by Michael N. Jagessar
Over the last few weeks I have been very busy: the inaugural Christian Aid Parliamentary lecture, reception and dinner; participating in the 75th Anniversary Service of Christ Church, Petts Wood; visiting a couple of the shortlisted Community Project Awards 2014; Celebrating Holy Communion and Preaching at Grange Park URC.
It was a great view from the House of Lord’s Terrace with some of my table companions (among others) the CEO of Oxfam, the ambassador of Belize and the Bishop of Rochester (the Rt. Rev. James Langstaff with whom I played cricket as a member of the Birmingham Diocese Cricket Team). It was great conversations and a very good “buzz”. Even better was the brilliant lecture by Rowan Williams, who highlighted the role that inequality plays in provoking violence. What stuck with me is the timely insight that in order to end violence and global poverty we must tackle the redistribution of power. Lord Williams noted that the challenge “is not so much gaps in wealth as gaps in power”. Hence “addressing basic causes means looking at where power lies and where it ought to lie”. This, of course, is as much a challenge for governments and corporations, as it is for NGO’s and Churches! It was interesting that another distinguished Lord who responded totally missed this key argument of former Archbishop Rowan Williams. Redistributing power remains the challenge before all of us! As William Sloane Coffin wrote, “what the poor and downtrodden need is not piecemeal charity but wholesale justice.”
If there is any doubt about a younger or missing generation in the life of the URC, my visit to Petts Wood for the 75th Anniversary Celebrations suggests a different story. It is amazing how the things we say regularly of ourselves as anecdotes quickly turn into fact. It was not the case with this packed out church of all the generations including many children. ‘Fruitful’ is indeed an operative word to describe the ministry at Petts Wood over the years. The music was just brilliant. The Children’s choir delighted us with their performance of “Let’s Celebrate” and “Starburst” while the voices of the young and more mature adult singers rose like fragrance in and beyond the building. Reading the history of Petts Wood and joining in the celebrations and conversations left me with the impression that the witness of this congregation will continue to flourish for another 75 years. My reflections were on the theme of “living stones and abundant life for all”. Let remember and pray for the ministry of the Revd Pauline Sparks (minister) and her team of elders and lay leaders. As I joined the moderator of Southern Synod (Nicola Furley Smith) at the door to greet members after the service, the Deputy Mayor remarked that she had visited all the churches in area and this was the most lively and warmest of them all. Not wishing to miss an opportunity, I invited her to return!
My most recent Sunday visit was to Grange Park United Reformed Church to preach and preside at Holy Communion, ably assisted by local lay leader Solomon Aryee-Brown. Like Petts Wood, this was an overcrowded gathering with people across all the generations but favouring more young people and young adults. All the talk about “millennials leaving church” often overlook the fact that many are still in church, especially in our multicultural congregations. We need to learn from this “treasure” in our midst, especially their ability to communicate the good news across generations. Indeed, Grange Park URC and its thriving BME community underscore that the future of the Church has to be a multicultural one. It is the gospel vision!
In my two years as a moderator of GA, I have tried to counter the debilitating mantra of scarcity and depletion around us, with the yeast and fragrance of generosity. So I was delighted (as a moderator of GA) to be asked to be one of the judges reading the submissions to the Community Project Awards 2014 and to visit some of the short-listed projects. Through this medium (moderator’s blog), we have noted on a number of occasions the many exciting activities/projects happening quietly in our local congregations. The Community Awards affirm this. The United Reformed Church is very much alive, active, striving to live in faith and faithfulness – witnessing to the good news of abundant life for all.
Keep on, keeping and living the faith!!!