Voice 38: Rev’d Gill Newton, Chair of the Sheffield District

Revd. Gill Newton currently serves as the Chair of the Sheffield District of the Methodist Church.  She was previously the Superintendent of the Bramhall and Wythenshawe Circuit in the Manchester and Stockport District and before that started out in ministry in the Barnsley Circuit where she eventually served alongside her husband Leslie as Co-Superintendent and was also the Synod Secretary for the Sheffield District.

Prior to ministry Gill worked as a banker for the TSB, serving in a variety of towns in the West Country but ending her banking career as a retail branch manager in Dorchester and Weymouth, in Dorset, whilst living in Yeovil in Somerset from where she candidated for ministry.

Gill lives in Strensall, York with her husband Leslie who currently serves as the Superintendent of the York Circuit, but they will be moving along with their 17-year old daughter Laura to Acomb, York later this summer in order for Leslie to take up his post as the Chair of the Yorkshire (North and East) District in September.

Beyond the Methodist Church, Gill serves Girls’ Brigade England and Wales as their National Chaplain and is also a member of the Walk to Emmaus Community.

GN family

As a child and teenager growing up in the Methodist Church in Cornwall and also being nurtured in faith through the Girls’ Brigade, I was actively encouraged by youth leaders, brigade officers and family members to make prayer a natural part of my daily routine. That’s something I’ve tried to do ever since, but I have to admit that finding time for prayer every day in a structured way can sometimes be a struggle and it seems to have become increasingly difficult since taking up my current role almost three years ago!

So, when I have a quiet day at home my daily devotions take the form of reading scripture, reflecting on that with the help of some bible reading material and also making use of both the Connexional Prayer Handbook, the District Prayer Handbook and my prayer diary in which I record what I’ve prayed about and what response I have noticed.  This gives me focus and encourages me as I note where God has been and continues to be at work in me, in those I care about, in those I live and work alongside and in the wider world.

GN Prayer

However, the nature of my current District-wide role and the fact that I actually live beyond the boundaries of the District that I serve, means that I spend a great deal of time driving.  Fortunately, it’s something that I enjoy most of the time, and within the necessary constraints of paying attention to what’s happening on the road around me, I have found that it provides me with a wonderful gift of time; time in which I am able to think, reflect and pray about and for the District that I serve and the people amongst whom I find myself within this role.

What I see around me as I drive from home into the Sheffield District and then around the District prompts my prayers:

The beauty of the countryside reminds me of a Creator God who made and loves me as well as everything else around me that I see, experience and enjoy.

The roads, railways and other transport links remind me of the freedom I have to move around and of my connectedness to others across the District, the Connexion and the world.

The churches remind me of the many faithful people who are living out their discipleship within South Yorkshire and of the wonderful commitment they show to sharing God’s love in the communities they serve.

The buildings in villages, towns and cities remind me of the wonderful partnerships that we enjoy with others in our communities, local authorities and amongst our ecumenical partners and of the places where we long for doors to open.

And many, many other scenes that I encounter as I travel, cause me to be thankful, or to pray for an individual, or a situation, or a group of people, or a challenge, or an opportunity.

All of these people and all of these places are part of God’s wonderful creation and as I pray for them and sometimes with the people and in the places, I am reminded that I am called to serve in the beautiful places and in the tough places, amongst the committed people and the disinterested people, alongside those who are experiencing life as a good thing at the moment and those who are finding life incredibly tough.

On this Maundy Thursday, when we remember that most famous symbol of service exercised by Jesus, as he washed the feet of his disciples, I am challenged about the level of service that I am actually willing to offer, not just to those amongst whom I am called to work and minister, but to anyone that I encounter in my daily life, as I move around the Sheffield District.

Mark’s gospel reminds us that “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  So I serve because that is what Jesus did and does. Serving is at the very heart of who God is, so to be a servant is to be like God and when we serve others, we reflect God’s heart and love for others.

But, you won’t be surprised to know that, as I make my way around the Sheffield District, sharing in people’s lives, noticing what’s going on in villages and towns and cities across the area, I don’t actually get to wash too many people’s feet!  But this story does remind me that really serving involves rolling up my sleeves, and being willing to get my hands dirty down amongst the not so pleasant aspects of life, the bits that sometimes we’d rather leave untouched or covered up.

GN bowl

So, my prayer, as I drive around the District or sit in a train will forever be, that through my praying; my speaking to, listening for and being in the presence of God; I might become more aware of the needs of those amongst whom I spend my time.  But also, that through my praying, I might be changed to be more like Jesus who calls us to serve, who calls us to love one another and who calls us to create community all of which is beautifully summed up in this song by Michael Card:

And the call is to community

In an upstairs room, a parable is just about to come alive,
And while they bicker about who’s best, with a painful glance, He’ll silently rise
Their Saviour Servant must show them how,

Through the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel.

And the call is to community, the impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place, on any ordinary day
The parable can live again,  when one will kneel and one will yield
Our Saviour Servant must show us how
Through the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel

The space between ourselves sometimes is more than the distance between the stars
By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow we take up the basin and the towel

And the call is to community, the impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow that day after day we must take up the basin
And the call is to community, the impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow  that day after day we must take up the basin
That day after day we must take up the basin
That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel
Take up the basin and the towel.

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