The fathers that begat us

By John Ellis

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Pinhoe United Reformed Church

Fifty years ago this year my father was ordained as a pioneer of what would later be called Non-Stipendiary Ministry in our church at Pinhoe, on the outskirts of Exeter. To return there as Moderator was therefore a Sunday of special personal significance.

In 1966 you left the main village, crossed the railway line and walked down a lane with no pavements until you reached an ancient farmhouse on your right and there was the chapel tucked away on the left. If you needed to practise the organ, chatty Miss Daisy Maunder in the farmhouse, or her taciturn brother Reg, could provide the chapel key. Occasionally a car might interrupt the sound of the gurgling of the Pinn Brook.

The membership of the chapel has never been large. For decades there have always been some people doubtful about whether it will stay open much longer. Like many of our smaller churches, however, the faithful few have a certain gritty faithfulness and a preference to get things done rather than just talk about them.

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Pinhoe URC

In 2016 the chapel’s setting is transformed. The farms are gone. Our premises are now surrounded on all sides by new houses, but in an estate with no other community buildings. The church and halls seemed to me smarter, lighter, more comfortable and better equipped than they have ever been and certainly more accessible to the disabled. The Little Marvels pre-school group bring colour and young life. The faithfulness through past decades gives the URC today an opportunity that I hope the local and wider Church will grasp.

A much more prominent Church leader was also thinking about his father that weekend. I have known Justin Welby since he was the curate of a country parish with interesting ideas about economics. One of his endearing features is that the burdens of public office and the trappings of grandeur have not changed him. In private he remains the stimulating, slightly mischievous and self-deprecating man he always was, and with a lively and flexible mind willing to change a view in the light of fresh evidence.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Justin kindly alerted some of us in advance to the news about his paternity before it broke. It was typically thoughtful at a time when it is hard to imagine what private readjustments he was having to make. It was all too easy to imagine some parts of the media preparing to leap on whatever public comment he made to lampoon him as a hypocrite – either on the one hand for not being committed to “family values” or on the other for signalling a rift in his own family.

Instead Justin gave them no rope with which to hang him. Instead he talked about Jesus. He talked about the different centre a life built around being a disciple of Jesus enjoys. It was a contribution of great skill but also of complete authenticity. If only more of us could turn life’s traps into opportunities to witness to what is at our core as Christians.

Moderators of General Assembly come and go. But Archbishops and the core members of small chapels go on and on, and deserve our prayers.

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