I think that one of the greatest strengths of the Irish Methodist Church is the friendship that is shared amongst the 'ministers'. I have just arrived home from my last Junior Ministers' Convention (JMC), which as usual was a great get together. We stayed at the Emmaus centre which is north of Dublin and our main speaker (who shared his expertise in a theological conversation) was Martyn Atkins (secretary of the British Methodist Church). Martyn was excellent!
JMC has changed in the ten years I have been a part of it. My first was held at a church in Newtownards (Movilla Abbey) where we held a series of services for the local congregation. We then stayed with some of these people. Those whom Nigel Mackey and I were with were extremely nice, but it was not the most relaxing thing to remove yourself from one congregation in order to spend time with another. In all of the following years we had a residential 'retreat'.
We rotated which side of the border we would meet. I have had JMCs in Courttown, Gurteen, the Share Centre, Avoca Manor, Rosstrevour and even the Sleive Russell Hotel. I want to share just a few memories.
The first is of driving to the Glenada, in Newcastle, to find that there were a number of Presbyterian ministers there. A guy whom I knew looked at me when I arrived and said, 'have you jumped ship' (or something to that effect). I went out to the car, made a phone call and realised I was at the wrong place. We were meeting in Rosstrevor! As I drove down the road I thought of how the Presbyterian retreat would compare with our own. I reckoned that they would probably have a speaker who would give them an series of expositions and they would greatly enjoy studying the Word. However I doubted that they would be very intimate with each other. As for our Methodist retreat I figured that we would pray together and be open with each other, but we might not get into the Word with the same depth. I reckoned that what was needed was the best of both church cultures. As it happens I will always remember that JMC for the way that we prayed together. The Renewal Centre in Rosstrevor, with its collection of little rooms where you could break away with others to talk and pray, influenced what I think of as the ideal church building. I would love a place of fellowship laden with warm rooms, and plenty of arm chairs and couches.
Then there was the time Erwin McManus spoke to us. We were staying in a rather dated guesthouse in Courttown, County Wexford. I was a little frustrated that people complained about the state of the place, thinking of all the pastors in other parts of the world who would have found it luxurious. Arriving down early I walked the beach where I had been a number of years before when Caroline (we were not going out then) and a few others were staying in a mobile home (we cycled there as we were preparing for the Maracycle). Erwin warned my heart as he began by declaring 'you have a system designed for failure' (the denomination's policy of moving ministers from place to place every few years). I found Erwin inspiring and the idea for our Cafe Church originated from that retreat.
Mention must be made of the time at the Sleeve Russell, County Cavan. Sean Quinn subsidised our stay (he used to be rich) and we were taught by Eddie Fox's 'Order of the Flame.' The teaching was very good and the food was excellent. But they worked us too hard. Although some of us did get some time for Scrabble!
I will miss JMC and in hope that in the next stage of ministry I will find such a network of support.