A weekend in Dorset!

By the Revd Gill Newton, President of the Conference 2023-24

It was from the Southampton District, whilst living in Yeovil, Somerset, some 29 years ago, that I candidated for the presbyteral ministry.  So, it was a joy to make a return visit to the district last weekend and to combine the visit with a stay with my sister and brother-in-law who happen to live in Dorset! 

On Friday 24th, I visited the LWP (Leaders of Worship and Preachers) Home at Gainsborough House in Milborne Port, near Sherborne, and was warmly greeted by the Chair of Trustees, Colin Braithwaite and some of the other trustees and employees.


It was my privilege to lead an act of worship in the small chapel, (probably the smallest I’ve been in during this Presidential year!) which was attended by LWP Trustees and members of churches across the Circuit, as well as Chair of District, Revd Andrew de Ville, Circuit Superintendent, Revd Lynn Francis and former President of Conference, Revd Dr Christina Le Moignan.  Unfortunately, most residents were away or unable to join us and the Warden on site was unavailable due to illness.


The chapel is used weekly for a mid-week act of worship, when residents are often joined by others from across the circuit who find the opportunity provides a welcome addition to the diet of worship and fellowship offered in local churches.

Following the worship, we were given the opportunity to view one of the bungalows.  The quality of the accommodation available was impressive and the outdoor area, including allotments worked by some of the residents, provides a beautiful space for gathering and recreation in the warmer months.

A delicious buffet lunch was provided at the Gainsborough Arms, which was just a short walk from Gainsborough House, and it was good to have time to talk with some of those who had attended the worship and discover more about their links with and support for the home.

The Methodist Local Preachers Mutual Aid Association established Mutual Aid Homes back in 1949 and these organisations have since morphed into the Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust and the Leaders of Worship and Preachers (LWP) Homes.

The LWP Homes are certainly one of our hidden treasures and we should be rightly proud of these varied facilities available in a number of places across the country, providing excellent accommodation and care for those who have served the church faithfully as preachers and leaders of worship through the years.

On Saturday morning, I visited the Christmas Fayre at Holtwood Methodist Church where I found a packed church hall with a vibrant atmosphere and where it was evident that this annual event was well supported and loved by the community.


I met many of the church members as well as members of the community over a cup of tea and cake and was also provided with an insight into the technical facilities provided at the church which enable the live-streaming of all acts of worship.  This activity began during the pandemic, but the church has gradually increased its knowledge and expertise, as well as its technical “kit” and has continued to develop and improve this means of outreach since the pandemic.  The worship is now shared by housebound members of the church, others across the Circuit and some from across the world. The church has heard stories of people who have shared in the worship from Holtwood online and then been prompted to seek out local churches in their own community!

On Sunday morning I was well fed, both physically and spiritually at the Big Breakfast at Verwood Methodist Church.  Here an all-age congregation of about 30 people gathered at 9.30 a.m. to enjoy a breakfast which included juice, cereal, sausage or bacon rolls, croissants with tea or coffee and then share in an act of worship which included action songs, prayers, a reflection on the humility of Mary and a craft activity.


Afterwards, I was privileged to preach at the 11.00 a.m. act of worship.  The service was led by Revd Nick Wood and our sung worship was accompanied by the music group with members of the congregation contributing the readings.  The focus of the worship was on Hidden Treasure and when the younger members of the church family, who had been meeting in Tree House, joined us towards the end of the worship, they were invited to consider the difference that light makes to our lives.

At a time when so many congregations have a homogenous age demograph, it was encouraging to hear how the work with children, young people and families has been developed here in recent times.   It was also great to hear about the “Crafty Christmas” event planned for the first weekend in Advent, which is proving to be very popular and prompting consideration to holding it over two weekends next year, to accommodate the number of young people who wish to attend.  These relationships with families are being helpfully developed through the work being done by Revd Wood and Open The Book teams in local schools and nurtured by a great team within the local churches.