"For Methodist presbyters and deacons, a sabbatical is a period of release from ordinary ministerial duties, in addition to normal holidays, for the purpose of pursuing an approved programme of study, research, work or experience. It is intended as a time for re-equipping, refreshment and renewal."
The Methodist Church Website
Our manse carpet was in bad need of replacement but I had resisted because of the upheaval this would cause, and my nervousness in caring for something brand new. The process of preparing for this change gave rise to some profound questions about what holds us back, and what it feels like to embrace something that we know will be good for us in the long run but tough to even start thinking about in the first place.
These photographs are completely unsantitised and unapoologetically messy because they reflect real life. Yet unintentionally, and in the baground, are markers of what is truly important.
An encounter with a dead field mouse on a walk (yes dead, not resurrected and talking), gave rise to a stream of questioning about our willingness to embrace life and death, and our tendency to embrace resuscitation rather than hold out to see resurrection in our lives.
Somewhat bizarrely, a joke gift from a friend, a solar powered 'Plastic Jesus' (who dances only in sunlight), made me ask a similar question; is our faith real or a fading replica of what Jesus intended? To what extent do we allow ourselves to take God's Kingdom values seriously? Christian Living is not to be acted out like a dress rehearsal. It needs to be the real deal.
The exhibition features images sourced from diverse locations. Please be warned that if you are of a nervous disposition that although the scenes in this exhibition do not contain graphic detail, some images allude to themes of tragedy and violence that are disturbing.
My research focus for some six years was how Methodist ministers could best support 'fresh expressions'; new froms of church for people who are not yet members of any other church. The impact of the wider Fresh Expressions movement has been profound in both giving confidence to people in local churches who want to start new work, and the need to focus on building ''church' (often referred to as new 'ecclesial communities', since ;church' often means different things to different people).
For part of my sabbatical I will be travelling to Cumbria, journeying with the Cumbrian Learning Community for a period, and exploring how a fresh expressions are being supported as a consequence of the Cumbrian Ecumenical County Agreement, and God For All, a strategy underway in certain parts of the region to enable new work.
This theme took me to some diverse locations; the Scottish borders, Northumberland, London, Birmingham, the South Coast. Visiting such locations served as a reminder that we need to gurad against insularlty and recognise the importance of being open to people whose culture is different from our own.
"DYSON IN DISTRESS"
"THE PLASTIC JESUS"
"OVER THE WALL IN CUMBRIA"
(Credit: Simon Whitfield)
Revd Dr Langley Mackrell-Hey is the Methodist Superintendent Minister serving Peterborough. He has served previously within the Lincolnshire District (in Lincoln and Louth) where he witnessed the influence of Fresh Expressions and the development of local projects. Within the Northampton District he supported renewal through the development of MANGO (Mission and Next Generation Overview), known now as the MSG, the Mission Support Group. In 2016 Langley was awarded a Doctorate in Theology and Ministry by Durham University following six years of study and research looking into how Methodist prebyters can help nurture fresh expressions. Beyond the joyous priviledge of working with lay and ordained leaders to develop ministry and mission across the Peterborough circuit of churches, Langley supports the Methodist Pioneering Pathway as a Coach, is a member of the National Methodist Church Fresh Expressions Leading Group, and a Fresh Expressions Associate.
Langley's use of photography to explore ministry began in 2005 when, as a probationer his support group encouraged him to use this as a way of recording and reflecting on his experiences. In 2006 Langley set up Shine Photographics and Media as a means of funding this work by providing faith-based images to churches and charities. Two exhibitions of note have been The Secret Life of a Methodist Minister (2006), and The Power of Faith (2008), both of which explore much of the unseen work of the Church, and draw inspiration from the new things that were happening in contrast to the Methodist Church decline in membership. In addition, much of his work has been published in print and online, not least in encouraging new candidates for ministry, and producing images that challenge unhelpful stereotypes of range of people who are involved in the Church, and the areas in which they serve. He has supplied images for Is God Calling You, Called to Lead Worship, Called to Preach, Connexion magazine, The Methodist Recorder, The Church Times, and The Lincolnshire Echo, Outside of the Chuch he has provided images to the Housing and Care Sector, specialising on images that illustrate how age and increasing fraily need not limit one's fun in life, and on property solutions that help rural people live in modern homes, in what has often become an overpriced housing market.
The additional challenges of superintendency meant that whilst Langley was able to use his skills in a limited capacity, there was little outlet until now for him to turn once again to photography as a means of celebrating faith. In recent years his work has focused on website design to support circuit and local church projects.