Thursday, August 6, 2015

Gannin' Yem

"Home"-Different Iconic Locations Around Newcastle. My final project in the city.

A changing reality is one of the hardest things to comprehend. To rap your mind around the fact that what you know now, will no longer be your day-to-day norm.

My reality of living in Newcastle (my reality for the past two years) is now changing, but it doesn’t feel real. Yes I am incredibly sad, and I have said my goodbyes, packed up all my things, and am even writing this on the plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean! And yet it still feels as though I am just heading home for a quick visit and then will be right back to the Toon.
What is even more mind-boggling, is when I think back to my first day in England….

When I landed in Newcastle, walking out of baggage claim with Abby Buuck (my last bit of the States and familiarity, even though I had only just met her a few days earlier), I walked out to find a short woman with glasses and short hair waiting for me in the airport foyer.
Saying goodbye to Abby, I was probably more scared than I may have even been aware of at the time to leave her and walk out into an unfamiliar city with a stranger. I even tried to get into the wrong side of the car (my first, immediate culture shock).

And now this morning I was at that same airport with that same short woman, (now no longer a stranger, but an incredible pillar of support) leaving the city I call home.
So much time has passed between these two parallel airport scenes, and it’s the experience and memories in that time that make me realize something—Just as attempting to comprehend my changing reality turns my brain to mush, trying to sum up the joy, appreciation and memories of the past two years simply leaves me speechless!

So for this final blog post, at the end of a journey that will forever be in my heart, I thank you for your love and support along the way, from both near and far.
I pray blessing in your life and all your experiences wherever God leads you, that they may be as fruitful as my time in England has been for me.
And I’ll leave you with this…

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for the richness of loving a knowing people in more than one place.”- Unknown
This may be partly true for me now, however, I would rather say that my heart is not split, but filled all the more with JMC and myNEWcastleLife!

Cheers to you all!
I’m Gannin’ Yem :)


Friday, July 31, 2015

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

Our beautiful building!

My time is quickly ticking by, closer and closer each day to the final day I move back to the States. There are so many “feels” I am experiencing, that I am shocking even myself at times with how I am reacting to it. I have laughed, I have denied it, I have wished it would happen sooner to get it over with, I have over thought it, and I have had many panic attacks! I have never been good with change (says the girl living in a foreign country), and even worse with goodbyes. So it is safe to say that August 5th scares the living daylight out of me.

How in the world do you say goodbye to a home you can’t imagine not living in and are not sure you when you’ll come back? How do you leave a job you love with mentors who have become more like pseudo parents? …Well honestly, I still don’t know! But here I am, taking it hour by hour, one “last” at a time.
In the quiet times I find amongst this craziness that is packing up my life and moving to a different country, I keep reflecting back on why I love JMC so stikin’ much! So I thought, “why not procrastinate some more and write a blog!”

Let's have a look at a standard Sunday Morning at JMC…

A drawing by our token young person, of the worship team.
Do we start on time? Ha! 
But really, we have to keep it interesting. 
And, saying that now, I do believe we have started on time the last few weeks, 
so maybe we are turning that around :).

We begin with a block of songs to get our hearts and minds in worship. 
Some weeks, this goes flawlessly and some weeks there are a few hiccups; 
but that is a good reminder, every so often, that we don't have to be perfect.

Next comes Family News when a weird American (can’t imagine who that is…) stands at the front and talks about the events and news for the following weeks in the community. 
This is normally a time for me to just ramble at the front and no body understands me 
because of my accent....and I might speak too quickly as well 
(note to self- work on slowing down when I speak).

Then the scripture is read out. This is a good way of discovering different members in the congregation who aren’t always at the front, but are on the rota for the reading that week 
(because, like all good Methodists, we run on rotas!).

Of course, we then have the Sermon. 
In the Methodist tradition, we have a different local preacher come to us each week, which keeps everyone on our toes and the older members awake...most of the time ;).

If we have communion, that means it’s the 3rd Sunday of the month 
(or the closest Sunday to when Rev Rob is here to do it).

And then, after a final song to wrap things up, we end with the Grace. 
The Grace is one of my favorites parts of the service.
It is a great way of forcing Brits to make personal eye contact while blessing one another 
(all the while they secretly hope to miss everyone else's contact 
and hiding their frustration when they unluckily catch another’s eye).

