By John Ellis
With no one wanting an Assembly Moderator over the Christmas season, I have spent more days than usual in my adopted home of Kent.
The most appropriate chocolate over Christmas came from St John’s Hill URC in Sevenoaks. To mark the 150th anniversary year of their premises, they had the creative idea of producing chocolate bars featuring their building. As they were fairly traded, it was more a moral duty than a wicked indulgence to consume them.
The most appropriate rededication for the year ahead grew out of the opportunity to share in the annual service in Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December commemorating the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Before the altar at the site of the assassination, Archbishop Justin removed his mitre. The candles carried by the congregation gathered around him lit the cathedral, as they had done on that fateful winter afternoon 845 years before. The overwhelming liturgical drama reached its climax as the doors from the cloisters were slammed shut, as they once were to keep out four murderous, alcohol-soaked knights. The tension mounted as the heavy doors were then flung open again, recalling Archbishop Thomas’ insistence that “The church is a house of prayer and is not to be made into a fortress.” The deep silence that followed was of rare intensity. The privilege of serving the Church is not always costless.
The first Moderatorial sermon of 2016 was playing at home but in the context of a small piece of history of its own. The local Interim Moderator, the Revd Bernard Fidder, and I led what is thought to be the first Sunday Communion service fully in the forms used by the United Reformed Church to be held in All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, a parish church mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Local Ecumenical Partnership serving the two villages of Tudeley and Five Oak Green regularly includes services drawing on URC liturgical insights within its varied worship patterns, but normally hosts these in the former URC building.
Within the boundaries of the LEP’s parish there is a third and ancient church. It is dedicated to none other than St Thomas Becket.