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By Greg Hughson in All Sorts

Experiences of the reality of the international church and interfaith community gained from travel overseas.

Recently, Hilda and I spent 5 weeks overseas. We returned to Dunedin on the 4th July. From the 5th-9th June, while Hilda and our daughter Christina visited Spain and Portugal, I attended the Conference of European University Chaplains Conference held at Aberdeen University in Scotland. I led a workshop entitled “A Practical Theology of Suicide Prevention”. Over the last ten years, Scotland has been successful in significantly reducing their male suicide rates, as a result of targeted government funding for men’s support groups throughout the country. Our government could learn from this.

On Pentecost Sunday, I attended the Upper Tooting Methodist Church, near Balham in London. Early on in the service I was approached by the officiating minister (Rev Armstrong Fummey, originally from Ghana) and asked to share leadership of Holy Communion. This was a true blessing - to unexpectedly find myself offering the sacrament to around 150 brothers and sisters in Christ whom I had never met before. I felt deeply connected with these people, in spite of having never met any of them before. The service went for two and a half hours, and was energised by the African Choir. After the service, over morning tea, I met the grandparents of an Otago student. Most of the congregation were of African descent. The night before, terrorists had attacked innocent people on London Bridge (where Hilda and I had been, a few hours earlier). Rev Fummey courageously addressed the issue of suffering during his sermon, highlighting the experience of the disciples on Pentecost Sunday, only six weeksafter the crucifixion of Jesus. The Spirit moved, and continues to move, to bring renewal and to build community in the midst of our grief, shock, sadness and heartache.
We were privileged to stay five nights in a bedsit at Wesley’s Chapel in the heart of London. This was possible as a result of our friendship with the Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, the Rev Dr Lord Leslie Griffiths who came to Dunedin three years ago to deliver our annual peace lecture, and to be the keynote speaker at the NZ National Interfaith Forum. Leslie sends his greetings to
everyone here.
On the evening of Saturday 17th June I celebrated my 60th birthday with family and friends, including former Otago students and Rev Jo and Professor David Fielding, at the Admiralty Tavern in Trafalgar Square. The following morning I attended the 9am Holy Communion service. I arrived at the “Foundry Chapel” one minute before the service began, and met the minister at the door. I introduced myself. He asked, “Do you happen to play the organ?” So I found myself, three minutes later playing Charles Wesley’s historic organ, for a very special service of Holy Communion. The ordinary organist has been delayed. At the 11am service I was privileged to be able to bring a greeting from the Methodist Church of NZ to a large international gathering in the main Chapel. People from around 80 countries make up the Chapel congregation, and on this occasion there were two large Methodist visiting Choirs from the USA. The brilliant regular organist (Elvis) is from the West Indies. I read the Epistle reading which was Romans 5:1-8. It’s a reading about how enduring suffering can potentially help form character, and even give birth to hope. The sermon by Rev Jennifer Potter included reference to the terrorist attack on London Bridge one week earlier. While we were staying at Wesley’s Chapel there was a special open day on John Wesley’s (and my) birthday, the 17th June. John Wesley’s home was opened up to the public, and staffed with members of the congregation dressed as characters from Wesley’s time. It was great to chat with a man playing the part of Wesley himself, just as I had at Mornington on my 50th birthday when Colin Gibson played the same part so admirably!
We spent two days in Brighton, and later in Bournemouth, hosted by a Muslim friend, and former during Ramadan. Osman was fasting from sunrise (5am) to sunset (9.30pm). One night, Hilda and I attended the breaking of the fast at the Bournemouth Mosque. We admire Osman’s resilience and faith, and enjoyed meeting his grandparents. His grandfather has been a Methodist lay-preacher (in Poole) 65 years, and recently turned 90. Still preaching monthly.

A highlight of our trip was six days in Norway. We stayed in the Oscarsborg Hotel which is attached to the restaurant where our son Paul is the Head Chef. It was wonderful to be able to explore the island on which the Hotel and historic military fortress are located, and to go sailing to other islands nearby. Another highlight was a summer barbeque at a beautiful Norwegian Lake.
We returned home feeling very proud of our daughter and our son. We returned home more deeply connected to our daughter, our son, to their friends, to international University Chaplaincy networks, to our international Church and to the interfaith community. We have so many cherished memories to reflect on, and value, going forward. There was a great deal of sadness and grief in London during our time there. It was touching to see the way in which people of different cultures and faiths all stood together to support the victims of terrorism and of fire. I sensed significant political instability in the UK. In such a diverse community it is not going to be possible to please everyone. The same dynamics apply here in Aotearoa-NZ as our general election approaches. In the midst of so much conflict, fear, instability and change, we can nevertheless celebrate the potential for hope to emerge out of suffering. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans 5: 3-5
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Greg Hughson University Chaplain