around a shared table. But we also shared in the words of based on Psalm 133.
How wonderful, how beautiful when brothers and sisters live together in unity.
It is a sign of God’s anointing.
It is like precious oil poured upon the head of God’s appointed priest;
Running down Aaron’s beard and down the collar of his priestly robes.
It is like fresh morning dew, from the cool heights of Mount Hermon
falling on God’s holy mountain
Because the Lord God has commanded his blessing:
Everlasting and abundant life.

From Psalm 133 © David A. Campton 2008

More Thunderbolts and Lightning

Coming as I do from a place where bangs and flashes were all too recently a sign, not of celebration, but of conflict and destruction, I love a good firework display. And our 4th July came to an end with a particulalry good one put on by the City Council of Grandville. We decided not to brave the main event in Grand Rapids City Centre (funded in part by Floyd Mayweather as part of his retirement event... or should that be, funded by Ricky Hatton who was beaten by Mayweather last year!) but to go back to the scene of the morning's parade. I dread to think how much money literally went up in smoke last night, not just in the official events, but also in the impromptu backyard shows going on all around us... Sometimes a little too close for comfort... But last night was not a night for thinking about the cost of it all... It was a night for sitting back in a lawnchair in the middle of a highschool baseball field and enjoying the view. Mind you, when I thought back on earlier in the wee…

Fourth of July Weekend

I suppose our 4th July holiday began, not with the A10 Thunderbolts that I mentioned last post, but with the uniquely American phenomenon of a kids Baseball game at Grandville, a small suburb of Grand Rapids, on Thursday night, accompanied by a devoted mom of one of the players, Jeanette Kaufman, who became our "4th July Guide".
We then arranged to meet up the next morning for the parade.
Now as someone used to July parades in Belfast of an orange hue, this was an entirely different experience. Starting with the A10 Thunderbolts, and finishing with the fact that when the parade had passed and the crowds went to disperse there was no sea of litter... and especially no cans and bottles of beer left lying in the gutter.
Indeed the almost total absence of alcohol around those watching the parade, marked it out as the truly family occasion that it was... that and the constant showers of "candy" that the participants in the parade shared with the watching children... My ow…

Thunderbolts and Lightning

To quote the immortal Freddie Mercury "Thunderbolts and Lightning, very, very frightening, me..."
Well, if not me, my wife and second son, who spent at least 3 hours in the basement of the parsonage during what we have been told was the biggest electrical storm here in Grand Rapids for decades. It raged from 3pm until after 11pm, and resulted in many downed trees, flooded roads and disruption of telephone and electrical connections. Our internet connection at the parsonage has been down since Thursday morning, probably due to the storm, so that is why there have been no posts over the past few days...
But it is amazing that here we are in the most powerful nation this world has ever seen, with all kinds of technology at our disposal (including doppler radar pictures to tell exactly where the storm was headed) and we are reduced to the role of helpless spectators by a mid-summer storm. In the ancient world the thunder, lightning and hail we witnessed on Wednesday were taken a si…

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! Fremde, etranger, stranger. Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante, Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, stay. Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret Meine Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen! Guden Abend, bon soir, We geht's? Comment ca va? Do you feel good? I bet you do! Ich bin euer Confrecier; je suis votre compere... I am your host! Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret
Leave your troubles outside! So - life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful... The girls are beautiful... Even the orchestra is beautiful!

With those words the Emcee famously invites the audience into the moral twilight world of Cabaret, where the people of 1930's Berlin could escape the horrors of the rising tide of Nazism. I have been blogging about welcome this week in the light of the warm welcome that I and my family have received here at Faith United Methodist Church, Gran…