Now that the service is all through, the most important part of the day begins with tea and coffee. 
It is the time when we catch up with one another and share, not just in worship, 
but in life…plus JMC has the reputation for having the “best” coffee in the circuit, so there is that!

I promise we really do love eachother!
I know this has been a bit of a cheeky evaluation of a Sunday service, but these little quirks and random bits we don't always focus on, are the reasons why I love JMC so much! These are the bits that I might just miss the most!

So what is really so precious about JMC?
It is a family. A place, safe enough for our imperfection, yet challenging enough to push us past them and through them. I often use the word “quirky” because there is honestly nothing like it, almost the opposite of “cookie cutter.” Because of our varied congregation, we pull from a wide range/mix of worship styles. Combine that with the Methodist local preacher circuit, bringing us a different preacher nearly every Sunday, and it is tough to see the same service twice. One week we might resemble a traditional service with old hymns and service readings straight from the lectionary service book; and the very next week we might just be playing Pictionary or being asked to nap in a sleeping bag as a visual aid to the sermon. We are constantly moving forward, while still cherishing tradition.
A few of my students before they set off for summer.
And, of course, all the love and laughter!
Laughter is a staple member of our community and cuddles are an expected norm upon entering the foyer!  But above all, for those who walk in the doors, whether for the very first time or as a “grandparent” to the family, we are a warm and welcoming space to be with God.

Our moto is to “Bring the Heart of God into the Heart of Jesmond.” But I feel more like the Heart of JMC is spreading wide and far across the world in the hearts of those who have been blessed enough to visit on a Sunday morning or even two years worth of Sunday mornings. 

So today my message for Jesmond Methodist Church is Philippians 1: 3-6…

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with Joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

JMC - Jesmond Methodist Church – Work – Quirky - Strength - Love - My Family

Cheers for now

Fish n' Chips on the beach with some of the Fam!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Flashback Friday Fringe

  As it seems this whole "flashback friday" craze is here to stay in the social media world, I am going to take advantage of it today to update you on my biggest project I have done here with JMC, the Jesmond Fringe Festival.

   Every year in late May, the Jesmond Community Festival is put on by the community for the community for two weeks. Last year, I organized the Taste of Nations as a free international food tasting: showcasing dishes from around the world, made by the various international members of our JMC church family.  It went so well that we decided to include it in the Festival schedule again this year.  But Rob and I decided, we wanted to host another free event during the festival to really put JMC's print on Jesmond.
   He gave me the freedom to be creative and plan any event I could think up to bless the community around JMC. So with a blank slate in front of me and just over 5 months to plan, my mind ran wild! I thought of things as simple as "blessing bags" for the local businesses to hosting a One Direction concert at the church...ok maybe I didn't get that crazy, but what I did come up with quickly became "my baby" and a large focus for the first part of 2015.

   Inspired by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (a month long festival across the whole city of Edinburgh, with hundreds of acts, concerts, and street performers; attracting thousands of spectators from all over the UK), I decided to bring the Fringe feel to Jesmond for one night! I called it Jesmond Fringe Festival.

   When I got together with the Methodist NCL Chaplin to get some help with the branding, he made the brilliant connection that Fringe has a double meaning we could play off in our marketing scheme: Fringe- as in the festival- and Fringe- as in the hair style (for all my American readers out there, fringe is the British term for "bangs").
   So with the excitement of this quirky new angle (and the multitude of puns that inevitably accompanied it), we ran head on into creating an amazing event!

   After running around Newcastle tapping into various networks, I was able to pull together 8 local acts for the night- 3 talented musical acts, and 4 stand up comedians and an improve group from the University Comedy Club.
   So with a great line up and an interactive TED Talk for the upper studio, all I needed to sort out was the location, as our sanctuary was out of commission due to some unforeseen building works.
But when the new owners of the Cafe took over in February and heard about my project, they jumped right in to offer Cafe 1901 as the location. It all came together in perfect time!

   The night of was far beyond what I ever even imagined: with a red carpet entrance, a good turn out, great coffee and cakes by the cafe, people upstairs scribbling their life's desire all over the walls, and incredible acts downstairs playing music and splitting our sides with laughter. It was a night that has shot straight to the top of my best memories here in Newcastle.

   I couldn't have done it without all the help of Stephen Richardson, various JMC members, Madeep and Debbie (the owners of the Cafe), and all the talented folk that contributed to the evening! Thank you again from the bottom of my heart!!

