It is the 40th birthday of the United Reformed Church

…… and the Northern Synod celebrated in style. Following a morning business meeting there were displays to look at and time for meeting friends over lunch. The displays included an opportunity to look back, with the history exhibition which had been at General Assembly in Scarborough and forward with information about current activities of the churches in the synod. Tales and Spinning Yarns told of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and demonstrating a collaboration between churches in the North Northumberland Mission Partnership, a community arts company and Berwick record office.

The aim being to record and celebrate the importance of sheep, shepherding and related industries which have helped to shape north Northumberland. Aural history and the use of traditional skills all being part of the project.

After lunch David Cornick was the keynote speaker talking about the history of the United Reformed Church through the lives of four saints – Richard Baxter, Oliver Hayward, Agnes and Margaret Smith and Lesslie Newbiggin. Questions following David’s talk addressed such issues as what does it mean to be a dissenter in this 21st century, where are those who are prepared to challenge the status quo and what do these giants from history have to teach us today.

There followed a number of workshops. I went to one on developing spirituality which offered time to think a bit about our own spiritual journeys and welcome time for a little quiet and calm time in the middle of busy lives.

The primary reason for my visit to the Synod was to run a workshop entitled Meet a General Assembly Moderator. A number of people did just that, bringing with them questions about the role, the state of the denomination and how we can reach people in the world in which we now live. There were questions about why we are never quoted in the press and how much we can influence politicians. I could, of course, reassure people that we have various ways, through the Joint Public Issues Team, of reaching the politicians.

As for the press maybe we should be pleased that we don’t make the headlines, since often when the church does so it is with news which we would rather not be known for.  I do also think that we often have better success with local papers than with the national press. I hoped that the local press would hear of our 40th birthday with a report of this day which had clearly been a success.

It was good to hear comments about the need for us to make changes even though those might mean things being less comfortable or familiar for us. I enjoy this sort of session partly because it is good to share some of the experiences which I have had over the past two years and partly because I believe I should be accountable to those who elected me.

The afternoon concluded with a service of celebration at which Roberta Rominger was the preacher and the hymns we sang included two which had been written by people living within the Synod demonstrating a wealth of talent in this part of our family. Finally the whole day ended in the sharing of a meal including a piece of birthday cake.

Whenever I am asked about the state of the denomination I always reflect on the positive things which I find as I travel around – yes it is easy to be negative and of course it is easy to see the down sides but the reality is not that simple –there are many good things going on, much to praise God for and to celebrate. This day in Newcastle with members of the Northern Synod was a day of praise to God and of celebration of where we have come from, who we are and also of hope for a future which will necessarily be different but can be Spirit guided if we listen for that guidance.

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