Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Gift of Knowledge

I've been working on helping the Methodist Church in Ireland get ready for the General Data Protection Regulation. Here's an article I wrote originally for the Methodist Newsletter...


If you subscribe to the Methodist Newsletter, there is probably a list somewhere – perhaps a scribbled note, maybe on a digital spreadsheet – with your name and a ‘tick’ to show that you’ve paid for the year (or haven’t!). It’s a simple administrative task of keeping a record of payments. However, if that list also includes your address or telephone number ‘just in case you need to be contacted’, the Newsletter agent has become a ‘processor of personal data’ and their list is now governed by data protection legislation.

Any time you give your personal details to a church, charity, retailer, business or government body, you are contributing a gift of knowledge that they can lodge in their systems and invest on your behalf. Those bodies have data protection principles to follow, and you have significant rights that will be strengthened with the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation on 25 May 2018 in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

The data protection principles mean that your information must be used with integrity, used appropriately and sparingly. Organisations and businesses must ensure that the data they hold about you is accurate, not kept forever, and stored securely. You have the right to access and correct that information, to opt out of its use in particular ways (goodbye pre-filled tick boxes!), and to stop its use completely or even ask to ‘be forgotten’. These principles and rights are powerful tools that you can use to make sure you’re being contacted by or receiving mailings from only the organisations that you choose. So invest your gift of knowledge wisely (look for a data protection policy online, or privacy notices on forms you fill in) and be aware of your rights.


If you happen to be a Newsletter agent, the cradle roll or youth group secretary, a treasurer, minister or prayer chain coordinator – anyone who uses other people’s information to provide them with a service or to make your organisation work (nomatter how kind) – you’re going to need to understand how the new law changes things. In particular, you will want to be covered by a data protection policy that you understand and can implement on a day-to-day basis. Fines and reputational damage await those who aren’t prepared! But help is at hand – resources are available on the Methodist website (shortlink: http://bit.ly/DPresources).

Keep calm, and think privacy!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

A Word for Ballynahinch Methodist Church

This morning, our local church expressed their thanks for our ministry amongst them over the last five years. It's a bit of a weird transition - I've been on compassionate leave since Christmas, and the lovely Ruth Craig has been the minister since July, but we still live in Ballynahinch and consider the Methodist Church our church family. After a thoughtful and generous presentation to us, I shared a few words of thanks, an update on Timothy, and encouragement for the future with those gathered. Here are the notes:

Thank you for your support of our family in recent months - phone calls, notes and cards, food, visits, prayer, and financially supporting us. Thanks to Ruth for her flexibility during this coming year, that allowed us to stay in the manse while Timothy continues to recover. 

Timothy is here today, in good form, ready to go back to school tomorrow, just four months after his bone marrow transplant. It's still early days yet, so please keep on praying for protection for him. He still needs to be careful of catching infections over the next year - a raised temperature in June led to a fortnight in hospital. But we are hopeful and trusting God for complete healing. God has been good to us, we have known his presence in the difficult times. 

On Remembrance Sunday in November I led worship here and then at the War Memorial. Chatting with the Presbyterian minister who was also present, I shared that we were due to receive our fourth child near the end of the month - a big change to family dynamics and a return to having a baby in the house after a five year gap. One week later, the baby was already five days old, and we had a child with cancer. It wasn't the way we had anticipated ending our ministry here, but it quickly became very obvious that I couldn't continue in the role as your minister beyond Christmas. 

While our time was cut short, I still count it a privilege to have been your minister. We have walked together through a number of traumatic illnesses and deaths, but also some great moments of happiness through wedding days and new lives. It was a joy to bring several of you into membership of the church and subsequent leadership roles. Together we encountered Serendipity and Narnia, Inspire and Messy Church, prayer rooms, communion and candlelit carols. On your behalf I engaged with schools, hospitals, police and social services, other churches and our Methodist Church in Ireland family. We encouraged the work of The Edge, The Hub, food bank and Christians Against Poverty. I drove 25,000 miles, prepared over 200 services of worship and chaired countless committee meetings as together we cared for one another, worshipped God and reached out to others in God's name.

Had we been here in June, I would have preached a series of sermons on 2 Corinthians 13:11 as my final encouragement to you... Instead you get a couple of minutes... 

St Paul writes, "Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter [ministry] with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you." 

Do you want God to be with you? Then... 
# Be joyful - choose joy - 'restore onto me the joy of your salvation' - joy starts with being a thankful person.
# Grow to maturity - be a lifelong disciple, one who can reach and make other disciples. You know you're maturing if you are producing the fruit of the Spirit. Please join a fellowship band to ensure you keep on growing.
# Encourage each other - talk TO one another, not about one another. This town needs the Church to model unity and healing relationships. Build each other up in the gifts that each of you have. 

In particular, love your minister - I have prayed with Ruth, that she might receive a double portion of whatever good things God could do through me.

