Moderator's Snapshots

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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Synod Officers and Staff

 

On Monday the small team of Synod officers and staff met at the Synod Office in Patricroft for lunch together (although our CYDO Leo Roberts & Vice Chair of the Trust John Rea, could not be with us). In the image from left to right are:

  • John Piper, Synod Treasurer
  • Brian Jolly, Synod Clerk
  • Dave Fraser, Mission & Discipleship Mentor (South Area)
  • Hazel Wall, my PA & Office manager
  • [vacant], Legal and Trust Officer
  • Kerry Later, Office Secretary
  • Darren Holland, Mission & Discipleship Mentor (Central Area)
  • Jean Mullineux, Chair of the Synod Trust
  • Tim Mountain, Learning & Development Officer (for ministers)
  • Tony Rutherford, Financial Officer
  • Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant

In meeting with my fellow Moderators I have come to appreciate how blessed we are in North Western Synod with the resources we have to provide a “hub” which can support and encourage all our congregations in a variety of ways. At a time when we all feel challenged about the situation most congregations in the UK are experiencing, both as the URC and also our sister denominations, we need to recall the heart of the Gospel which has been entrusted to us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” We are called into being for a purpose – that others may know the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our working together, and the use of all our resources and people, enables us to respond to the Gospel and engage outwards in each of the communities where our congregations are located. To God be the glory!

Please pray for:

  • the work of all our staff as they help our congregations in a variety of specific ways; and for those Synods who are struggling through a lack of resources to support their congregations
  • the encouragement of the Gospel for any of our congregations who feel particularly under pressure, that their strength may be renewed (Isaiah 40:29 – 31)
  • the development of our focus as a Synod on missional discipleship, and as a denomination with Walking the Way, and the additional resource we have in our Mission & Discipleship Mentors; and pray for the interview process as we seek to appoint a Mentor for the Lancashire Area.

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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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