‘Don’t mention the monkey’ was my advice to Carla as we drove into Hartlepool. The people of this port in North East England haven’t always taken kindly to the taunt that in the Napoleonic wars they mistook a monkey for a French spy shipwrecked off the coast and hung the monkey in the town square.
I needn’t have worried as it quickly became evident that the town has embraced the story.
Like many other parts of the North East of England Hartlepool has had its difficult times. As traditional industries decline and wealth gravitates south it would be easy to become dispirited and blame others for apparent misfortune.
But folk around here are used to hard times and the ability to embrace reality and still keep smiling is part of the regional character.
A splendid maritime museum and new marina is tribute to the forward looking approach to the challenge.
Like the town the members of St. George’s, Hartlepool and the other members of the pastorate at Stockton, Billingham and Thornaby are people who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get on with the job. They know that they cannot wait for a minister so are getting on with the call to be the people of God in this vibrant town.
We can all choose whether we will be shaped by disappointment or hope. The URC’s equivalent of the Hartlepool monkey might be the attempt to live down the expression that you can believe anything you like in the URC. Never true but often used by others as a barb to annoy.
Rather than down playing, we would be better to embrace and take pride in saying we are a denomination that welcomes all opinions to the table as together we work our way into God’s future.
Unlike others we don’t think we have all the answers but we are up for the challenge of being shaped by confidence in God and hope for the future.