Moderator's Snapshots

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 www.thykingdomcome.global).

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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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Mission Council May 2017

My snapshot this week comes from our attendance at Mission Council over the weekend (Friday to Sunday) at High Leigh, with 4 representatives from each Synod and central staff and conveners building up a body of around 70 people. Our meeting was framed by worship, and in particular a focus in unfolding portions on Romans 12:1 – 21 as we sought to listen closely to the Holy Spirit and one another. A lovely touch was the marquee in the grounds for the wedding on Saturday of a couple who first met at High Leigh – a truly wonderful celebration as we looked out upon their joyous gathering.

Much of the business of Mission Council would be considered important, but the issue in which many of our energies and passions were most challenged was the extensive time and debate given to the future of the Windermere Centre. As you will know from the URC website http://www.urc.org.uk/media-news/2360-thanksgiving-offered-for-the-30-year-service-of-the-windermere-centre-as-closure-decision-is-taken.html the decision was taken to consider the resolution in Paper D1 to close the Centre, and not to explore the Mersey and North Western Synod’s resolution in Paper Y1. However, a very full debate was held before that decision was made, with a generous airing of the proposals contained in both papers. Although, sadly, the decision was made not to explore any future the Centre might a positive outcome was the incorporation of the majority of the joint Synod’s resolution within the resolution passed to close the Centre whereby the denomination will produce a full strategy for the development of lay people across the country. This will be brought back to Mission Council, and once agreed any funds from the disposal of the Centre will be put to good use in lay development across our congregations within the wider denomination. This was not the outcome we had worked so hard as Synod’s to achieve, but nonetheless it has the potential to ensure that the legacy of the Windermere Centre continues in resourcing lay ministry for the future.

Please pray:

with thanksgiving for 30 years of the Windermere Centre, for the dedicated team of staff who have worked to ensure all received a generous hospitality, for all who have supported its work over the years, and for the blessing it has brought to so many individuals and churches

for the staff as they have heard the news this week and come to terms with what the future holds for them

for the denomination as it explores creatively a strategy for the development of lay ministry, and the legacy of the Windermere Centre which will contribute to the delivery of that strategy

for the future life, work and witness of the denomination and its congregations as Mission Council explored a paper Z1 “Where is God calling the URC?”, and the developing conversations which will now take place before the next meeting of Mission Council in October.

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Meeting Northern College Ordinands

This week I had the real delight of meeting with 6 of those training for CRCW or stipendiary ministry at Northern College (in the snapshot l to r: Jenny Travis, John Grundy, Jo Patterson [CRCW], Andrew Mudhara, Barnabus Shin, Maria Lee [CRCW]). Each year a Moderator takes the ordinands through the process involved in discerning a call to their first pastorate or post – and it usually works out that the nearest Moderator to the training institution meets with the students. The process from this point onwards for this cohort of students involves meeting with Moderators in September and then being introduced to the Moderators’ Meeting in October. This will, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, lead to a call and being ordained or commissioned [CRCWs] around the summer of 2018.

Please pray for:

  • our students in their studies and placements, that they may be equipped for future ministry but also enrich the life of the Church through their experience and gifts used in the course of training
  • our college staff as they train those placed at our colleges, but also as they continue to develop the wider strand of work where they offer to resource lay ministry in a variety of ways
  • our Mission Council as it meets this weekend, and particularly as it debates the role of the Windemere Centre and its potential continuing contribution to lay training within the denomination

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Society for the Study of Theology

Blue skies above the Trent Building on the campus of Nottingham University, and the venue for this year’s annual conference of the Society for the Study of Theology over a couple of days (I thought this made for a better snapshot, for once, than a hall full of 240 people all facing the front listening to one speaker). As a member of this Society I try and attend the annual conference, which moves around a small number of university campuses who can accommodate the 200+ members during a semester break close to Easter. This is supported as part of the denomination’s Education for Ministry phase 3 (EM3) funding which enables ministers to continue their development and formation throughout their time of ministry, and is taken up in a wide variety of ways that encourage and support those in ministry.

It was encouraging to see a good number of URC colleagues from across the denomination present and contributing to the discussions. It is a society which brings together the academy and the church into dialogue in a way which generates theological thinking about relevant issues for us all. This year’s theme was simply “Peace” explored in a variety of ways, although a few seminars helpfully picked up themes in connection with the 500th anniversary this year of the Reformation(s).

Most importantly for our work one former bishop, reflecting on 65 years of the society toasted with cake and wine, said “Theology is the only thing standing between the Church and quick fixes.” Please pray for:

  • all who work within the academy to explore theology and engage theologically with contemporary issues, and are supporting students and ordinands to deepen their capacity for theological thinking and reflection
  • the Church as it wrestles with the strains of being Church today that it may more deeply understand the nature of God, who raised Jesus from the dead and pours out his Holy Spirit upon his people, and our calling to be a missional people
  • our ministers that they may continue to be enriched by opportunities for reflection, study and fellowship with others

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Central Area Retired Ministers and Spouses' Meeting

This week I enjoyed a delightful post-Easter gathering with some of the retired ministers and spouses in the Central Area, organised by Kath Lonsdale, at St George’s and St Andrew’s URC in Bolton together with our new Central Area Pastoral Committee Convener Revd Nigel Adkinson. The Revd Andrew Lonsdale joined us and gave an inspiring account of the sabbatical he and Kath shared a few years ago, generously illustrated through the use of photographs in a PowerPoint presentation. Their sabbatical took them to many famous pilgrimage destinations which provided an enriching experience and gave them much to reflect on and, in turn, to be refreshed by through their travels. We all know how easy it is to be a church of “doing” and lose sight of our “being” as Christians and as a journeying People of God – and Andrew’s sabbatical reflections gave us insight into how the very different forms of Christian spirituality all contained the capacity to aid a recovery of that “being”.

Please pray for:

our continuing renewal as a people who are called to be disciples of a risen Christ

the great variety of ministries which we are given “so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12) and the development of the breadth of these ministries within the North Western Synod

all who in retirement continue to faithfully bear the light of Christ in their lives and to their communities, and who at times themselves need to be carried by the company of God’s People.

the United Reformed Church that it may balance our call to “doing” with a deepening sense of our “being” in Christ

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