Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Methodist Blogger Profile: Richard Hall

Richard Hall of Connexions

I am Methodist minister in the UK, currently serving as the Superintendent of the Swansea & Gower Circuit in South Wales. I am married (20 years this year!), have 2 daughters (4 & 8), 2 dogs, 3 degus and a few stick insects. Our circuit has 11 churches and 6 ministerial staff. As well as my church duties, I am a part-time university chaplain at the University of Wales Swansea. My first degree was in physics (with a minor in the philosophy of science) and I took a post-graduate degree in theology at Birmingham University whilst training for the ministry at The Queen's College, Birmingham. Before entering the ministry I worked in the workers' co-operative (or Common Ownership) movement.

Why do you blog?
I began blogging as an experiment with various forms of "internet conversation". I barely knew what a blog was when I set up my first effort in 2001. (It was Feb 2002 before I got going properly) I was convinced that the church was not making proper use of the internet and wanted to play my part in making things a bit better. Whether I succeeded or not is open to question.

What has been your best blogging experience?
Undoubtedly, the friendships that I've formed. It's amazing -- there are people around the world who I've never met, except in this strange virtual world, but the friendships formed have been very real.

What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
Don't be disappointed if you don't have an audience of thousands after your first week. Give links to others before you ask for a link from them. And don't remove it if it isn't reciprocated! Join a few lists, rings and aggregators but don't overdo it. Try to be a contributing member of a community. And if you quote another blog, always give a link to the piece you're quoting. It's the law!

If you only had time to read three blogs a day, what would they be?
If I only had time to read 3, I probably wouldn't read any. It's no fun if you can't follow the links and see where they take you! Also, I like to read a variety of perspectives so 3 would be very limiting. And I have more than 3 good blogging friends -- I wouldn't want to offend any of them. So you see, I really don't want to answer this question! But if you're pressing me, and I sense you getting irritated with my prevarication, let me give the answer, "It depends!" If I was in the mood for something broadly liturgical, it would be maggi dawn, jonny baker and dissonant bible. If my mood was political, it would be Chuck Currie, Salt and Father Jake. Unless I was after something to inspire me to irritation, then it would be La Shawn Barber. (No one else comes close for her ability to make me irritated!) If I was after keeping in touch with my oldest "blog buddies", then it should be Ian's Messy Desk, looking back...looking forward and Randy McRoberts. But the sites I actually visit first each day are invariably Bene Diction, John Heron Project and Dave Warnock.

Who are your spiritual heroes?
John Wesley, Bert Bissell, my dad, Martin Luther King and Henri Nouwen would be first on that last. Maybe not in that order.

What are you reading at the moment?
"Mother Tongue" and "The Lost Continent", both by Bill Bryson"Jesus in the world's faiths" ed. Gregory A. Barker

What is your favorite hymn and why?
This a really hard question to answer, partly because it depends on the occasion. "Lord of creation, to you be all praise" is one that I keep coming back to. But if you're pressing me for an unequivocal answer it would be Charles Wesley's "Let earth and heaven agree". I don't think it is in the UM hymnal, which is a great pity. It's a terrifically "Wesleyan" hymn, combining personal piety with the universal scope of Christ's mission. I've posted the words on my blog more than once. (Here, for example)

Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind?
The question is, since when? When I was 14 I was a staunch creationist, but gave up that point of view long ago. Would that count? Truthfully, the political positions that I came to in my 20's are still with me, with very slight modifications. It is true that I am politically out-of-step with the the rightward swing that seems to have happened on both sides of the Atlantic. But I believe that people are responsible for one another, and that government is a legitimate mechanism for exercising that care. Disagree with me, by all means. But you're wrong! ;o)

What intellectual thesis do you think is most important to combat?

If you could affect one major change in the governing of your country, what would it be?
I'd want to take an integrated approach to transport. Curb the rise of domestic flights, change the way that fuel is taxed so that "gas-guzzlers" pay more heavily than more economical models, scrap road pricing in favour of a system of personal carbon allowances for transport (no, I don't know how it would be done, but I can't believe it is beyond our wit) and a reduction of the speed limit to 55 mph with draconian penalties for infringement. That would improve both fuel consumption and road congestion. Above all, a sense that public transport is a community good rather than merely a profit-making activity.

If you could affect one major policy change in the Methodist Church, what would it be?
A 5-year Presidency would be a start.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose -- but don't pick your friend's nose. [ed. -- he's right! I've tried it]

What, if anything, do you worry about?
I worry constantly about getting things done. Too much to do, not enough time.

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything that you'd do differently?
I wish I'd picked up a tin whistle much earlier in my life. And I wish I hadn't allowed myself to be intimidated by a music teacher at school. I should have studied harder when I did my physics degree. And I constantly wish I was more disciplined in my prayer life.But spending time with "what if's" isn't very helpful. I reckon it is better to get on with things and make the most of now.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?
I don't know how to anwer this question. As an itinerant minister, I have to get used to the prospect of moving house fairly regularly, and my next move is due in 3 years. I've thought a bit about where I'd rather be, and the truth is I can't think of anywhere! For all its faults, this part of Wales has lots of advantages, Gower not least among them. Oddly though, South Yorkshire still feels like home.

What do you like doing in your spare time?
I blog. Play the tin whistle (badly). I like to read and watch science fiction. Messing about with a digital camera. Sudoku puzzles and cryptic crosswords are a good diversion. Being with my family -- a wise colleague once told me that I could be a good father and a bad minister, but I'd never be a good minister if I was a bad father. I've tried to listen to that advice.

What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring.

What talent would you most like to have?
I'd really like to have some artistic ability. I'm more than a little envious of people who can create something with pens, pencils, paints and paper.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner, who would they be?
Something tells me I ought to invite John Wesley, but I'm not sure that he'd be a cheery dinner table companion. And I suppose Jesus would be out of the question? Assuming that my wife and children can be there (they don't usually need an invitation), I'll ask my mother-in-law, my father and my Grandma Howard. I'd like the girls to have met them.

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