Visiting Nottingham for Pentecost made for a memorable Sunday. Usually when in the city I travel south from the station to find the Trent Bridge cricket ground but on this occasion I went in the opposite direction to find St Andrew’s with Castle Gate URC. An immaculate church building on a main road in the midst of Nottingham Trent University territory, it is on the verge of improving its entrance and halls to be more inviting to the many who pass by. It provides a base for the Revd Kara Cooper, who under the URC’s Special Category Ministry scheme is chaplain to the students.
Our Pentecost celebrations were given a wholly appropriate world church feel through the presence not just of international students but of the Assembly Moderator of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil, the Revd Aureo de Oliveira. The congregation’s links with Brazil stretch back to Castle Gate Congregational Church sending out to Brazil in 1855 the missionary pioneers Dr Robert and Sarah Kalley. After five very difficult years, the Kalleys met Emperor Dom Pedro II and from then on possibilities opened up for their work. They were eventually to prove enormously influential not just in the establishment of Congregational churches in Brazil but also in the education system and in raising the status of women and children.
Our morning service, co-ordinated by the Revd Ian Wiseman, drew on the many resources of St Andrew’s with Castle Gate today, including a fine choir, a quality organist, two music groups and readers in English and Portuguese. The Junior Church told us of their thinking about God’s gifts to us in the light of the first Pentecost and decided that one of the best gifts was chocolate. They argued that without chocolate we would not have the energy to do God’s work. While this particular piece of theology was new to me, it seemed to win much approval from the congregation!
In his sermon, Aureo told us that the positives of the missionary movement far outweighed the negatives and today there are 42 million Protestant Christians in Brazil. His central message was as relevant to Britain as Brazil, however, as he reminded us that the Spirit came not to make us comfortable but to make us missionaries to the people around us.
During the service and afterwards during an appetising church lunch, I was glad to find many other links between St Andrew’s with Castle Gate and the wider Church. Sarah Kalley, for example, was a niece of the Victorian Congregational philanthropist Samuel Morley. At one time he was MP for Nottingham but later settled on a country estate within walking distance of my home in Kent. He gave huge sums for Christian causes and was the major donor behind many church buildings the URC still uses today. I was also introduced to a horticultural memorial to my sister-in-law’s aunt, Jean Graham, whom I discovered was known as Blossom.
While in the city I also visited the grand chapel building previously housing the Castle Gate congregation, alongside which are the current offices of the Congregational Federation. I was reminded of the day I spent at the Federation Assembly on behalf of the URC earlier in the month. I received a warm and generous reception and could find nothing on their agenda which did not have echoes in the life of the United Reformed Church. There seemed to be scope for closer partnership in mission, in a spirit of mutual respect, than has sometimes been the case over past years.
I left Nottingham with a Pentecost sense of the Holy Spirit alive and active and still challenging us to dare new things.