Here is the link to the TED Talk we used for the upper studio if you are interested...

And of course some photos from the night...


Thursday, June 25, 2015


Our theme for the weekend was to leave the city and all it's
stresses behind and meet God in his creation.

  This past weekend I had the pleasure of leading a retreat to the Lake District with a student worker from Brunswick (another church in our circuit), that we aptly titled “God’s SigNATURE.” *credit to Kenzie Grant for the title idea.

A few of my students (that have only just joined JMC this past year) came together with some of Brunswick’s young professionals, and we enjoyed an amazing few days in the beauty of the lush green hills, the still lakes and the peaks that extended into the rain clouds.
It was a weekend of nature walks, puzzles, small mountain villages, time alone with God and time together in worship. I was so happy to see my “new” students representing JMC as THEIR church, as they enjoyed the weekend with another circuit fellowship.

We gave a lot of space throughout the weekend to be alone
with God and explore God's sigNATURE.
We spent some time at the end of the weekend reflecting on their year and how they feel JMC has become a big part of their Uni life; and how much joy it brings me to know they have clicked in with the rest of the students and church family.  They are the hope I see in the church. The future and fresh eyes of the church. The best part of my job that makes me proud to know each of my students, and the blessing it is to be apart of their faith journeys.

I then remembered I had written a blog following my last meeting with the students who have been at JMC for the past two years that I meant to post last month!
So if you don’t mind the delay, here is a short bit I wanted to write for those original 5 students that, I can only hope, sums up just how much I have enjoyed being their “tea slave.”

The group in Keswick on our last day


Thinking back to the first time I gathered them together in JMC- before they knew one another, before they declared the group name to be “Onsies and Doughnuts,” before a Monday became the day to bring their struggles and joys to one another, before I knew their hot drink preferences by heart, before the shared tears and laughter- THAT, seems like a lifetime ago!

Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of watching them go from cautiously sharing their faith stories with one another, to diving headfirst into that faith and becoming significant roles in each others’ journey! They have all grown so much individually as well as collectively, and it blows me away how confident and mature they have become…while still being young enough at heart to play hide-and-seek from me anytime I leave the room.

I have seen them joke with each other and make each other laugh until they cried; and I have seen them hold one another in prayer when they have needed it most. These 5 students may have only seen each other once a week or a few times a month, yet each Monday, when we walked into JMC, they were able to celebrate the week and get their worries off their chest without hesitation.

It might be because I am sentimental, or it could be due to my rapidly approaching end date, but recently I can’t help but smile when I think about what the future holds for each of these incredible students (as well as the 5 new students from this past year). They have the strength and gifts to not only take on the world, but to take their faith TO the world!

So to my coffee with milk and two sugars, my tea with five sugars, my tea with milk and two sugars, my coffee with milk and one sugar, and my tea with milk and three sugars…I wish to express all the cheesy and cliché things you can imagine so you know what light you have brought to my life here in Newcastle. Now go and throw on your fuzziest onesie and have a doughnut for me! ;)
Thanking you and loving you,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wishing the Time Away??

Cafe 1901 (the cafe in our building)

4 Months.
That is the amount of time I have left in Newcastle.
There were many times earlier this year when I was worried that 8 months, or 6 months was too short a time to have here before moving back to the States. Many times when I thought about how this is really my home now and that I need to stay--of course, I know as my mother is reading this, she is most likely talking to the computer screen saying “No, no, no, missy! You are coming home!” haha. But the truth is…my mother would be right.  Although I love Newcastle, and life here is my norm, I know it is time to take a beat and head home to Colorado. JMC is looking towards a fast approaching future when Rob retires; my students have taken full ownership of their role in the congregation; the Ignite course that we run on a Wednesday night is extending into next year and expanding its influence on this city; and all three of my flatmates are moving on to new and exciting stages in their lives.

One of the JMC students on a Sunday
walk through the Dene to the petting zoo.
So, 4 months.
Ya know, in the big picture of my time here, that may seem like a short sprint, but thinking about it the other day I realized that 4 months is how long some students study abroad for during a semester at Uni (if not longer!). So really, I have plenty of time as long as I stop wishing it away!
And over the past few weeks, that is just what I have decided to do…

As if I have just arrived for my “4 month study abroad,” I have started two new volunteering opportunities in the circuit, and I can’t even begin to express how much I have been enjoying them!

