Category Archives: reflections

Confessions and more….

by Michael Jagessar

Over the last week I have had to cancel some of my moderatorial appointments because of family bereavement in the USA and Guyana. It has been a tough few weeks for my family. I did DSCN1438manage to attend the Queen’s Garden Party which my recently deceased mother, at heart a royalist, would have been very delighted to hear about.

I must confess that it was with much hesitation that Leonora and I decided to attend. I am glad we did. Many were expecting us to attend, having checked out the moderators’ diary! It was a wholly new experience for me though I have met Her Majesty as school-boy in May 1963 when Guyana became independent. Surreal may not be appropriate to describe the experience but it felt that way. We were in a massive gathering of total strangers, with formality and protocol down to the detail. Ironically the recognisable faces were the Royals and some of the clergy in their fancy dress! I now know why I very much appreciate uniforms: for these opened up conversation points and though people were total strangers it was easy to recognise their “work domain”. This is where a clergy collar may become a great conversational tool!

The minimalist servings of cakes and sandwich were delicious. My chocolate cake with the royal emblem on top was caught in limbo upon the arrival of Her Majesty and as the band struck up “God save the Queen” and we were all called (literally frozen) to “attention”. I was praying that God would save my chocolate cake from melting as it was a gloriously sunny day. Sun tends to follow me around!

My contribution to these blogs is drawing to an end. Reading back some of these underscore a 20140319_093604breadth of exciting things in our life together, as well as the delight and privilege I have had visiting congregations and representing the United Reformed Church in a variety of ways. I think I can say that my knowledge of our church has grown a bit.

DSCN2195One other thought which I wish to share is that of the need for us to work on holding opposing ideas together, approaching the future with hope and remembering to draw on and tell stories. The moment we do not have a story to tell, we become lost. In terms of holding opposing ideas together, to avoid trenchant polarisations, we need to move away from either/or thinking (by opposition) and give more agency to the minor word “and” (learning from Martin Buber) that can help us to learn to think, hold and live with opposing ideas together. In crossing theological and cultural borders we would be better off when our thinking and acting is largely informed by “and”.

And then, who knows where the Spirit will lead us…

changing narratives….

by Michael N. Jagessar

Over the last few weeks I have been very busy: the inaugural Christian Aid Parliamentary 20140511_123530lecture, reception and dinner; participating in the 75th Anniversary Service of Christ Church, Petts Wood; visiting a couple of the shortlisted  Community Project Awards 2014; Celebrating Holy Communion and Preaching at Grange Park URC.

It was a great view from the House of Lord’s Terrace with some of my table companions (among others) the CEO of Oxfam, the ambassador of Belize and the Bishop of Rochester (the Rt. Rev. James Langstaff with whom I played cricket as a member of the Birmingham Diocese Cricket Team). It was great conversations and a very good “buzz”. Even better was the brilliant lecture by Rowan Williams, who highlighted the role that inequality plays in provoking violence. What stuck with me is the timely insight that in order to end violence and global poverty we must tackle the redistribution of power. Lord Williams noted that the challenge “is not so much gaps in wealth as gaps in power”. Hence “addressing basic causes means looking at where power lies and where it ought to lie”. This, of course, is as much a challenge forChristian Aid governments and corporations, as it is for NGO’s and Churches! It was interesting that another distinguished Lord who responded totally missed this key argument of former Archbishop Rowan Williams. Redistributing power remains the challenge before all of us! As William Sloane Coffin wrote, “what the poor and downtrodden need is not piecemeal charity but wholesale justice.”

If there is any doubt about a younger or missing generation in the life of the URC, my visit to Petts Wood for the 75th Anniversary Celebrations suggests a different story. It is amazing how the things we say regularly of ourselves as anecdotes quickly turn into fact. It was not the case with this packed out church of all the generations including many children. ‘Fruitful’ is indeed an operative word to describe the ministry at Petts Wood over the years. The music was just 20140511_123412brilliant. The Children’s choir delighted us with their performance of “Let’s Celebrate” and “Starburst” while the voices of the young and more mature adult singers rose like fragrance in and beyond the building. Reading the history of Petts Wood and joining in the celebrations and conversations left me with the impression that the witness of this congregation will continue to flourish for another 75 years. My reflections were on the theme of “living stones and abundant life for all”. Let remember and pray for the ministry of the Revd Pauline Sparks (minister) and her team of elders and lay leaders. As I joined the moderator of Southern Synod (Nicola Furley Smith) at the door to greet members after the service, the Deputy Mayor remarked that she had visited all the churches in area and this was the most lively and warmest of them all. Not wishing to miss an opportunity, I invited her to return!

