Mersey Synod Spring Meeting (Southport)
It was an early Saturday morning rise, having enjoyed the hospitality of Howard and Pam Sharp and then having to journey to Southport (Lord Street West United Church) for the Mersey Spring Synod gathering. I do not envy the distances Synod moderators have to cover! This is besides all the preparation work, the thought and care given in preparing to encourage and get the best out of Synod – this important Council in the life of the United Reformed Church!
The Revd Howard Sharp (moderator of Mersey Synod) and his team intentionally crafted this meeting to give more space for celebrating the positive stories around the Synod, undergirded by worship and prayer, saying thank you and goodbye to Revd John Oldershaw (outgoing Synod Clerk) and welcoming the new Clerk (Mrs Rita Griffiths), greeting ministers and church leaders, and wrestling with some of the tough challenges before the church. I was invited to share, from a larger perspective as a moderator of General Assembly, some of key themes that are close to my heart and which I am passionate about. It was hoped that these thoughts may contribute to the thinking and discerning at Synod and beyond.
Worship, led by Howard, located the mood and orienting perspective of the day. Reflecting on two readings (Luke 9:51-56 and John 8:45-50), he noted how Jesus was rejected for being an outsider/stranger by both his own people and the Samaritans. It was difficult for Jesus to find “home” with so much insularity around him. Hence, the question: where do members of the Mersey Synod encounter the stranger Jesus and meet him? And how generous are we as people who walk the way of this outsider and stranger?
My presentation continued the mood set by worship and Howard’s reflection. Working the theme Habits of Heart and Mind – Our Calling Today, I identified some urgent questions before us and went on to explore the need:
- to re-author/reframe some of our current conversations;
- to urgently nurture and grow the habit of trust; to grown and nurture generous habits grounded on key gospel imperatives;
- to invest in deepening the habit of discernment;
- to become “unnecessary” disciples in our intercultural journey of being mutually inconvenienced,
- to mind our motivations as the present and future belongs to a church that is honest.
In their continuing journey of discerning and planning, I invited members of the Mersey Synod
- to be honest about their reality viewing it through a generous eye; to keep a mission focus at the heart of their decisions
- to set priorities on the basis of missional contribution, resources and requirements
- to develop strategies for doing enough and their best with less.
Two local and contextual presentations by Revd Trish Davis and by Revd Tim Meadows gave Synod members a taster of exciting pieces of ministry that the Synod and the United Reformed Church are engaged in. Trish (a “Fresh Expressions minister of the Synod) gave practical examples of “Fresh Expressions” churches and ways she can help local congregations “to take the message of Jesus out of the building”. She also relayed her moving experiences as a minister doing “pub-ministry” in her ‘local’ community.
Tim’s Liverpool City Centre ministry can be describe as ‘ a clothes line where different items are “put up” and others are taken down as needs arise and fall’. He and his colleague (Barbara Valentine) spoke of the exciting partnerships (ecumenical, community based and with agencies/businesses) that involved working with a wide cross-section of people. This includes “Spectrum of Spirituality”, “Hard Night Days” and serving as a Chaplain at Merseyside Police. Tim noted interfaith engagement as one of the significant “growing edges” of ministry, the crucial witness of a united Christian presence in the City, the challenge of living out the inclusive gospel and of sharing one’s faith with both commitment and openness. What I got from these two grounded presentations were the intentional and practical ways ministers and congregations try to live out what it means to an “honest church”! There was much to chew over at lunch time and enough inspiration for the remainder of the day!
A good way to sum up my experience in Mersey Synod is captured in selected words from a hymn (Anna Briggs) sung in the closing worship: “one voice alone is ragged, together we are strong”. So may we continue to be God’s “living story, to hear and to be heard”!