Change: tiny word for a cup-full of challenges

By Michael N. Jagessar

The above brilliant ‘strap-line’ is from the Revd Neil Thorogood in his “statement” before his induction as the next Principal of Westminster College. Noting how humbling, exciting and challenging the call to serve as Principal at a time of significant changes, Neil described it as NRT inductionboth a ‘mighty blessing’ and a ‘massive responsibility’. He affirmed his commitment to join in the shaping and reshaping of Westminster as a Resource Centre for Learning for the whole of the United Reformed Church. At the same time, the assembled congregation representing family, friends, students, staff, representatives of the Cambridge Theological Federation, education and learning, RCL’s, and synods promised their support and prayers.

The induction service (Saturday 18 January) was presided by John Ellis, moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church with others, including staff, students, chaplain and chair of the Board of Governors, sharing in the service. The Revd Dr Lance Stone delivered a timely and challenging sermon working the imageries of “stone” (from I Peter 2:4-10) and “vine” (John 15:1-17) in a dialectical and astute conversation. I suspect that all those who were present can no longer look at Westminster as a mere architectural edifice handed down to Flameus to be preserved for the future, without noting at the entrance of the college (looking up) the “burning bush”, and forever remembering Lance’s comment that vines are often messy, intertwined, unruly and unpredictable. Lance’s charge to the new Principal and to all present was a timely plea for all of us to remember and give agency to the shaping and re-shaping, and the planting, watering, pruning and growing that takes place at Westminster and beyond. Investing in bricks and mortars is as important as recalling the living encounters of teaching, learning and growing that happen within the walls of the  architectural  edifice.

During the service John Ellis read an induction prayer that was written by Bernard Thorogood who was unable to travel from Australia to be present for Neil’s induction. They were timely and appropriate words as we remembered the heritage of the College as well as the expectations of the present and future. I was particularly struck by the lines: “on this day, when my name is called, / may I know who I am”….”I’m a dreamer, thinking of possibilities,/ so I stretch forward to grasp/ whatever you plan for me”.

The sense of dreaming and thinking of possibilities was also evident the following day as I joined the Oxton Noctorum Churches Together’ group’ at their annual “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” Service where I was speaker/preacher. The service was held at Christ Church (C of E) in Oxton, Birkenhead, where I was very warmly received and welcomed by the Revd Karen Freeman, her husband Andy and many others. It was a very well attended ecumenical gathering Christ Church - Oxtonwith seven church communities participating. Drawing on the theme “Is Christ Divided?” and using the materials which was prepared by Churches in Canada, all shared in a rich liturgy of words, images, music, prayers, reading and reflections. Reflecting on I Corinthians 1: 1-18, I suggested the need for an ecumenical vocation that must be shaped by grace, gratitude and generosity to avoid the danger (like the Corinthian Christians) of turning in on ourselves at every level of life together, becoming what psychologists refer to as “cognitive misers” or communities banking on a “low hope” account! I suggested that Paul’s appeal to the Christians at Corinth to remember that “God is faithful” is a timely reminder of who and whose we are, as we shape-up our priorities with grace-filled extravagance.

Of course, the re-orienting and re-inhabiting of generous and grace-filled habits call for radical conversion, journeying through change with its bucket-full of challenges and opportunities. God is faithful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *