by Michael N. Jagessar
I have been told that what was once taken as a pejorative representation of Liverpudlians, has now become a fancy and very popular dish in Liverpool. I am referring to “skouse” (stew) with its Scandinavian roots, originally served with pickled beets/red cabbage and buttered bread. I was unable to try this. The meal and table-spread that followed the service at Trinity with Palm Grove United Reformed and Methodist Church (TwPG) on Sunday September 15th did not serve up this distinctive dish. We were, however, presented with a food laden-table as diverse as the make-up of the Liverpudlians. It was a small taste of why Liverpool was named capital of culture in 2008! It still is in my estimation.
This year (2013) TwPG, a union of Palm Grove Methodist and Trinity United Reformed Church, is marking 150 years of ministry, tracing their history back to 1863 (Trinity Presbyterian). To mark this significant milestone, the celebrations have thus far been marked by coffee mornings, concerts, barn dances, special worship services, extra mission projects, historical displays, lunch-time conversations about the future of TwPG’s ministry, and a renewed sense of outreach into the local community. As the Revd Blair Kirkby notes: the community in celebrating affirms both their “call to faithfulness” and the urgency for “more enthusiastic expressions of commitment”. This is certainly a call for the whole of the United Reformed Church.
My visit on Sunday September 15th waspart of the celebrations. On this occasion, the community at TwPG were joined by members of Charing Cross and Tranmere Methodist Churches and Hamilton Memorial URC. The main act of worship was led by Allan Brame (Local Preacher) and assisted by the Revd Blair Kirkby. Greasby Mission Band and the Church Organist provided the celebration with lively and appropriate music – a very good combination of contemporary and traditional music. I was invited to preach.
In my sermon, I reflected on the theme, “Table-habits: Our Life together” focusing on Luke 15:1-2. Around questions such as: are our table-habits convivial, joyful and overflowing with generosity, expansive embrace, when we gather together? Do they reflect the alternative economy of Jesus – the bread of life? What does our life together really say about what God’s economy is all about? – I noted that compassion, generosity, and goodness need to become our way of life; otherwise, we may end up becoming “dried up and stale bread! I noted the urgent need for a radical conversion and drew on the psalm of the day (Psalm 51) “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” to underscore that: “we need to put away old ways of thinking and acting that are not good/helpful and to have our hearts renewed with joy, peace, goodness. It was a plea for “character restoration, soul rejuvenation, heart re-galvanization and the mutual inconveniencing of all”.
One significant part of the act worship is worth noting for readers. After the sermon and the taking of the collection/offering, there was an open time (minister with a roaming microphone) when the congregation was invited to respond to the sermon, share any concern, good news, and requests for prayers. These, along with the prayer requests on the “prayer tree of the church”, were noted on the spot by the person who was leading the prayers of intercession and then included in the prayers. This very important and welcomed habit was clearly an integral part of worship with enough time, care and thought given to it. The prayer thus became a real lived encounter of lifting needs on the hearts of those present, for many locally and for situations across the world.
The service literally spilled over and continued in the meal that followed and I was delighted to be able to share in some wonderful conversations and stories of exciting things in the life of both Methodist and URC, congregations in Liverpool. Those present were eager to share stories, fill me in with historical bits associated with the church and the areas and extended invitations for me to return, including one from a 92 year old member to take me on personally guided tour of the area where she lives. I will be seriously considering her offer as her sharp mind was like one massive history book! Another very seasoned observer of the political landscape, upon learning that I will be at the LibDem Party Conference with the Free Churches team suggested that I tell the politicians to “stick to the truth”, make up their minds, and value “integrity”. All applicable to the Church as well!
Since I am always in the habit of reading the many wall memorial plaques in churches, I was surprised to learn that Trinity Presbyterian Church was the home congregation of Andrew Comyn Irvine who died near the summit of Mount Everest on June 8 1924, only 22 years old. The Mount Everest pundits will tell you that there is an on-going dispute as to whether he died ascending or descending! The walls of our congregations carry some significant historical notes that we should pay more careful attention to.
In the meantime, as you start to look closer at some of these historical markers, I invite all of us to remember and keep the communities of TwPG, Charing Cross and Tranmere Methodist and Hamilton URC and the leadership teams in our prayers.