Moderator's Snapshots

The variety of what’s going on in our Synod

Last Saturday I felt very torn – in fact in four directions, but only able to be in one place. The first to appear in my diary charted my direction of travel. But let me mention the other three, as between all four it reflects something of the variety of what’s going on in our Synod.

Firstly, at the end of the month the Bishop of Lancaster retires. I have worked with Bishop Geoff Pearson (particularly with our congregation at Hest Bank URC) over the last 18 months and valued his warmth and wisdom as an ecumenical colleague, together with his friendship which I shall miss. Secondly, a service marking the closure of the Windemere Centre was led by Revd Lis Mullen (recently retired as Northern Synod Moderator) with others taking part, and it seemed very appropriate that the guest preacher was the Revd Tony Burnham. Thirdly, after many twists and turns in reaching this point our congregation of Macedonia, Failsworth (Oldham) were able to celebrate the opening of their new church building.

The event that found its way into my diary first was the service held at St John’s Church in Keswick, where the ecumenical leaders of the recent Holy Land pilgrimage were involved in speaking at the service with about 80 gathered pilgrims. In the snapshot the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Revd James Newcombe, is speaking with the Methodist District Chair, the Revd Richard Teal, sat awaiting his turn to speak. As I had already spoken I was able to nip across and take the snapshot – it was a very relaxed time together! It was followed by a tea hosted by Alison Newcombe in the Bishop’s home, with lovely weather to explore the stunning garden created by Alison which appeared in a recent edition of the Cumbria Life magazine.

Please pray for

  • all who are struggling with a deep sense of loss at this time, that they may discern the presence and peace of God at work in their lives and in the life of the church
  • all who are rejoicing at new beginnings or fresh starts, and for us all to see new shoots of the kingdom of heaven in the communities where we live, work and minister
  • each member of our congregations across the summer that, whether at home or away, together we may be revived by a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit and be led by Jesus as pilgrims seeking to make him known to others today.

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Big Day Out - Southport 8 July 2017

On Saturday over 500 people from our Mersey and North Western Synods gathered again at the Southport Convention Centre, and it hardly seemed 2 years since the last event. The glorious sunshine we experienced also enabled many to enjoy a stroll to the pier and beach. In a very relaxed atmosphere there was plenty of opportunity for people to enjoy catching up with friends, to listen to a variety of speakers reflecting in different ways on the Church in Action, and with time to browse the variety of stalls provided.

So what to “snapshot”? My pictures of the opening worship were poor because to try and take in the sense of the number of us gathered for worship meant that the Mersey Moderator on stage, together with Café Jam band, looked diminutive. There were lots of sticking and gluing going on with the children making a “Church in Action” banner. However, the variety of stalls caught my eye and so here are 2 snapshots this week. In the left picture frame are Alison Greaves (on the right) and the young people. Alison (from Bamford Chapel & Norden URC) recently attended the United Nations for a week to meet its members, and her stand encouraged us to take have very simple personal aims to address issues of Global Goals for sustainable development in the world. In the snapshot on the right Liz Kam (on the left) is chatting about her work as a Church Related Community Worker in Levenshulme and this particular form of ministry within the URC. All in all, a tremendous day together.

In praying please:

give thanks for an amazing joint Synod Big Day Out, and for all those who worked so hard to make it happen

seek wisdom for the ways in which we, and our congregations, can be the Church in Action in our communities

remember the Mission & Discipleship Committee (formerly the Future Patterns of Ministry Steering Group) as they meet this Thursday and Friday to prepare for consultations and roadshows with ministers and elders in September working on the shaping of missional partnerships

ask God to search the hearts of those in your congregation for a fresh call to be heard by some to exercise particular ministries – especially locally around leading worship and eldership, as well as to the national ministries within the URC of Church Related Community Work or Minister of Word and Sacrament patterns of ministry.


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Missional Discipleship Roadshows - Lancashire Area

“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. That question still lies at the core of our understanding of discipleship and our participation in the mission of God. Last week our new Synod Mission and Discipleship Team (Lawrence Moore as consultant, Dave Fraser for South Area, and Darren Holland for Central Area) presented 2 more meetings in our series of roadshows around the Synod to look at our focus as a Synod on Missional Discipleship.

