The second of eight Area Seminars was almost on my doorstep! I had visited Belfast before as Area President of the Britain and Ireland Area so knew I would find my way without difficulty (but it was still wonderful to be met at the airport!) It was heart-warming to realise that I recognised so many of the women, not only from my own Area but also from ‘Europe: Continental’ as we had been together in Rome just four years ago for the 2014 Seminar. Amongst the upheaval caused by the Brexit referendum, it is encouraging to discover that Methodist women from 20 countries across Europe can worship, pray, celebrate, learn and share together so powerfully.
The World Officers were the first to arrive and we met briefly to update one another on developments on the World Federation study day resource, the Bossey scholarship, finance and the calendar for the next three years, including our next World Executive meeting in Hong Kong in March 2019. We were also able to meet with three enthusiastic and willing women from Sweden who will form the Local Arrangements Committee for the 14th World Assembly in Gothenburg in August 2021. I am already thanking God for them!
The four Area Officers, Louise, Lidia, Carolyn and Lilla, most of their Unit Presidents and two Helen Kim Memorial Scholars (HKMS) met with us for the Weaving Together Programme, a time of mutual learning which included use of the Ketso resource (www.ketso.com) to identify achievements, concerns and priorities for action. Rev Walla Carlsson from Sweden presided at our closing communion service. Unit reports will appear on our website’s Area pages.
As women arrived at the Clayton Hotel for registration, it was clear that the planning team were well organised and that each, including three HKMS, had a task to do in welcoming the 170 women of the two European Areas. The opening meal set the tone for the rest of the event, being plentiful, well presented and on time. The newly- appointed Mayor of Belfast greeted us and the Methodist College girls’ choir sang beautifully following our meal.
I was delighted to discover that the theme introduced at the World Assembly in Houston ‘Chosen People: Called to Proclaim’ was so effectively revisited at this Area Seminar. One of the three ways in which we ‘proclaim our faith’ provided the focus for each day: ‘worship’ on the Friday, ‘relationships’ on the Saturday and engaging in ‘social action’ on the Sunday. Highlights for me were the times of worship and singing, the bible study on Acts 10 led by Gillian Kingston, World Vice-President of the World Methodist Council, a presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by World Federation Vice-President Matilda Johnson and the Helen Kim Memorial Scholars’ presentation with their chaplain Janice Clark. I wish I could have gone to all the creative worship workshops on the Friday but was pleased to find I could hear from each SDG workshop presenter on the Sunday (Two of these led by HKMS) and find further inspiration in the prayer room. Conversations in table groups were special too as new international friendships were formed.
I nearly didn’t go on an outing on the Saturday afternoon but was glad I changed my mind and joined the guided tour on an open-top double-decker bus that took us around the city of Belfast and explained some of the history and how it is impacting the current inhabitants. The evening celebration included traditional Irish dancers who left many of us feeling exhausted as well as delighted by their youthful energy and skill.
On the Sunday afternoon, a few women took the opportunity to join the procession through Belfast celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage in the UK. I was glad they did and were able to report back to the rest of us before our closing communion, showing photos of this historic, significant and inspirational event.
As we dispersed on the Monday morning, I was thankful to be able to visit, thanks to Ireland’s HKMS Wanda Hogan, a former World President, Dr Edith Loane, now in her 90s and too frail to attend the seminar. Edith has, for many years, been an inspiration to many women in Ireland and globally so it was a particular joy for me to be able to visit her and pray with her before flying back to Southampton
Please continue to pray for your World Officers as they seek to serve the Federation and travel great distances as ‘chosen people: called to proclaim’. Please also pray for the church in Bulgaria, anxious that a law may soon be passed that could severely restrict their ministry.
Thank you, Alison