“A Long View” – a Dissenting Heritage, Salisbury URC

One of the very early invitations I received for my moderatorial visit was from Salisbury United Reformed Church. As one of our congregations recognising 350 years of dissenting and non-conformist heritage, Salisbury URC is having a year of events to mark 1662. John Strickland, the founding minister, was fairly well known in his day as a preacher to the House of Commons and was rector at the local parish church!

I arrived in Salisbury on Saturday afternoon and managed to attend Evensong at the Salisbury Cathedral. It was the Feast of St Michael and All Angels and also the occasion of the installation of a new Canon treasurer. It was an amazing experience (a taste of heaven perhaps!) to sit and delight in both the liturgy and music, lost in such a magnificent house of “living stones”! Later that evening I joined Revd Julian Thomas and his delightful family at the manse for a meal, where among other things I learnt much about the church, the local community, local ecumenical engagements and about Street Pastors in Salisbury. Helen, the daughter of Julian and Kathy is one of the youngest Street pastors in Salisbury and she is enjoying every moment of her “night-time” ministry!

For the service on September 30th, the local Methodist minister, the Revd David Hookins and his whole congregation joined Salisbury URC. Also, among the visitors was the local MP (John Glen) who read one of the lessons. Salisbury URC is served by Julian and Revd Tom Grant (NSM). For my reflections I focused on 1 Peter 2:1-10 and Matthew 5:1-11, drawing on my own version of a dissenting “hermeneutics” to re-read the shape of ministry for the “house of living stones” underscoring our calling to become a spiritual house constantly being shaped and reshaped into that space where the presence of God is known, where unconditional love and forgiveness flow freely and where all are welcomed.

A question and answer time with the moderator of GA after the service was as warm as it was robust. High on the agenda of Salisbury is the ecumenical vocation – real in terms of the present contextual realities of churches in Salisbury. Hence, in trying to live out their ecumenical calling members are contemplating ways to bring, as one of their distinctive “offerings”, their dissenting heritage to their shared affirmations and commitments to ecumenical partnerships. There were conversations around the General Assembly’s decision on Civil Partnerships and how as church we are committed to live together with our differences, on the wisdom of continuing Manse provision for ministers, and on how overwhelming the number of new “centrally driven” initiatives can be for a local congregation. I was touched by a Methodist member who stayed behind for the conversations and said to me afterwards: “You are now on my prayer-list”.

Some of these conversations continued later as I joined Peter and Yvonne Poulter for lunch. In our table conversations, I also learnt much about the joys of retirement, and caught a glimpse of what a retired Minister’s house may look like!  I can see that my main temptation (the love of books) will be a major stumbling block. So I am starting to pray, kindle my heart O generous God….

Good adventure to Salisbury URC on their continuing journey of becoming living stones – sisters and brothers who are growing into salvation, striving to walk the way of Jesus, model the Jesus life and practise the Jesus truth!

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