Moderator's Snapshots

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

089-26 Apr 17.jpg

Views: 1773

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

088-19 Apr 17.jpg

Views: 1737

Holy Week 2017

Holy Week. Where will your journey take you this week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday? Our congregations across the Synod will be marking points along the way with different patterns of services this week. Some of you last Sunday will have celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, recognising the path Jesus will take before we reach Easter Sunday. Others will have used the texts associated with this same Sunday, but with a focus on the Passion Sunday which draws out the agonising decisions which lead to the depths of the cross on Good Friday. Throughout Lent, and now through Holy Week, the emphasis is on the Church’s mission of discipling people in the way of Jesus.

This week my snapshot is of a painting hanging in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, entitled The Deposition (painted by the Italian artist Palmezzano [1459 – 1539] in Forli, in oils). This moment in time is frozen in the painting, where Nicodemus supports the broken body and Joseph gazes in contemplation on the face of Jesus and they mourn his death as they take his body to prepare it for burial. In Matthew’s Gospel we hear how “there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57). A vital part of that discipleship is in our identification with the brokenness of Jesus, and the place of brokenness within our own spiritual journey.

Please pray for:

our congregations as they offer worship and witness to their communities this Holy Week and Easter, that others may gaze on Jesus and “become a disciple of Jesus”

those who are preparing to lead our congregations, as they wrestle with texts and the ancient story – and then share the depths of the Passion in a vivid way where we can offer up our self-will in taking up the cross of Jesus today

a world which needs the hope of redemption and resurrection more than ever, in places and peoples across the globe

those who walk this week in brokenness and pain, seeking a healing and wholeness which comes from a Saviour who has trodden “the valley of the shadow of death” and comes to us in our darkness and distress.

087-12 Apr 17.jpg

Views: 1748

Central Area Pastoral Committee

This week one of our four Synod Area Pastoral Committees met in the Central Area. The 10-strong committee wrestled with all manner of concerns involving the very varied mission situations of our congregations in the Central Area. One of the strengths of the committee is the way in which many forms of ministry are present and contribute different perspectives about how we can best support our congregations in their worship and witness. These ministries include those in local Church leadership, those involved in fostering ecumenical relationships, NSMs (Non Stipendiary Ministers), Church Related Community Work ministry, Lay Preachers, those with finance hats, and Stipendiary Ministers, and more. We are blessed in our common life with those who are willing to serve our wider partnership in the Gospel and bring these many different outlooks to shape the support we offer to one another.

Please pray for:

  • the work of our four Synod Area Pastoral Committees as they seek to facilitate the support we can offer across all our congregations in mission and ministry
  • the Area and Synod Pastoral Committees as they participate in shaping the work of missional discipleship and Missional Partnerships across the Synod following the work of our recent Synod Meeting
  • the continuing development of all the gifts of God’s People through many different ministries so that “From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

086-05 Apr 17.jpg

Views: 1806

Cumbria Holy Land Pilgrimage (2)

The tranquillity of the Sea of Galilee, and a snapshot of me leading Holy Communion beside the Sea for our 75-strong Cumbria Ecumenical pilgrimage (with Bishop James sat in readiness for the reflection). It was a powerful occasion for prayer concerning our walk with Jesus today as we walked the land he trod 2,000 years ago.

There are more frivolous images taken a few seconds before of Bishop James and I roaring with laughter together – I don’t know what at. But as the Apostle Paul writes, “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:4) and through close fellowship (and fun) we have bonds which cause us to pray deeply for one another.

However, the presence of Jesus was experienced more keenly on the pilgrimage where we met and talked with those in a variety of situations (schools, YMCA, former IDF soldier, Eritrean refugee workers, work of Anglican Archbishop across 5 countries and more). In these situations, people shared experiences of rejection, division, hostility, enmity, marginalisation and painful hardship.

In these places we saw where Jesus was leaving footprints today, as people wrestled with the difficulties and struggles that living in Palestine and Israel bring. It is possible that we strive too often to find Jesus beside the quiet waters, when in fact the footsteps in which we are to plant our own are to be found in the highways and byways and the turbulence of other lives lived in the shadow of darkness where Jesus would seek to bring his light.

