Much to Celebrate – Countering Scarcity Narratives

The last couple of Sundays, I have attended two services of celebration. The first in Birmingham on October 7th was the Annual Centre Sunday Service of Word and Table (followed by lunch) at the Balsall Heath Church Centre. The other was at St Ninian’s United Reformed Church in Luton celebrating their 70th Anniversary and 10 years of the ministry of their minister, the Revd Sue Chapman.

The ecumenical partnership at the Balsall Heath Church Centre, shared by the Balsall Heath United Reformed Church and St Paul’s Church of England congregation, is one that I know well. I used to worship here. Home in the UK started for our family with/at the Balsall Heath United Reformed Church and it was this small, but very active congregation, which put forward my name as a moderator of the General Assembly of our Church. I shared in this anniversary service with the Vicar of St. Paul’s (Balsall Heath) the Revd Catherine Grylls, a good family friend and colleague. It was a joint service of word and table. It was a delight to greet new and familiar faces, experience the dynamism of life at the Church Centre, and learn of the significant amount of work been done in terms of care and compassion for the wider community of Balsall Heath. And while we gave thanks for all the variety of ways ministry/mission has taken shape at the Centre, the new and promising shape(s) of a closer ecumenical journey is the urgent challenge before the community. As we gathered around the one table, I reminded these very committed and lively “band” of witnesses of our calling to become ecumenical bread and wine – living stones – for the sake of Christ.

It was another large gathering at St. Ninians as we celebrated 70 years of ministry in this part of Luton. Like Balsall Heath Church Centre, I was greeted with the smell of food and a massive pictorial display of the story of the congregation to its present time. I learnt that the first minister travelled lightly as he commenced this new work in Luton: his bible, bike, a map of the area and fuel coupons! A good note for anyone moving into a new area to start ministry! The whole service of word and table was crafted around the “I am saying of Jesus”. I preached and celebrated Holy Communion. The focus of my address was “Living and Celebrating the way of the Bread of Life”. In recognition of Sue’s ten years of ministry, the congregation gave her a Stole, a reminder perhaps of her calling to a servanting role to and with the whole community. In our extended meal after the service, I heard more stories of the congregation, met many members and friends of the congregation, and shared in conversations about the challenges of ministry for St. Ninian’s today, especially located in multi-faith Luton.

Balsall Heath (Birmingham) and Luton are two different contexts. I sense, however, that much is similar in terms of people’s commitment, their faith and faithfulness, and their awareness of the challenges facing each in their ministry context(s). The one hopeful constant is both the assurance and confidence of these communities to be able to proclaim in word and deed: “we are not alone!”

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