By John Ellis
The West Midlands Synod met residentially in a Birmingham city centre hotel at the weekend. The work behind the scenes by the Synod staff must have been formidable but a lively, intensive programme was made available which attracted not just Synod members but numerous other people from around the Synod, many of whom were willing to pay for the privilege. Formal business was constrained into one hour, leaving space for a wide variety of plenary sessions, worship, workshops and even a visit to a nearby casino (for educational purposes only). It was a creative and encouraging way of being Synod.
The Synod theme was Through God’s eyes…Seeing ourselves differently. The Revd Dr Susan Durber of Christian Aid and I were invited as guests to help unpack this. Somehow we ended up illustrating the URC’s structures by performing a sketch with Roy Lowes, the Synod Moderator, which owed something to John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. Susan and I also explored the parable of the mustard seed. During the course of the Synod tiny weak mustard seedlings miraculously grew into flourishing strong mustard plants, thanks to the work of the Spirit (with a little assistance from the Synod Clerk’s husband).
Mustard featured again when I had the pleasure of leading a Harvest Festival on Sunday at the united URC-Methodist church in Sheerness, which uses their wonderful address to call themselves The Church in Hope Street. Sheerness is a relatively isolated town on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames, which lost its naval dockyard many years ago and had its steelworks put into mothballs in 2011. The effects of a bleak economic harvest are all too clear.
To their immense credit the churches keep their Hope alive and refuse to be daunted. The Hope Street premises have had a major and complex refurbishment to make them more useful to the wider community. A food bank was set up after the steelworks closed and I heard about the Street Pastors scheme. A Local Preacher commented on the complementarity of being on the streets on a Saturday night and in the pulpit on a Sunday.
One of the messages of the mustard seed parable is to believe the unexpected might happen. So perhaps I should not have been surprised that within minutes of the end of the service I was being taught the Christmas story by young Daniel, with the help of finger puppets. Except ye become as little children….