Variety is the spice of life

Since my last blog I have led worship three times, attended Greenbelt, participated in a Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) political party briefing, and prepared for a trip to Jerusalem. These occasions have brought home to me the variety we have within the URC family, which I am sure you will agree is a strength and a wonderful blessing. 

Revidge Fold URC Blackburn

My first service was at Revidge Fold United Reformed Church in Blackburn. It is an urban church, within a community that has a large Asian presence, mainly Muslims, and which is opposite a large Catholic College.  The church embraces its community in many ways and welcomes all to use its buildings and facilities. Activities such as the Guides, Brownies and Rainbows, a dementia café, a regular lunch club and social gatherings are held there. Formerly, the church was known as Four Lane Ends Congregational Church which began in 1820 as a ‘plant’ from the Chapel Street Congregational church in the centre of Blackburn that had been founded in 1778. The picture below shows the present church.

Revidge Fold URC building

Tockholes, Darwen URC

My second invitation to lead worship was from Tockholes United Reformed Church which is quite different being in the middle of the countryside close to Darwen. This church was formed in 1662. Those worshipping together in the church’s early days met in various buildings, eventually building a church in 1710.  The present building, shown below, dates from 1880.  In contrast to Revidge Fold, this church is tucked away down a country lane surrounded by farms and cottages.  I was invited to lead a country-style Harvest festival service with lots of fruit and vegetables and flower on displays, to be distributed to help those in need after the service.  It so happened that in the congregation was a former minister, the Revd David Netherwood who was on holiday in the area. Congregation members were very pleased to see him, and he was very pleased to be back at one of his former churches seeing friends and maintaining those connections.

Tockholes United Reformed Church building

Immanuel URC Swindon

The third occasion I lead worship was at Immanuel United Reformed Church, in Swindon. This took place during a weekend of celebration to mark the 80thanniversary of the beginning of the Swindon United Reformed Church and the 50th anniversary of the Old Town Partnership, a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP), which includes Bath Road Methodist and Christ Church with St Mary’s. They believe their Partnership may be one of the oldest LEPs in the country. This was a great weekend blessed with warm sunny weather. The Revd Robert Jordan, Minister of Immanuel URC, took me to visit the other LEP churches. I was received warmly at all of these churches and shown around each one. I heard many things about their worship and outreach in the town. All are very active churches and engaged with all ages, showing a deep commitment to their Christian witness together in Swindon. On Sunday, I was privileged to lead the anniversary service with an estimated audience of 200 people of all ages. The service followed the theme of listening out for Jesus calling us to follow him, and the need for us to respond and put our faith into action. The singing during the service, led by a choir of 34 people, was great. The Mayor and Mayoress of Swindon, Cllr Kevin Parry and Cllr Barbara Parry, attended illustrating the importance and good connection the LEP has with the town. Following the service, we all gathered to cut the anniversary cake, each having a piece with a cup of tea or coffee.

The pictures below show Immanuel URC Swindon and myself and the Revd Robert Jordan.

Immanuel URC building
The Revd Robert Jordan and Derek Estill
The Revd Robert Jordan, Minister of Immanuel URC, with Derek Estill

Greenbelt Festival

During the August bank holiday weekend, I attended the Greenbelt festival of arts, faith and justice for the first time. This festival has been held annually in England since 1974. Greenbelt has grown from a Christian music festival with an audience of 1,500 young Christians to its current more inclusive festival attended by around 20,000 Christians and those from other faiths and none.  Many churches and other organisations were taking part in what was an uplifting event, attracting young and old and families, all having a great time together.  The URC contribution was very well received attracting many people especially children to come and have a go at art and craft or listen to a Bible story.  The pictures below show the Archbishop of Canterbury on stage answering questions from the gathered crowd and the URC Tent.

Image of stage at Greenbelt festival
Image of blocks spelling URC at Greenbelt festival
Image of postcards display in tent at Greenbelt festival

Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT)

The URC is one of four churches that work with the Joint Public Issues team (JPIT).  The other churches that work with JPIT are the Methodists, Baptists and Church of Scotland. As Christians we are called to act justly and to work for God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Both Nigel and I will be attending political party conferences soon and JPIT has arranged for us to engage with those at the Labour and Conservative political party conferences as Christian church leaders bringing the issues that we feel are important to their attention where we can.  To prepare for this Nigel and I have met, with other church leaders, and the JPIT team, and are now looking forward to the conferences at a time that is very confusing.  It will be interesting to see how it works out as I am to attend the Conservative Party Conference. 


As I finish this blog, I am preparing to go on a URC visit to Israel with colleagues. I look forward to updating you all upon my return.

Derek Estill
General Assembly Moderator

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