On Sunday May 5th in the afternoon, I travelled to Witham United Reformed to lead a service of the Mid-Essex Area Partnership of the Eastern Synod. The service and invitation was arranged through the Revd Paul Ellis, the Revd Jane Mortimer and Mr. Gil Heathcote. I was invited to lead worship and preach on the theme of “multicultural church, intercultural habit.
Leonora and I ‘set out’ quite early on our car journey on a gloriously sunny day, basking in the fine weather and arriving well ahead of the 6.30pm start. An early arrival gave us enough time to “walk-about” the town of Witham. I was impressed with the little historical snippets that the local historical society posted on important buildings/landmarks. For strangers and visitors like us, this provided a quick overview of what the town looked like, the sort of trade that used to happen in Witham, and how things have changed over the years!
Witham United Reformed Church is an impressive building, a reminder of Congregational influence in the area. And, I was reliably informed that it is not insignificant that the wider and surrounding areas used to be perceived as a Congregational/Free Church stronghold. Nearness to the coast and Europe and the theological/ ecclesial currents from the continent would have certainly contributed to this!
We were warmly greeted and welcome by Paul Ellis, and given a brief overview of the local congregation and the mid-Essex Area partnership. It is evident that much is going on Witham URC and it was a delight to learn of the many exciting things happening in this congregation, not the least that it is a growing and large congregation. Size, of course, varies across the breadth of the partnership and so it is a good idea to gather members from across the area for worship.
As part of the Service of Word we also gave thanks and paid tribute for the ministry of Revd Jane Mortimer as this was her last area service before her retirement. With some great and lively singing, aided by the music team of Witham URC we sang out our souls. It was very evident that Witham URC has a fantastic music ministry with very gifted voices and musicians!
My reflections drew on two of the lectionary readings for this Sunday (John 14:23-29 and Revelation 22:1-5) as I explored our intercultural vocation. I noted that the intercultural habit as a calling to cross from familiar spaces into unfamiliar ones, as the friends of Jesus and earliest Christian communities experienced. Like us, they too had to cope with transition moments, having to taste (again) emptiness, detachment and broken-hearts to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then could they have travelled beyond their “old” world and cross-over to the “ends of the earth”. I also noted that crossing from the familiar asks us to listen deeply with our hearts to one another, as it requires honest and open scrutiny of our own fears, habits and attitudes. I ended my reflections by noting Jesus’ invitation for us who claim to love him to keep his word. The implication here being that if God and God’s Spirit has taken up residency in our hearts, then a tangible proof must be a habit of mutual inconveniencing that favours the way of love, grace, healing and wholeness.
The fellowship that followed worship was a great opportunity to meet some wonderful and dedicated people from the area and in the United Reformed Church – people who have fallen in love with the way of God in Christ. Among them was Elizabeth Whitten, who gave me a copy of a hymn she wrote for Witham URC’s anniversary. Among the verses are these timely words and a fitting way to end this blog:
Constant Christ, you call us forward
On to service you have planned
Though the way may be uncertain
You provide a strengthening hand
We have learned that when we trust you,
You are faithful to the end
Loud our alleluias bring we
Christ to you our Lord and friend.
© Elizabeth Whitten