Author Archives: John Ellis

Oldham and Older

By John Ellis

The URC Mission Committee has recently agreed it should be a priority for a Moderator of General Assembly to represent us at the annual Assembly of the Congregational Federation. I was glad to do so in Oldham.

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The Mayor of Oldham addresses Assembly

The one day Assembly had many features in common with a meeting of one of the URC’s larger Synods. Their membership, like ours, is in overall decline and across Britain is now 6,800, although with a markedly higher proportion in Scotland and Wales than is true of the URC. The worship music was more modern than at our Synod meetings but the size, style, age range, programme, levels of participation, committee reporting and business elements made it almost feel like a meeting of a 14th URC Synod. As with many of our Synods, the Federation balances its books by spending capital released from the sale of redundant churches.

A notably active part of the Federation’s life is their suite of learning options, which appeared to be meeting needs in a variety of local church settings as well as being academically validated where appropriate. The training needs of the Federation are not absolutely identical with those of the URC, but a radical mind might wonder whether the differences are really great enough to justify the URC devising another independent programme of learning now that our TLS programme is being phased out. In my short address to the Assembly I noticed that their annual theme had been “Forward Together”.


The Revd Haroutune Selimian

The civic greeting to the Assembly was brought by the Mayor of Oldham, whom this year is a Muslim. Shortly afterwards we heard an impassioned address from the Revd Haroutune Selimian from Syria, who is in Britain to raise awareness of the plight of Christians in his country at the hands of a very different brand of Muslim. He pointed out that Christians in his home area had faced threats of persecution ever since the time when Saul was sent to Damascus to reinforce the aggression.

As if to underline how porous the boundaries between the Congregational Federation and the United Reformed Church often are on the ground, the Assembly elected the Revd Martin Spain as President for 2017-18. Martin is a Federation minister who is currently serving the URC Landsker pastorate in South West Wales and helped as a steward at our 2014 General Assembly in Cardiff.


Madge Cleaver 100 not out

Local links have often been kept alive by Lay Preachers crossing the denominational boundaries so it was apt that four days before the Assembly, and on the occasion of her 100th birthday, I was able to present Madge Cleaver of Maidstone URC with a certificate marking her exceptionally long service as a Lay Preacher and in other roles. Amongst her 110 cards there was one from Coxheath Congregational Church and another from that relative youngster, Her Majesty the Queen.


By John Ellis

You don’t need any link with Leicestershire to be celebrating. When so often money seems to talk and strength is measured in financial terms, here we have an example worthy of widespread notice. The remarkable landmark is not so much explained by secret weapons as by forgotten ones. The power of working together as a team; the added energy and commitment that comes from liking each other. The catalytic effect of self-effacing, high quality leadership. A shrewd and effective youth policy. The strength that comes from faithful supporters, including some who have kept the faith through many long years. The boost that comes when some people from beyond the locality notice and show an interest.

I refer of course to Wigston Magna United Reformed Church as they celebrate their 350th birthday. If you travel a short distance south of the ground of a football club called Leicester City, you will find the village and their building. It is not as grand as some in the URC but much loved by the locals. In the seventeenth century they decided to play in a different style from that of the big boys in the church league. At times there were doubtless those who assumed they would be relegated out of sight but with several family dynasties interwoven with their history, the team there is still very much alive and enjoying their life together. Once a week you can find the place humming with up to 50 members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade. There are no Russian oligarchs bankrolling the operation but faithful members include a financial dimension to their discipleship.  And at their 350th anniversary service, the other churches of the South Leicestershire Group showed that the group was not just a fellowship on paper by joining in.


1890s Minister, Revd Cope Deeming….


….and his grandson and three great, great grandchildren below his wife’s memorial tablet











Should Manchester United or Chelsea feel they would like to learn about how to make a difference without spending millions, there are many local United Reformed Churches they would be welcome to visit.


Wigston Magna URC….


….featured on the birthday cake








The fathers that begat us

By John Ellis


Pinhoe United Reformed Church

Fifty years ago this year my father was ordained as a pioneer of what would later be called Non-Stipendiary Ministry in our church at Pinhoe, on the outskirts of Exeter. To return there as Moderator was therefore a Sunday of special personal significance.

In 1966 you left the main village, crossed the railway line and walked down a lane with no pavements until you reached an ancient farmhouse on your right and there was the chapel tucked away on the left. If you needed to practise the organ, chatty Miss Daisy Maunder in the farmhouse, or her taciturn brother Reg, could provide the chapel key. Occasionally a car might interrupt the sound of the gurgling of the Pinn Brook. Continue reading