I did a fun Egg Hunt for all ages at JMC
on Easter Sunday- proving you don't need
to be a child to enjoy Easter Egg Hunts...
simply being competitive will do :)
The first being a youth club on Thursday evenings at one of our circuit churches here in Newcastle. The kids are from 6-9 years old and all proper little Geordies, so needless to say it has taken me a bit of time to understand them.
It has been a while since I have done any work with kids and I forgot how much I love it! Yes they fight, and yes they scream and run through the halls; but they also draw you pictures, and give you cuddles. Even some of the young boys acknowledge and accept that you are a new leader in their own sweet way--“Oh. I know you. So you’re gonna be here every week then?...Canny.” These little bairnes really become a new highlight of my week :)

The second addition to my schedule has been working one day a week in Café 1901 (the coffee shop/café in our building). For a few years now I have wanted to try my hand at making coffee and learning latte art, and now the owners of the Café (Mandeep and Debbie) are giving me that chance and more!
I initially spoke to them about volunteering in the shop and learning some barista skills in the process. However, little did I know they would turn me into a baker as well as a business savvy barista! It has been a whirlwind experience making coffees, preparing cakes, and all the while learning the ins and out of running a small business. Mandeep and Debbie have been the most gracious leaders, and such an inspiration that they may have even convinced me to open my own tea room one day! Who knows!

Both of these coffees were supposed to be a heart...the one on the left being
my first attempt, it is safe to say I have come a long way already!

Rob was brave and tried the first cup of coffee I ever made!

As if I thought I had hit the limit for what blessing I would get from this community, once again I am blown away by where this journey is taking me.

So it is about time this Geordie wannabe heads back to the Rockies…but not before I shake things up in Newcastle for one last season :)

     Cheers for now!

(A selection of photos from our Maundy Thursday night of prayer. There was a beautiful space prepared in our sanctuary to reflect on Holy Week.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

No Place I'd Rather Be

My first flight out of Chicago a year and a half ago and
my last flight out of Chicago back across the pond.

    I have now officially made my last cross-atlantic journey to my home here in Newcastle; and honestly, it is tough to absorb and comprehend. I was sad to leave friends and family in Colorado yet again, but so excited to return to England. I was so happy to be back in Britain, but sad and scared to know my time here is passing faster than I imagined possible!

Have I done my job well?
Will I have made enough of an impact on my community to last even when I am gone next year? What most deserves my attention these next 7 months?

But all these questions so easily lifted from my shoulders the moment I walked back through the doors of JMC. Because although Rob joked that, without me in Newcastle, the walls of the church fall down (only literally of course! we are having some structural concerns with plaster falling from the walls of the sanctuary), this place's strength, impact and blessing is far beyond anything I could do in a lifetime!!

Even from my first Sunday in the church I could feel it--something almost tangible and yet indescribable. But over the last few months, we have had a few folks share with us their sense of why JMC is so special. One in particular speaks volumes...

"...Since I first walked through the doors of JMC a month ago two things have been consistently on my mind:
Firstly this feels like "home-church". Not reminiscent of a particular church, but of a church which is God's home for us. Incredibly welcoming, and a church who are showing God's love.
The second is an inconsistency. I keep hearing the same phrases at JMC. "We're a small church" and "we're not a big church", and yet I keep hearing God say it is a big church. A huge church. A people with a huge passion, making a big impact and with a massive mission. It's like he is saying:

"I want you to open your eyes. Look at what I'm using you for. Look at who I'm impacting through you. The building may not be the biggest, but it's going to be full soon (we might need to put more chairs out) - expect it. Their might not be thousands of people in Jmc, but it is a huge church, and it's mine"

I wanted to share it with you..." (James Went, JMC family member)

The view from the JMC front steps, that so many have walked up to come in and join our family (Yes that is snow on the ground! One of the two snowfalls we have had this year).
And under tragic circumstance earlier this month, the true "size" of JMC became more obvious than ever.
Following the unexpected and heartbreaking loss of our minister's son, Andy, this community immediately pulled together and enfolded the family with love, prayers and endless offers of support. I have never been more proud to be apart of this community than I do now!

