Getting to Penrith United Reformed Church for a ‘Sunday worship’, highlighted for me the great distances between London and the many beautiful parts of the UK. This is especially the case if one depends on Public Transport. My journey began on Saturday October 20th as I was hosted by a member of the congregation to ensure that I would arrive on time. I was the guest of Anthea Kaan who lives in Glenridding and is an active member of the Penrith United Reformed Church. It was a delight to meet Anthea and to share in lively conversations about the late Fred Kaan and Anthea’s own journey that took her to India and Birmingham where for many years she worked as a GP. I was especially impressed with her commitment to justice and her social justice consciousness – as our conversations move from politics to injustices to the role of churches. If we had more time, perhaps we could have attempted to sort out most of the problems in the world!
Having arrived late that evening, it was a delight to enjoy the astounding views the next day on the way to Church. The early morning views of the placid lake (Ullswater) with the emerging sun and leaves turning to the colours of autumn, created mind-boggling views that would have been a photographer’s feast!
It was World Church Sunday, and I was invited to preach and share in the worship which was planned with Mr Tony Porter (Secretary and Lay Preacher). There was much creativity and thought given to the service that included: rap poetry, a “ticket” journey as members identified where they came from and foreign countries they were associated with, whether they were born there or lived there for a while, and an excellent dramatized piece on the consequences of the choices we make in the way we live and its impact on the world and environment. I was also impressed by the careful selection of hymns with a “world church” connection, either through the author of the lyrics or the origin of the tune. Here was a congregation with a large and outward view! Reflecting on Matthew 25:1-13, I developed the theme of ways to communicate the oil of gladness and expansive generosity, in spite of the evidence around us.
While tea, coffee and biscuits were served, there was an open conversation as members and friends engaged with my sermon and any other question they wanted to ask a moderator of General Assembly. Some of these questions included: what can humanity do together to make a change and difference to our world and how can we do it together? Where are the opportunities for us as members of the United Reformed Church to develop and deepen our interior lives in order to nurture a sustaining spirituality for the long haul of social engagement? Is there hope for an aging congregation? What can and should we be doing? Should we be locked into a guilt trip about the lack of young people and young families? What are the new ways we need to do and rethink how we practice ministry? What needs to change? No doubt, these are recurring questions and conversation points throughout churches. It is good that congregations are thinking of and asking such questions and honestly trying to grapple with possible answers and where this may lead us.
The conversations continued around a meal, cooked in the kitchen of the neighbouring Methodist Church. There was a brief moment of scare when the food did not turn up on time, as the members of the Methodist Church (who provided the meal) were unknowingly locked in their church! The good news is that the food arrived piping hot, was delicious, and ecumenical relations were not affected! After all, churches in Cumbria can teach us a thing or two about our ecumenical vocation!