It is an old joke – where lives the pink panther – Durham, Durham! It may be this came more into my mind in Durham because it was there I worked in the prison and nearby as a probation officer. But I have decided I am often like a detective when visiting our churches. I am looking for clues to what God is doing, and amassing evidence to confirm it! I talk with all the suspects, gathered together like in the closing scene of a Poirot novel, to proclaim – what amazing things I have witnessed. So, we are challenged, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” From all my visits I would certainly say, yes, yes, and yes – the body of Christ is alive and active with much subversive and life-changing work going on!
What a beautiful occasion at Waddington Street, Durham to lead worship on the day the Church was celebrating the 90th birthday of Revd Alan Smith, whose family and friends were gathered from all over the world to celebrate both in worship and a meal together, a great servant of God, man and his ministry. What a joy for me to discover Alan went to the same secondary school as I did, and knew many of the villagers of our youth. 90 years – what changes in the world! And so, it was encouraging to share in a meeting with elders from local County Durham churches, as they discuss what ministry is needed for their mission today in their very different but close-by communities. One elder reminded me that at a similar meeting some years ago, I had challenged them with the question, “But what do you want a minister for?” Thanking her for the reminder, I repeated the question to hear today’s answer.
Today’s Church? – we saw this in Crook – one of those towns in which it would be so easy to dwell nostalgically on the old days and former glories when the collieries were working and the chapels the heart of village life. We found none of this – instead we were greeted by the primary school, on one of their regular church visits to celebrate Pentecost – and celebrate they did, led inspiringly by minister Ray Anglesea. His ministry is one of opening the word of God to his church and community to look forward with hope to a new life of Christian witness.
Very different, but equally moving was a visit to the Waddington Street Centre, begun by church members with a vision to support people with mental illness in the community. Decades later, it has grown into a vibrant, professionally-run centre, though still supported by many volunteers, and still retaining the intimate, place of peace, acceptance and security for healing and wholeness to be found.
And what of my time in prison? I was thrilled to hear that the family support centres were still staffed by volunteers, some coming from our churches. When I was in prison, did you visit me?