We had a prayer vigil for Andy Hawkins at JMC
the afternoon after he passed and saw just
how tangible the love of this community can be. 
It is a tough time for JMC, but an immeasurably difficult time for the Hawkins family. Yet through this pain, they have shown strength in faith and turned to God in such a way that is truly inspirational! Somehow, even in a time when we as a church family are holding them in love and support, they continue to lead us by living the ultimate example.

So I ask you today to keep the Hawkins in your thoughts and prayers and if you would like to further help the family, do email me for information on a fund started for Rob and Katie's grandchildren.

God is love-through the good and the bad.
I may forever have my heart split between two homes, but for the moment, there is no place I'd rather be!

Cheers for now,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Onesies and Doughnuts

Christmas set up at JMC!

   Christmas Music was playing, our Secret Santa gifts had been exchanged and opened, and the bill was sorted with yet another lecture on why I don't need to Tip 20% here in Britain (don't think I will ever get used to that). I sat around a table with 9 students who were laughing and sharing stories from the past week; discussing faith, tough questions, and Christmas traditions; and all I could do was smile. This bunch has grown, not only in number, but also in maturity, faith and friendship.

Over the past year and a bit, a big focus for me here at Jesmond Methodist Church, has been University students. And since then, I have come to see them take on Uni life and settle in as an integral part of the JMC family. As new students found their way through our doors this year and, as I mentioned, around the table at the student Christmas dinner, I remembered a reflection I wrote just before the number of students at JMC grew to require a booking deposit for a dinner reservation!
Christmas set up at JMC!

So in the spirit of my month of sharing, 
here is the 2nd post (my own blog version of TBT) 
from October this year...

     Tonight I saw my students come together in such an inspiring way. Each bringing their joys and struggles of the past week to share in community and laughter; through tears and prayer and, of course, over doughnuts!

It is a random mix of characters, all coming to JMC separately, but have joined together and slowly become a tight support group for one another. They affectionately call this group, "Onesies and Doughnuts," and they often refer to me as "the mom", or "the crazy church lady", and of recent..."tea slave." So, in line with this new title, I want to introduce them to you here by way of their respective hot drink order...

Coffee. 2 sugars. Milk.
   He is quiet and kind. Ready to give his time for others, with a patience and willingness that speaks volumes in itself. He is the great, listening ear of the group and forever, graciously going along with some cooky ideas: such as hiding from Elie whenever she leaves the room (or at least I tell myself that he simply obliges to these plans, when in reality, he could actually be the silent yet devious mastermind behind all the shenanigans...I may never know).

Tea. 5 sugars (yes 5). No milk.
   Our chatterbox, always sharing stories and jokes to bring smiles to others faces; he is consistently the first to offer condolence, support, and advice when needed. And the verdict is still not out on whether or not he knows that the word "no" exists, as his diary (remember this means schedule/time-table) is permanently filled, yet he is the first to offer help to run each new event: a true servant's heart.

Tea. 2 sugars. Milk.
   She is a passionate, kind, and strong young woman, who brings the perfect dose of reality to the group, followed immediately by some sass and a good cuddle (hug). She has an amazing heart to see justice and possibility for change around her; and you just wait, one day soon she will accomplish far more than she knows is even possible.

Coffee. 1 sugar. Milk.
   Wise beyond her years, she has a gentle kindness and is a sure bet for a good, meaningful conversation. She is a natural leader, while also happy to watch others succeed; and this humility makes it a joy to watch her shine, which is far from a rare occurrence.

Tea. 3 sugars (or 2 teaspoons). Milk.
   She is our "life adventurer." Smiling and laughing all the way, she takes life with both hands and runs with it! She is well in tune with how her faith can grow and strengthen, and will not apologize for who she is (not only because she is a gem, but because she knows there is not enough time in our lives to worry about what anyone but God thinks of us).

It has been such a pleasure and joy to watch these students group together into a wonderful community over the past 14 months. From strangers to family in Christ huddled together in prayer.

Tonight I looked over them, clinging to one another, some tears rolling down cheeks, hands in hands, heads on shoulders, and smiles emerging from under the tears as we prayed.

One of them asked what they were gonna do without each other after uni, but I have no fear that these five individuals will go on to do great things, make wonderful friends, find another strong community, and forever remember the night at Jesmond Methodist Church when they held, not only each others' hands and shoulders, but each others' burdens and joys in prayer.

You got one proud mamma bear right here!

Cheers - Elie

We had an Advent Evening Celebration at JMC earlier in December. It was a great night of food, fun, and fellowship!