Following interviews yesterday, we hope to be able to announce very soon the name of the new Mission and Discipleship Mentor for Lancashire Area – and we will be delighted that together with part of Sarah Moore’s time in Cumbria Area we will have a full Team working across the Synod.

The snapshot is of the evening gathering at Bispham URC with many of the Lancashire Area churches represented. Darren is in the middle of our reflection on various images of Jesus – from the anaemic Jesus painted with cute animals clustered round him, to the more harrowing and darker painting of Jesus straining away from the cross. The blue cards indicate a “coolness” towards the image! (and pink cards indicated a “warmth” towards other images).

Please pray for

  • the Mission and Discipleship Team as they continue to develop their support of the Synod Areas and congregations in missional discipleship
  • the Mission & Discipleship Committee (new name for what was the Future Patterns of Ministry Steering Group) as it meets for 24 hours Thursday 13th to Friday 14th July, in developing the work of both missional discipleship and the other booklet containing the Synod strategy with missional partnerships
  • the Big Day Out this Saturday as we join with Mersey Synod for an exciting time together at the Southport Convention Centre. (there is still room for anyone who wants to turn up on the day – look forward to seeing you there).

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Royal Visit to Manchester

On Monday I had the privilege, all rather last minute arrangements because of security concerns, of attending a gathering at Manchester Town Hall to meet their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and Camilla. They had visited the Arena to meet with those who helped deal with the aftermath of the bombing at the end of the Ariana Grande concert, and then came on to the Town Hall to meet a small gathering of faith leaders, local community leaders and those involved in organising the emergency response to the bombing. It was good to hear Prince Charles speak about community cohesion and the coming together in adversity which brought out the best in so many parts of the city of Manchester. We also stood in small groups of 5 or 6 at small tables to chat with the Prince – altogether a very informal time, as the Prince juggled his cup of tea whilst engaging in good conversation.

On a personal note, some of you know that my wife has been in and out of hospital over the last 2 months, with 12 days in with an operation. It is going to take some time for Ruth to be fully recovered, but I wanted to express our appreciation for all the good wishes which you have sent and the lovely gift of flowers that were sent to Ruth.

Please pray for

  • the royal family as they visit many communities, and support and encourage actions concerned with the good of community life within our nation,
  • the witness of our congregations in each community, that the Gospel can be heard and experienced in fresh ways,
  • the continuing encouragement being given through our Synod roadshows about missional discipleship, giving thanks for the work of the missional discipleship team and the developing focus on being Jesus-shaped congregations.

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Community Engagement & the URC Primary School


In different ways we have seen communities within our country deeply affected by tragedy over the last month or so, whether the bombing at Manchester Arena or the ghastly fire at Grenfell Tower. A ripple effect touches other communities as families and friends of those killed or injured living in other parts of the country need to be supported. It has been so encouraging to have seen on the news that churches and Christians have played a significant part, together with many in these communities, in reaching out to those caught up in these disasters. Once the headline writers have had their day the deep needs of those affected will continue and so we must be alert to the changing and continuing need for action and prayer.

The image above represents just one of the ways in which we are engaged with the local communities. The Revd Michele Jarmany and Mrs Joan O’Rourke are the URC (Synod) Foundation Governors at Barrow Primary School, the URCs only primary school in the country. The school is currently looking at expanding to accommodate 50% more pupils as Lancashire County Council needs to provide places for children as the pace of house building increases in the Ribble Valley. (the second “wing” of the building behind Michele and Joan is the URC Chapel building).

Please pray for:

  • our congregations in each of their communities as they discern the particular ways in which they can build bridges and share the heart of the Gospel through relationships
  • all those deeply affected by the recent tragedies we have seen in such detail via the media, and for the on-going support that needs to be put in place for them in the months and years ahead
  • the children and young people within our Synod, and the openness of our congregations to engage with the changing culture which presents us with so many opportunities as we share together in God’s mission.