Finally, remember these words from Ephesians 3:
In Christ and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Monday, 28 August 2017

A Caravanner's Prayer

We replaced our caravan this summer, and while there are times when I miss hotel holidays in the sun - remember when you used to bring a pile of books to read by the pool, and children were the amusing distractions belonging to other people? - I am very grateful to have this way of living together away from home for a few weeks.

I started scribbling this prayer a few weeks ago, and with a bit of editing share it with you now...

Thank you God for this caravan.
Protect our family when we're in it; protect us when we're towing it.
May it be
a place of meaningful moments, restful peace and deep sleep;a base for adventures to begin and fun days to end;a space for prayer and singing about you God, and a host for holy conversations.
Allow our devices to fail but our hearts to soar, the great outdoors to be our playground, raindrops on the roof our lullaby.
Lord, may our time in this caravan instill in us a sense of longlasting security, freedom, generosity, imagination and courage to live for you as a family on mission at home and away.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Myelodysplasia Thank Yous

Earlier today I posted thirty-five tweets, telling our family's story of the last seven months and saying thanks to lots of people. But not everyone is on Twitter, so here they are for your delectation in one post, thirty-five chunks of 140 characters or less (unless I've changed the Twitter handle to an organisation's real name).

We are home after 7 weeks living in Bristol for our eldest's bone marrow transplant at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Here's the story in 35 tweets of thanks! 1/

So many people have helped us: naming them risks forgetting some - you know who you are. This is an attempt at publicly saying Thank You! 2/

Our GP team spotted something was wrong in November, which led to initial hospital admission. GP support has been practical and kind. 3/
The Children's Haematology and Oncology team at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children cared for us well, broke bad news to us compassionately that first weekend [and are still looking after us well]. 4/
Ultimately he was diagnosed with a one/two-in-a-million condition with bleak prognosis unless he received a bone marrow transplant in Bristol. 5/
(not enough kids in Northern Ireland require treatment to sustain a bone marrow transplant unit in Belfast) 6/

And then the wait began, looking for the right donor match, and for the threat of a chicken pox episode to subside. 7/
Frequent clinic appointments and dressing changes became our 'new normal' through winter with support from South Eastern HSC community nurses. 8/
Meanwhile our son's haemoglobin levels kept dropping. He wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for blood donors - like you? 9/

The search for a bone marrow donor ultimately led to a young German who matched perfectly: 57mls of life! 10/
Our son would have life-threatening leukaemia today if it wasn't for that bone marrow donor. Find out more by searching for the Anthony Nolan Trust /11

We left home in early April, and went to Bristol via Oxford for a procedure through the Future Fertility Trust at John Radcliffe Hospital /12
Our home was "Sam's House" - we don't know what we would have done without this CLIC Sargent facility and the community within. /13

The Bristol University architecture and spaces, especially Royal Fort Gardens, were an oasis for clearing the mind and a godsend for kids burning off energy! /14

Boys #2 and #3 enjoyed 'hospital school' in the Hospital for patients' siblings every day - a growing & fun experience with great teachers! /15

Entire Oncology/BMT team (Ward 34 and Day Beds) at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children gave outstanding care to our family... /16
...I love it when "multidisciplinary teams" work (and these are just the ones with whom we had contact): administrators, anaesthetists,...  /17
...chaplains, consultants, dieticians, doctors, hotel services assistants, nurses and nursing assistants, pharmacists, physios,...  /18
...play specialists, surgeons, teachers, and more - together they gave truly competent and compassionate care. /19

Treatment far from home means we have shared highs and lows with staff and other patients' parents who we might never see again. Thank you. /20
To our family and friends, feeling even more helpless than we do, thank you for simply being present. So encouraged by you. /21
Your emails, cards, gifts, messages, food, cheques, pet-care, prophecies and physical presence have been the grace of God in action. /22

We're particularly thankful for the practical + loving support we've received from our Methodist Church family, in Ballynahinch and beyond. /23
Our church leaders @ Ballynahinch Methodist kindly made arrangements for my extended absence + have faithfully led our people in prayer. /24
We're staying in Ballynahinch this year but I stop being the Methodist minister next week; so pleased to welcome Ruth Craig in my stead. /25

The boys' school has been so understanding & caring for our three pupils during the trauma of diagnosis and through their long absence. /26
The whole school and Ballynahinch Baptist Church raised funds for us that helped with travel and other costs related to treatment - thank you! /27

People have been so kind and thoughtful across this island, across denominations, across the globe. Body of Christ is a beautiful thing. /28

Here's my hero ringing the bell to mark end of treatment http://bit.ly/2sL3dtU. He's gone through so much so far. God is good. /29

We're really glad to have the continuing help of Macmillan, CLIC Sargent, NI Cancer Fund for Children, and more. /30

MegaMorph was outside Bristol Children's Hospital for 2 days. We were there for two months. But now we're home! /31

What's next? Our son could take months to fully recover, and simple illnesses can still be dangerous to him. But healing will come! /32
Forgive us if we avoid you if you're sniffling! Please keep praying for his protection, complete restoration and God's glory in the story. /33
And pray right now (if you don't mind :) for his recovery from an undiagnosed infection that's hospitalised him this week. /34

Through it all, hundreds of people have been praying for our son and family. Thank you. God's peace, hope, love and joy are real. /35

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Prayer Works, Keep Praying!

