15 May 2003

Next Methodist Church leader is a marathon minister

The President Designate of the British Methodist Conference, the Rev Dr Neil Richardson, swapped his clerical shirt for a sweatshirt in order to compete in the Leeds Marathon last Sunday, 11 May. He finished in a time of 4 hours and 8 minutes.

In completing in his seventh marathon, the 59-year-old superintendent minister of the Leeds North East Methodist Circuit, is raising money for his church's charity project, Kilimanja WRo3, which funds projects in Tanzania and Romania.

Dr Richardson becomes the new Methodist President next month. He will be inducted as holder of the British Church's most senior clerical office at beginning of the Methodist Conference in Llandudno on 28 June.

He has finished six previous marathons - three London (most recently in 2000), two Bristol and last year's Leeds event. He knew he would struggle to beat his personal best, 3:50, achieved in the Bristol Marathon 15 years ago, but added: "I was quicker than a year ago, so there is hope yet!"

More used to debating the finer points of Anglican-Methodist relations - Dr Richardson was part of the recent working group that drafted the document that proposes a national covenant between Methodism and the Church of England - he manages to fit in a run most weekdays about 7am. With Sunday runs normally out of the question for a busy Christian minister, in the five months leading up to the Leeds marathon, he added a long Saturday run on his one free day of the week. He extended this Saturday run up to a distance of 20 miles two weekends before the marathon.

Dr Richardson said: "They say marathon running is addictive, and I think there is something in that. I relish the challenge, it keeps me fit and it seems to be a good way of raising money for good causes. People are very generous in sponsoring me to run marathons - perhaps they find it difficult to believe that I can be quite so mad as to run 26 miles."

Such a high level of fitness will surely set Dr Richardson up well for a hectic schedule when he becomes Methodist President, a role that will see him travel to scores of Methodist churches across Britain until June 2004. If he gets offered a place, he even hopes to attempt another London Marathon during his term of office.

Dr Richardson's chosen charity, Kilimanja WRo3, hopes to raise enough cash to sponsor a medical student during their five-year studies at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College in Tanzania. The project will also assist an orphanage, hospital, school and old people's home in Romania.

The Leeds Marathon on Sunday started and ended in the city's Millennium Square. Dr Richardson said that Leeds Marathon offered a particular challenge over others as it is a two-lap event. "Psychologically, it can be very tough when the hundreds running the half marathon event stop after the first lap."

The former New Testament tutor and principal of a theological college is not the only member of his family to answer a sporting challenge. Youngest son Simon (now 20) was a member of the British team at the 2001 European and World Mountain Bike Championships.

Those who wish to sponsor Dr Richardson can send donations to 52 Gledhow Wood Grove, Gledhow, Leeds LS8 1PA. Cheques should be made payable to 'Lidgett Park Methodist Church'.

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