Thursday morning (9th May)found us a little further north from Crookham, in the town of Berwick and at the Coffee Morning of the United Reformed Church. I met elders and members as well as people from other churches who support this piece of community activity and I learnt how important it is to identify exactly where people come from – Berwick itself or Spittal, a specific part of Berwick or Tweedale. I was shown round the building which had been reordered some time ago but carefully planned and well cared for the building was now much more ‘user friendly’ as well as being warm and welcoming. My husband (who often gets to see parts of
the building that I don’t) was shown the clock with its particular history and mechanism confirming for me the uniqueness of so many of the details of the buildings we inhabit and the stories which are a part of that particular history.
One of the bonuses of this visit was staying on Holy Island and though not part of the North Northumberland Mission Partnership it was good to join Rachel Poolman – the Warden – for morning prayers at the St Cuthbert’s Centre.
This unique piece of mission work means that it is never known who will come for prayers nor indeed who will leave matters for prayer on the prayer tree which is in the open-all-day Centre. On that Friday morning we were joined by a Roman Catholic nun resident on the island and one of Rachel’s colleagues and a couple from the Netherlands. Later that morning I met with a retired minister, his wife and a lay preacher who are members of the small Leadership Team in the partnership. We discussed something of the difficulties to be found in a rural area with (numerically) small church membership and few ministers but with communities to serve. We agreed that all mainstream denominations need to find new ways to do things and new ways of co-operation. In some senses the discussion could have taken place in any part of the country but somehow there seemed to be extra dimensions to the issues in this area with its history, its largely Presbyterian roots which bring a particular perspective and its sense of isolation from the centre of power in terms of government of the country – also a long standing matter for those who live here.
Saturday involved another short journey – south this time to Belford where we met the Church Secretary and saw the church building. We heard the story of this small congregation bravely deciding to hold a meeting for the community to tell them that they were no longer able to maintain the building and stay open and how the community rallied round to support what was an important part of their town and we was told about the extensive use which the community make of the building. This Church Secretary was enthusiastically into a project with a group of local people researching the history of the church and was pleased to share some of her new found knowledge. She showed us the ‘bride’s door’ – with a main entrance which takes one into the front of the church there was no means for brides to enter the church and process down the aisle, hence a small door round the side to enable that to happen. This was another place with a historic clock 200 years old and built by Thomas Tait. I wondered whether the buildings and their particular details are more important in small communities where the history is important to people with deep roots in the area