Next Methodist Church leader is a marathon minister

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

In completing in his seventh marathon, the 59-year-oldsuperintendent 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. Hewill be inducted as holder of the British Church's most seniorclerical office at beginning of the Methodist Conference inLlandudno on 28 June.

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

More used to debating the finer points of Anglican-Methodistrelations - Dr Richardson was part of the recent working group thatdrafted the document that proposes a national covenant betweenMethodism and the Church of England - he manages to fit in a runmost weekdays about 7am. With Sunday runs normally out of thequestion for a busy Christian minister, in the five months leadingup to the Leeds marathon, he added a long Saturday run on his onefree day of the week. He extended this Saturday run up to adistance of 20 miles two weekends before the marathon.

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

Such a high level of fitness will surely set Dr Richardson upwell for a hectic schedule when he becomes Methodist President, arole that will see him travel to scores of Methodist churchesacross Britain until June 2004. If he gets offered a place, he evenhopes to attempt another London Marathon during his term ofoffice.

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

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

The former New Testament tutor and principal of a theologicalcollege is not the only member of his family to answer a sportingchallenge. Youngest son Simon (now 20) was a member of the Britishteam at the 2001 European and World Mountain BikeChampionships.

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