The past is gone but the future is ours to shape…

The way it was is not always the way we remember it. In preparation for a visit to the United Reformed Church in Cheltenham I was sent a copy of the story of Presbyterianism in Cheltenham. That insightful booklet records the fact that the erection of the building was “an act of faith to resuscitate evangelical nonconformity in the early 19th Century when it appeared to be dying of apathy”! In reality the early attempts at establishing an independent chapel failed and only after serious financial difficulties did the leaders of the congregation turn to the Presbyterian Church of England for help. Even then it was not all plain sailing, the history continues to record tensions within the congregation often with finance as the root cause.

St. Andrew's, Cheltenham

St. Andrew’s, Cheltenham

We can often be guilty of imaging that the church of yesterday had an easier path than us. That the days of glory and growth have gone for ever and we are stuck with terminal decline. The history books tell a different story. There were struggles over finance, anxiety about how to engage with the next generation and arguments about everything from buildings to the nature of the Trinity. It may not appear in many medical text books but SMD, or Selective Memory Disorder to give its full name, is highly contagious and a real threat to the well-being of the church of today.
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The cure for this malady is to make the life of the church a pointer to the future and not a memorial of the past. In a world that is undergoing enormous change we do not seek refuge in a fundamentalism that denies the insights of others and instead we open ourselves to be shaped and guided in new ways. We open doors and windows into the world around us and refuse to be defined by prejudice or fear and instead practice the discipline of grace and love.
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Our forebears were not deterred by the challenges they faced and nor should we.

David Grosch-Miller

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