A Dash of Purple

By John Ellis

The General Synod of the Church of England seems finally to have cleared the way for opening up the episcopate to women. Well might the Bishop of Rochester quote Sir Francis Drake’s prayer about the merits of perseverance in any great endeavour. It may be 98 years after the Congregational Union first ordained a woman before our English Anglican friends finally have a woman bishop, but most in the United Reformed Church will be glad that one difficulty in our relationship will thereby have been removed.

It seemed curiously appropriate that the next two churches I visited as Moderator were strikingly full of purple – at least when empty. Both had smart refurbishments of Victorian premises and in place of pews had eschewed the supposedly traditional URC blue in favour of having purple chairs.

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Purple in Egham ….

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…. and purple in Lymington

 There were other parallels too. At both Egham in Surrey and Lymington in Hampshire a prime site in the middle of the town’s High Street was being used creatively to make contacts, with suitable space for coffee tables just inside inviting entrances. Egham is a united church with the Methodists, having long ago abandoned a less suitable URC building. In Lymington the small Methodist congregation uses a less attractive building on a less visible site and the URC leadership is making sensitive overtures about the possibility of becoming one church.

A less happy parallel was the impact of the recent extreme weather. A couple of minutes’ walk from the United Church in Egham, at the end of the High Street, stands the parish church and behind it the road was flooded along with a great deal of other land alongside the Thames. It was good to learn of the churches working together to provide practical and prayerful support to those most directly affected.

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Flooding in Egham

I reached Lymington a few days after the worst of their storms, although local families were still going to adjacent Milford to view the extraordinary damage done by the power of the sea and wind. I saw rivers bursting their banks a little further away at Christchurch. Also in Christchurch, however, was the majestic Norman Priory church. Claimed to be the longest parish church in England, it rises above the flood plain and the harbour like a stately ship, as it has done for hundreds of years, through every sort of calamity and disaster. It seemed to say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

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