Leadership on a Journey at Wesley's Chapel

Deanna Lyncook, Oral History and Project Officer at Wesley’s Chapel and Leysian Mission, shares the thinking behind a ground breaking new exhibition opening this month.

Earlier this year a call for nominees was put out across the Methodist Church, for members to nominate leaders from Black British, Asian and the global diaspora in Britain. Nominees were selected for their outstanding leadership. But what makes a successful leader?

The Leadership on a Journey exhibition aims to answer this question and celebrates the rich diversity that exists within the Methodist Church. Through an exploration into the lives and work of a broad range of individuals and showing an ethnically inclusive vision of leadership, the show aims to inspire a new generation of leaders.

The term leader connotes words such as ‘boss’, ‘chief’, ‘principal’ or ‘manager,’ essentially someone in charge. But in the context of the Methodist Church and this exhibition it also encompasses terms such as: ‘trailblazer’, ‘frontrunner’ and ‘spearhead.’ This is significant, as it illuminates the fact that these leading individuals have worked both within the Church and in their professional lives to make a positive societal change. In a way, each of them has put on their shoes to journey through life, “ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” They challenge injustice, help the marginalized, lead their Churches and communities and strive for a just and equal society.

Following on to phase one of the project, a display looking at the history of Black and minority ethnic leadership in the Methodist Church which is currently on show in the Museum of Methodism at Wesley’s Chapel, this second phase of the Leadership on a Journey exhibition centres around an oral history project. Oral history is a methodology rooted in civilizations that existed before the written word. It is a tradition that has kept the histories of marginalized people on the lips of their descendants and those who have cared enough to listen. It is in fact a unique practice that creates an authentic perspective, shaped by the thoughts and opinions of the interviewee. Each Leadership project nominee was interviewed and their particular journey recorded. What had shaped their work? What had inspired their life choices? And what did they hope the future of the Methodist Church would look like?

Over the past few months, interviews have taken place in Wesley’s Chapel and across Britain, in Churches, chapels, living rooms and kitchens. Current leaders in the Methodist Church such as the Methodist Conference President, the Revd Sonia Hicks and Youth President, Daud Irfan’s testimonies, have been featured. Long serving circuit stewards and activists Norman Mullings and Bala Gnanapragasam’s experiences of this country were shared alongside the views of academics, Dr Margaret Byron and Professor Anthony Reddie, who have helped to shape some of the historical and theological elements of this exhibition. The migration stories and experiences of Rev. Inderjit Bhogal and Rev. Irfan John, alongside their own selfless work have thrown into relief the clear necessity for an exhibition such as this.

Methodism and migration are two themes that are closely intertwined. Many of the groups of people that began to migrate to Britain in the post war era were exposed to Methodism in their native lands. Britain’s history, culture and landscape today is shaped by migration. Whilst these migrations have created a melting pot of cultures in many major towns and cities, they have also unleashed a painful legacy of racism, discrimination and prejudice.
The answers, testimonies, anecdotes and accolades of each nominee have shaped this exhibition. Their words are featured within the historical context of migration in Britain. Beginning with the Windrush Generation and their descendants and ending with more recent migrations from a variety of regions in Africa, the exhibition tracks the movements of those from across the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. The show celebrates their achievement and the rich and diverse history of the Methodist Church in Britain.

The exhibition launches on Tuesday 19th October 2021, running Tuesday-Saturday 11:00-15:00 until January 29th, entry is free.

Read a blog from the Revd Dr Jennifer Smith, Superintendent Minister at Wesley’s Chapel & Leysian Mission  on a chance encounter that inspired the exhibition here

Image shows the boots Inderjit Bhogal wore to walk from Sheffield to London during his Presidential year.

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