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Meeting of Faith Leaders

Following the events of the last 2 weeks, in Manchester and London, a snap opportunity was created for senior faith leaders to meet with Lord Bourne, the government Minister for Integration and Faith on Tuesday morning. The session was held at Manchester Cathedral in the Regiment Chapel in front of the Fire Window (image: Lord Bourne in the centre with his PA to his left, and to his right the Dean of the Cathedral the Very Revd Rogers Govender). The setting was a reminder of the tragedies that have faced Manchester, from the 1940 Manchester Blitz when all the Victorian windows were destroyed to the IRA bombing (3,300lbs of explosives) in 1996 which literally lifted the Cathedral roof and when over 200 people were injured.

Those gathered represented Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Christian communities within Greater Manchester. It was moving to hear of the fear being experienced by those of minority communities, yet the courage of particularly Muslims in making themselves vulnerable in the aftermath of the Arena bombing to process through the city demonstrating their oneness with all caught up in the terrorist attack. One of the real strengths that all faith communities offer, both in war and peace, is that of hospitality exemplified by the Sikh Gudwara which opened its doors to provide a place of refuge that night and in the following days, offering a safe place serving meals and drinks to all.

The Minister for Integration and Faith, Nicholas Pye, took away our concerns about the need for the careful use of language by the PM at all times, the need for media training for senior faith leaders who may not be as well-known as some Christian leaders (eg an Archbishop), and the impact on engaging with youth caused by the government cuts in funding in this area throwing much back on faith communities to become providers. Among those gathered was the recognition that we need to work at building strong relationships which will inspire and nurture social cohesion.

Please pray for:

  • those affected by the events in London and Manchester, in particular those families who are being supported in their loss of loved ones and as they are supported as funerals are arranged
  • all who now experience fear, where they are afraid to travel on bus or tram, of being targeted by a few with hateful comments or gestures; and that through the loving activity of faith communities’ barriers may be broken down and strong relationships built through the gift of hospitality
  • each of our congregations set in widely different contexts, for the faithful living out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in each community, and a demonstration of the Spirit’s power through us which brings transformation as we continue to pray Thy Kingdom Come (see the link

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Manchester Terrorist Attack

Manchester on a glorious sunny day just over a week ago when I attended a meeting at the Cathedral (image). Each time I drive into the city I use a carpark out beyond the Cathedral, walk under the train bridge at Victoria Station and past walls which are the site of Manchester Arena. Little did I realise that just a few days after my visit the news of a terrorist attack at the Arena following the closing song by the American singer Ariana Grande would come to dominate our media.

As I travelled up and down Lancashire between seeing people yesterday I listened to a lot of news on the radio – shared between Radio 4, Heart, Classic FM and Smooth radio. The reportage was relentless, with interviews with those who had been there, those who had travelled back 13 hours later, reporters who tirelessly asked “How are you coping?” In amongst all of the strongly worded rhetoric of politicians and police spokespersons there were questions and words that disturbed me as the character of the terrorist involved was scrutinised. In particular, that the terrorist was “mentally disturbed” which thus explained their actions.

As a nation we have sought to highlight the mental health issues which many suffer from, and the need especially for our young people of putting adequate NHS resources in place to help them. Making such an (alleged) association of the terrorist’s mental state as a cause for the way he behaved was not heard well by one person I spoke to who understands the struggle of mental health issues in their life. I hope that some of the rhetoric fades in the analysis we will hear on the media in the days to come and does not damage the positive work that has gone on through the media to enable us to better support those with a particular set of health issues.

Please pray for:

  • all the families of those grieving the loss of their children and family members through the atrocity of the attack at Manchester Arena on Monday evening
  • all those who have been hospitalised and are critically ill, and for their families and the staff who are supporting them at this time
  • the emergency services and investigating teams that have the harrowing task of working at the Arena to understand more about the details of the terrorist attack
  • the work of faith communities and leaders in Manchester seeking to draw people together, and to overcome the potential divisive effects of this attack
  • the words that we all use, that they may be used to bring Peace and healing in all our relationships within families and communities.

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