Derek Estill, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, reflects on the highlights of his summer’s moderatorial engagements
Pentecost in Anglesy
I was in Anglesey at Pentecost and was so pleased to be part of a large ecumenical gathering of Christians there. Over 300 people of all ages, from across the island, gathered to celebrate this special day. The Archdeacon of Anglesey led the service. I was able to talk to the Archdeacon afterwards, saying how pleased I was to be able to (metaphorically) join hands with so many Christian brothers and sisters, in celebrating the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It was an uplifting occasion with many declaring their allegiance to Jesus and being anointed.
Rabbi Danny’s induction
I recall with great pleasure attending Rabbi Danny Bergson’s induction to St Anne’s Hebrew Congregation, Lancashire. Rabbi Danny (pictured on the right, below) succeeds Rabbi Ephraim Guttentag, who some of you may remember took part in our 2018 General Assembly’s interfaith dialogue event. I was a guest at this important induction, bringing greetings from the United Reformed Church. Other representatives included the Bishop of Blackburn (pictured on the left, below) and the Mayor of St Anne’s (pictured in the middle, below).
Interfaith children’s talk
As part of my ongoing interfaith work, I introduced Renee Black – a Jewish woman in her 90s – to the pupils of a Roman Catholic school. Ms Black gave a short talk before answering their questions about the Jewish faith and the work of our local Interfaith Forum. The children were excited and delighted to see us – a Christian and a Jew side by side. Renee is well known to the school and is regularly remembered in their prayers. It struck me on this visit that here is a wonderful example of young children being taught about the Christian faith in a Christian school that is living it out its faith day by day.
Joint worship, and a special Labrador
I led a joint service at Bolton-le-Sands United Reformed Church, Lancashire, for Bolton-le-Sands, Hest Bank and Halton URC congregations. Bolton-le-Sands’ church looks out over Morecambe Bay; those of us leading worship could see right out to the sea shore, across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District beyond, when looking down the length of the church, through the rear window. It was a wonderful view, reminding me of what a wonderful place God’s creation is.
After worship we shared lunch together, and enjoyed catching up and sharing news of our Christians lives. During these conversations I spoke to a lady who had a Labrador with her (they are pictured together below.) I am very fond of dogs, and asked her about hers, whose name is Teddy. (As you can see, her dog is a bit of a teddy bear!) The lady went on to explain that she relies on Teddy to do things that she cannot manage herself.
Teddy is a very special dog and is with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He does amazing things, like emptying her washing machine and taking money out of a cash machine for her. He helps her so much in her in daily life. I said: ‘I think you should write a book about him,’ and to my surprise, she said: ‘I have; it is entitled My Life in his Paws.’ The book is available to buy here, and is published in many different languages.
When it was time to go, Teddy picked up his own lead, which was already fastened to his collar, gave it to his mistress, then picked up the blanket he had been sitting on and gave that to her too. A wonderful relationship demonstrating the love and care Jesus commanded of us.
Primary school visit in Barrow
Barrow, near Clitheroe, Lancashire, is a town that hosts the only primary school connected to the United Reformed Church. The Revd Michele Jarmany, Minister of Clitheroe URC, is the school’s foundation governor.
The school’s Headteacher, Mrs Judith Pay, and hear team, are enthusiastically engaging with the URC and seek to build stronger and deeper connections with our Church. The school is in a country setting in the Ribble Valley, and lots of new houses are being built nearby. Currently. the school accommodates 140 children but it will soon expand to take 200.
My visit to the school, I hope, emphasised our keenness and pleasure at the school’s enthusiasm for its connection with us as the URC. Each week there is ‘worship time’ led by a URC leader. I was fortunate to lead one of these, focusing on the connection between sport and peace. One pupil reminded us all that there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ and we should all work together! This is a lesson we all need in today’s world, wherever we are.
Mrs Pay is pictured on the far left of the image below, with Class 3, and the Revd Michele Jarmany (far right).
Southport and Formby
My next visit was to the Southport and Formby Team Ministry churches of Ainsdale, Birkdale, Churchtown, Formby, Lord Street West and St Georges. I led their joint service at Birkdale, which was well attended. The joint service is held during the months where there is a fifth Sunday. The team is led by the Revds Janet Calderley and Peter Lyth, both of whom were at the joint service I led. Following the service, light refreshments were served and there was time meet, talk, make new acquaintances and to build connections. It was a day of firsts, as I had never visited the team before that day, and I understand that it was the first time that the team had been visited by a General Assembly Moderator.
Faith and politics in Westminster
On 1 July, Nigel and I attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey, followed by a tour of the Abbey. These were precursors to us attending the parliamentary prayer breakfast event at Westminster Hall the following morning. The breakfast was an occasion to meet and greet many people from different walks of life, to meet MPs, to share views on important Christian topics and to build connections.
We were first addressed by the Bishop of London. Lectures followed, and in the afternoon, a Bible Society event entitled ‘Let the Lion Loose’. This session reminded us how important it is to engage with the Bible and to encourage others to get to know it, recognising that there is an increasing need to do just that. It was a good gathering with talks, question-and-answer sessions, positive exchanges and a gift resource for every attendee that provided an accessible introduction to Bible stories. It is hoped that the resource will stimulate, build and help reconnect us and others to important biblical messages.
Faith in Youth
I celebrated with young people taking part in an initiative called ‘Faith in Youth’ – a programme of engagement between the local Interfaith Forum, a local college and Blackburn with Darwen’s ‘Youth Zone’. This was a gathering of young and older people of mixed heritage, and there were some refugees and asylum seekers there too, celebrating the achievements of refugees as part of Refugee Week 2019 (from 17 to 23 June). Hopefully some of the young people involved in ‘Faith in Youth’ will become active interfaith participants in the future.
Presbyterian Church of Wales visit
I had the privilege of representing our Church at the Presbyterian Church of Wales’ General Assembly in Wrexham. Approximately 150 people gathered to review and celebrate their work in Wales and across the world. The business and decisionmaking was surrounded by wonderful times of worship and the great hymn singing that Welsh people always do so well. Margaret, my wife, and I were very warmly welcomed and quickly made to feel at home.
The Moderators of the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland were also there, as were other denominational leaders including a representative of the Presbyterian Church of India. I found this a well worthwhile visit getting to know new friends and colleagues with whom we have many aims, ambitions and thoughts about our Christian mission in common. The picture below shows me meeting the new Presbyterian Church of Wales General Assembly Moderator, the Revd Marcus Robinson.
Derek Estill, July 2019