My most recent Sunday visit was to Grange Park United Reformed Church to preach and preside at Holy Communion, ably assisted by local lay leader Solomon Aryee-Brown. Like Petts Wood, this was an overcrowded gathering with people across all the generations but favouring more young people and young adults. All the talk about “millennials leaving church” often overlook the fact that many are still in church, especially in our multicultural congregations. We need to learn from this “treasure” in our midst, especially their ability to communicate the good news across generations. Indeed, Grange Park URC and its thriving BME community underscore com_awards_yellow_lrthat the future of the Church has to be a multicultural one. It is the gospel vision!

In my two years as a moderator of GA, I have tried to counter the debilitating mantra of scarcity and depletion around us, with the yeast and fragrance of generosity. So I was delighted (as a moderator of GA) to be asked to be one of the judges reading the submissions to the Community Project Awards 2014 and to visit some of the short-listed projects. Through this medium (moderator’s blog), we have noted on a number of occasions the many exciting activities/projects happening quietly in our local congregations. The Community Awards affirm this. The United Reformed Church is very much alive, active, striving to live in faith and faithfulness – witnessing to the good news of abundant life for all.

Keep on, keeping and living the faith!!!

Celebrating Resurrection – Drumchapel Essenside URC

by Michael N. Jagessar

At Glasgow airport and around the city one cannot miss the bold claim, “People make Glasgow. Let us celebrate”. It felt like a message Churches should boldly declare, if we are daring enough! I was glad for this bold welcome as I awaited my ride for the manse of the Revd William Young. 20140420_123340 (1)On this occasion I nearly missed my flight because I had etched in my mind the wrong airport (Luton when it was Gatwick), and a train moving at the pace of a snail created more anxiety. I arrived at the airport when the gate was supposed to be closed and the security staff and the many patient travellers were kind to allow me VIP access. “People make travelling a joy” and it was certainly the case as I raced down to the departure gate to find that the Divine had further intervened to delay EasyJet. The waiting passengers may have had a different view!

It was Drumchapel Essenside URC’s 60th anniversary homecoming service with a packed-out church – members and adherents travelling in from all directions. Spirit-filled and committed people make Drumchapel! This is the story I heard, saw and experienced as I joined the 20140420_111810congregation in celebrating 60 years of ministry at Essenside.

The sun was out in full force, a rarity associated with my arrival. It was a glorious day for the overflowing congregation to respond to Revd William Young’s Easter Sunday greetings, “the Lord is risen!” with a roaring response of “Risen indeed! Alleluia!” The lively singing of Easter hymns (traditional, contemporary and very new) accompanied with music from a 87 years old expert musician (the church organist) and groovy soul music by Tina Freeland and the “Groove” band created an atmosphere of “jazzed-up resurrection”! The music and words of “we’ll go out with joy”, as pianist, guitarists and drummers spoke to each other across generations evoked a “rising experience” as we shared bread and wine.

Essenside was founded as a Congregational Church in 1954, to minister to the residents of the 20140420_102719then new housing estate of Drumchapel. Members elected to change its name to Drumchapel Essenside URC when the Congregational Union of Scotland united with The United Reformed Church. While a number of ministers have served in this congregation, most people speak of the significant work of the Revd Isabel Sheddon – her dedication, walking the roads and knocking on doors, inviting people to church – a minister with a genuine heart for the community. And all of the nine ministers who followed demonstrated this ‘heart’ for the community. Two were present at the celebrations. And among others, I met the daughter of one of the oldest woman in Scotland (107 years old) who sent her greetings as she was unable to be there. And, as the minister prayed…..

On this occasion, while I stuck to the gist of my Easter message, I was led to move off the script and respond to the energising signs of “resurrection” all around the 20140420_123503gathering. For Drumchapel, three words “Christ is risen” sums up their ministry. For them nothing makes sense without these words. I took the opportunity to remind the gathering that the power of the resurrection is not in what happens after death, but what the knowledge of the resurrection does for our lives before death; that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, with love working overtime, and that biodegradability is not the final word. For Christ is risen and that God is on the loose!

Planting Poppy seedsAs we gathered around the table in church and in the hall to eat, drink, remember, share in conversations, plant poppy seeds my heart, to quote Wesley, “felt strangely warm” (and it was not the glorious sun outside). People – faithful, committed and loving people – make Drumchapel! What a blessing! Let us celebrate!

May the God of ‘always springing hope’ and new life help us, like Drumchapel – a church at the heart of community, to be the hopeful, generous and trusting people we are called to be, for Christ’s sake.