By John Ellis
The first Christian baptism on the Isle of Wight was in 687 on the site now occupied by Brading Parish Church. The United Reformed Church arrived somewhat later and currently there are three congregations on the island. I was pleased to meet with representatives from all three at Freshwater URC when we considered the wider life and future of the denomination.
The strongest of the island URCs is on the east coast at Shanklin, where membership has grown by 50% during the long ministry of the Revd Brian Harley. With their prominent central site helping to draw in visitors to the island, the church was comfortably full on Sunday morning. Later in the day they would be joining with other local churches for an ecumenical outdoor service in the pattern established for many years during the peak summer months. Although larger than most of our churches, I found the congregation at Shanklin having to face a range of challenges and sadly having to address enforced changes to some of their cherished hopes. They gave the impression, however, of a church family that cared for each other and prayed with each other and who would find a way forward together.
As befits a holiday centre, the URC members were also most hospitable, providing not only bright sunshine and wonderful scenery but also regular updates on the score in the Test Match against Australia and a working steam railway.
The locomotive I rode behind on the steam railway (an LSWR O2 class, as you asked) could itself have been a sermon illustration. Like many of the URC’s buildings, it was built in the Victorian era. It reached a point when it was thought no longer useful, ignored by nearly everyone and apparently thoroughly dead. Then due to the vision of just three people, resurrection occurred. The engine came back to life, as did its railway, and now Calbourne serves hundreds of people every working day.
It is astonishing what a combination of vision, enthusiasm and determination can accomplish.