Please pray for:

  • all those who shared in the ecumenical pilgrimage as they in turn share their story and strengthen the ecumenical working across Cumbria
  • our Synod as it meets this Saturday, for Grace and Peace to be experienced as we wrestle with a full agenda and big questions as we work to support one another in our congregations and all the forms of ministry we share across the Synod.

083 22 Mar 17

Views: 1822

Cumbria Ecumenical Pilgrimage

On Monday I had the privilege of flying out to the Holy Land as one of the co-leaders of the Cumbria Ecumenical Pilgrimage, together with Rt Rev James Newcome (Bishop of Carlisle) and the Revd Richard Teal (Cumbria Methodist District Chair) and our organiser Rev Rob Jackson. Only travelling from Manchester to the airport I did not envy the 2 coach loads of pilgrims who set off from Whitehaven at 2:45am and Barrow at 3:15am on a tour to pick up fellow pilgrims across the county of Cumbria.

Our first full day took in Magdala, Nazareth and Cana. A true Christian pilgrim seeks change, the journey being as important as the arrival. Pilgrimage acts as a metaphor for the Christian journey, and so our journey through the Holy Land is unhurried and full of encounters. Not least is the encounter with our 75 fellow pilgrims (the snapshot was kindly taken by Kim, with me together with other members of our Cumbrian URCs l to r: Anne Dick, Ruth Mills, Jennifer Cassells, Margaret Baker).

082-08 Mar 17a.jpg

The second image shows us with Mary, our guide at Magdala, showing us the remarkable discover of the 1st century synagogue beside the Sea of Galilee – acting not only as our guide to the archaeology but also as our spiritual guide and ministering to us in prayer.

082-08 Mar 17b.jpg

Please pray for:

the pilgrims’ experience of Christ in the land of his birth and ministry, and the moving of God’s Spirit changing us through the journey

strong bonds of fellowship to be formed between leaders and pilgrims which are part of the Cumbrian experience and themselves act as a sign of all that God is doing within the county of Cumbria

the preparations for the ecumenical mission “Moving Mountains 2018” when next March Bishops (and the Archbishop of York), Methodist District Chairs, and Moderators all with their small teams arrive in Cumbria as a gift to support a week of mission in the county

the strengthening of ecumenical relationships by church leaders in your Synod Area, and for the increased willingness for a partnership in the Gospel between congregations in your locality.

your own pilgrimage where you are, as you come to know Christ more and as you make Christ known.


Views: 1967

Cumbria Ministers' Gathering

The gathering this week of all the ministers in Cumbria for 24 hours (including some of our ecumenical colleagues from the Methodist Church and Church of Scotland) took place in the Windermere Centre – where we were looked after wonderfully by the staff. The ministers encouraged me to take a “selfie” – not something I normally do and at which I am not very proficient. Six attempts later produced a picture almost in focus and without anyone appearing to be decapitated! This snapshot is the result. Unfortunately, the keynote speaker and facilitator for our sessions had already had to rush to catch a train – so the Revd Nicola Furley-Smith (Moderator of Southern Synod) is not in the picture.

Our sessions focused on the conversations which have been taking place between the URC and the Anglicans. The Revd Nicola Furley-Smith has been the URC Co-Chair of these “Church of England - United Reformed Church Informal Conversations” with the Rt Revd James Newcome (Bishop of Carlisle) as the other co-chair. In view of the ecumenical project underway within Cumbria the sessions produced lively discussion around a topic which is a “live” issue for every URC in Cumbria.

Please pray for

  • the continuing development of conversations between the URC and the Anglicans, especially around the issue of sharing ministries
  • the continued work within Cumbria to provide a model for the whole of the UK of the way in which our denominations can work together in a way which makes a significant difference for the mission of God’s Kingdom and our partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • the Cumbria Ecumenical Pilgrimage taking place over the next fortnight to the Holy Land with almost 80 pilgrims from all four traditions (Anglican, URC, Methodist, Salvation Army) participating. We are seeking prayer for this sign of our unity – and next week I will point you towards the blog if you wish to follow our progress (I am co-leading with the Rt Revd James Newcome – Bishop of Carlisle – and the Revd Richard Teal – Methodist District Chair).

Thank you for your prayers.

081-01 Mar 17.jpg


Views: 2029

We use cookies to improve our website and your experience when using it. Cookies used for the essential operation of the site have already been set. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our Privacy Policy.

Accept and proceed