by Michael N. Jagessar
The image of “overflowing and pouring” over the weekend of January 25th -26th has stuck with me. This was alongside the downpour of very heavy rain that I would normally (a wonderful URC word) associate with the tropics and it brought to mind a line of an old favourite hymn, “There shall be showers of blessings”. While the outside showers were cold, the gathering inside was very warm, friendly and overflowing with thankfulness.
On Saturday (25th) I was invited by the congregation of Trinity Mill Hill Broadway URC/Methodist Church to offer a few words of thanks and appreciation, along with ecumenical colleagues, for the ministry of the Revd Ann Jack who is retiring. It was a very full house with an appropriate number of speeches underscoring the significant contributions of Ann to Mill Hill, the churches Together, Synod and the wider United Reformed Church. It was a real privilege to hear Ann’s ecumenical colleagues underscoring her brilliant leadership, team spirit, professional skills, care and loving presence in and beyond her community. In responding Ann gave thanks to all for their support and underscored how her ministry at Mill Hill has been a rewarding and joyful experience because of the deploying of the gifts of many around her. She also noted her confidence that the congregation is in a right place to handle a transition. With speeches over we all shared in the delights of a lavishly spread table of cakes, scones, sandwiches and other good things – with enough refills of tea and coffee. Outside the heavens continued to pour out its own blessings!
It was an early start on my train ride to Abington Avenue URC (Northampton) the next day, with John and Jo Moulding waiting patiently to collect me, with heavens still producing showers of blessings. This is another congregation in transition as their minister has only recently left. If any URC is thinking of redesigning the interior space(s) of their church, then I suggest they arrange to visit Abington URC to see the brilliant work they did on their building. And I also had the privilege of meeting the architect (Jane Stapleton), a member of the congregation. I loved the ways in which space have been creatively reconfigured, the use of colours and light, and the furnishings. Everything suggested warmth, welcome, spaciousness and ambience conducive to enable worship. As I often share in the liturgy class I teach, space can both form and distort faith. For the physical spaces and arrangements we construct around us have also to do with the space in our hearts, space for both stranger and the Divine.
It was a full congregation with attendance around 90 to100 with a younger age range evident. Abington Avenue URC has a strong music ministry and on this Sunday a group of musicians, along with the organist and a “singing community,” nearly lifted the roof off the building with the symphony of their voices and instruments.
My reading of the children’s story, “What the ladybird heard” was very well received and I even got a “star” from one of the youngest member whose father thought that his son would have a different view of church after the way I told that story. I reflected on the gospel reading of the day (Matthew 4:12-23) around the theme of “risking all for full life” doing a socio-economic reading of the implications of the Roman Occupation for fishermen and fishing which offered much food for thought about our current realities and the demands of discipleship today. I even employed Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: the power of thinking without thinking (2005) to make a case for “snap decisions”!
The stories of both Mill Hill and Abington Avenue URC suggest communities who are ready and able to get up, move out and move on to where God in Christ is calling them on the next phase of their life together. May grace continue to pour out and overflow!
“Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead; Walk beside me and by my friend.” [Albert Camus]