What a joyous occasion! A week last Sunday evening I attended a Baptism, confirmation and affirmation service at a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) in Sheffield at which I had been asked by the synod if I would represent the United Reformed Church. This is an LEP of four denominations – Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church – formed at the time of the building of the estate of private houses on the southern edge of the city with the intention that all denominations should work together rather than all competing with each other with all the waste of resources which that can involve. The incumbent minister is always Anglican and the members now say (as do many in LEP’s) we don’t really know who is what here, we are all just Christians and we don’t think it matters. Statements which reflect a positive approach to denominational difference evidenced as conversations continue and you learn, for instance, that they have different forms of communion reflecting the different denominations “but we all come to them all and we like the variety”.
Prior to the day there had been some exchanges of emails to ensure that the prayers which I was to lead reflected the United Reformed Church style of liturgy rather than the Anglican style but the eventual shape of the service involving an Anglican Bishop and vicar, a Baptist and a Methodist minister and a United Reformed Church elder, and included baptism by immersion, baptism by sprinkling, confirmation, affirmation of faith and acceptance into membership of the four denominations was a good service. In the end of the day what mattered was the welcome of seven people who had felt called to commit themselves publicly and to profess their faith in our wonderful God. This was for them the culmination of attendance at Alpha courses – one for young people and one for older people which had been run in the church over recent months. One of the impressive things about these seven candidates as they lined up in front of us was the range of ages – I am guessing and hoping that I am offending no-one – but I suspect the youngest was barely into double figures agewise and the oldest probably at least in his 60’s and this wasn’t just a young/old people group of people for there were those in between those extremes too.
As I said – a joyous occasion and one which should give us all hope for the future. Commenting on the increase in the cost of lottery tickets it has been said that what the money buys is hope and ‘hope is worth £2.00 in anyone’s money’. Well …. maybe …. but the hope which comes from faith in our amazing God is, in material terms, free and in spiritual terms priceless and far more certain in the delivery than any lottery ticket. It was good to be part of something which celebrated new a renewed commitment to that hope.