This month’s ‘speaker’ is the Reverend David Gray, Rotarian and Methodist minister of three churches in Swindon. He is currently on an exchange programme with a minister from North Carolina. David shares his experiences with us here.
In 1947, World Methodist Council, based at Lake Junaluska North Carolina established the Ministerial Exchange Program (MEP) to develop ties between Methodist clergy and churches in the United States and England. A retired Methodist minister friend of mine told me about the program and encouraged me to apply as he felt it would be a good experience for me.
So, in early 2012 I obtained the paperwork from the UK co-ordinator and applied. That sounds simple and in fairness the process isn’t too complicated. But in order to apply a minister needs the backing of the local churches and several senior clergy. Fortunately the three churches I am responsible for in Swindon, were all enthusiastic about the idea (I don’t think because they wanted to see the back of me!) And the senior colleagues were also supportive.
In March 2012 I sent off all the paperwork and then waited. And waited. And waited. I was assured that my application had been accepted but it wasn’t until late November that I was told I’d be coming to Fairview United Methodist Church in the town of Mooresville North Carolina.
The ministers completely exchange ministries so that I am writing this from “the Parsonage” in Mooresville while my American colleague (the Rev Dr David Calhoun) is currently living in my “Manse” in Swindon. While I have a newish large automatic Nissan saloon to drive round in, along straight roads, he has to cope with a 7 year old manual Skoda and the Magic Roundabout!
Fairview UMC is bigger than my three churches combined and is a very active church with a good number of social outreach programs all of which I am starting to find out about. For example the church actively supports the Soup Kitchen & Christian Mission project in the town which is similar to the Foodbank programme in many British towns. (Interestingly, they too are seeing a dramatic increase in people using the service mainly from people in very low paid jobs who just cannot make ends meet.)
My first Sunday here (I arrived on the evening of 23rd June) was very special. The church had a long standing booking for an African American male voice Gospel choir. And my first Sunday coincided with their visit. They really raised the roof.
After the service, the church members had laid on a vast spread to feed the close on 400 people at church. Everybody had plenty to eat and there was plenty left over too. This was my first taste of Southern US hospitality.
It’s worth mentioning how Rotary fits in to this story. In February of this year D1100 hosted a group of GSE students who came from North Carolina. And we hosted one member of the group for a few days. A firm friendship developed and we’re hoping to go and visit Rachel and her family towards the end of the stay.
I’m out here with my son Tom currently (my wife will join us on 18th July). Tom is an Associate Member of RC Swindon Old Town so we went to visit one of the several clubs in the area during our first week. We visited RC Mooresville Top of the Lake. This is a breakfast club and we were made very welcome. We plan to visit several other clubs in the town over the next few weeks. And we have also been invited to visit a club in the nearby town of Statesville. The President of that Club is a member of Fairview UMC.
While there is plenty to get my teeth into at the church, there have also been some opportunities for visits. So far a highlight has been to visit the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro North Carolina. And also a small local rodeo. “Don’t get too excited they only have bull riding” I was told. Having never seen bull riding previously it’s exciting believe me.
If you’d like to learn more follow my blog at http://notanormalvicar.blogspot.com/
David Gray Rotarian and Member of RC Swindon Old Town.