This is a very different post to the one I've been dreading writing for the last few days. 

Many of you will have heard over the weekend, the devastating news that we expected our eldest son, Timothy, to be diagnosed today with leukaemia - it was just a question of which type. Since Saturday he had been given fluids, antibiotics and a unit of blood to prepare him for chemotherapy this evening. Those who had heard, assured us of their prayers, even members of staff who quietly noticed him as he quickly became a loved part of the children's haematology oncology unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. 

But we're about to bring him home! 

Test results show that either he's in the process of shaking off some post-viral something, or he's in the very early stages of leukaemia. He'll be kept at home for this week, and receive further tests in coming weeks, to see which it is. 

If this is all news to you, please pray protection over his life. If this is good news to you, praise God and keep praying for complete healing. Please pray for Timothy's blood and bone marrow to return to normal in coming days. 

Timothy is not out of the woods yet. But tonight, our family of six gets to sleep under the one roof for the first time ever (what a great first weekiversary present for Ethan and us all!) and we will have at least the next two weeks to enjoy being all together. Please pray that it's much, much longer than that. 

If you would like to stay in the loop about Timothy and our family for prayer purposes, we've set up a wee e-mailing list - it was becoming difficult to stay in touch with everyone who was asking about him, so we'll send notes to this list to keep you informed: http://bit.ly/2gc5LL9

PS Thank you to all of you who already were bringing us food, offering support of different sorts, we appreciate it so much! For now we'll go back to the normal life of caring for a newborn and three boys :) 

Friday, 24 June 2016


So we're leaving the EU. I'm not impressed by that decision, but we live in a democracy, and I've been disappointed by pretty much every election I've participated in since I turned 18. Some initial thoughts: pants. flip. a holiday abroad next year is going to be more expensive. bye bye peace money. are we really a nation of racists? something tells me the NHS isn't going to get significantly more funding any time soon. we'll never score in eurovision again.

Now, some more reasoned thoughts: God is still on the throne. He's a good father, and we are still loved by him. There is still Hope. Europeans are still our friends. I am still Northern Irish. And as far as it is possible for us, we must live at peace with one another.

Living at peace with one another, is the original principle for the EU to exist. It's our core challenge - to recognise every human being as precious and loved by God, worthy of his and our attention. If this vote makes us more insular and selfish than we already are, then literally, "God help us". But what if we go into this new era with the attitude of "How can we bless the world?" Ok UK, now it's time to show what we can contribute.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Soul Mates Weekend 2016

Last Friday night, as I lay down in a sleeping bag and on an airbed in a church hall, knowing I'd have to get up several times to quieten the boys in the next room, I found my heart and head simply filled with praise to God for the privilege of being there.

['There' was the annual Irish Methodist weekend for kids aged 9-13 called Soul Mates, and we brought a group from Ballynahinch and Newcastle plus some friends]

I was so thankful that my son and his friends were on the weekend, thankful for the energy of young people, and the creativity of the young adults running the event.

I was so proud of our group, for their behaviour and openness. They won a quiz and stood on the platform in front of a few hundred other kids and leaders, laying hands on the speaker and praying for him. They are willing to explore faith in Jesus through participation, asking questions, and forming new friendships.

Kathryn and I have been involved in these national youth and children’s gatherings for over twenty years. Methodist young people and their friends are seeking God earnestly, they want to meet with God in a real and honest way. At Soul Mates so many kids wanted to be prayed with after one session that extra people had to be called in to help.

There is a vulnerability, passion and joy that we encourage in youth and children's ministry, but which seems to be actively discouraged once they 'graduate' to grown-up church worship. By the time they're 25, all that passion seems to have been quietly discarded. Those who refuse to give up on David's quest ('O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you...') tend to drift to other churches - or nowhere, because they miss the intergenerational family they grew up with.

My nine-year-old is already asking why we _have_ to go to church on a Sunday morning. Because while we say we're a family, we don't act like it. We don't quickly forgive one another when we're offended. We don't eat together. We rarely pray together in a mix of generations. We aren't willing to be inconvenienced by one another's questions or tastes. We welcome new folks to our meetings but not our kitchen table. Church seems designed to squish life rather than nurture it.

Can we be an extended family on mission, sharing life together, for God's glory?

I know I'm the minister. I have the responsibility and final authority to make changes. Most of the things I've identified in this post are things I have influence over. I don't intend to offend anyone. Can we just agree that knowing Jesus, and making him known, to every generation and people, is the main thing? Something that's worth making some sacrifices over?