Epiphany and new beginnings

Derek Estill, one of the Moderators of the United Reformed Church (URC) General Assembly, tells of his moderatorial adventures in January

For me, Epiphany and the new year season always brings thoughts of new beginnings and realisations. Little did I know that January would see me translate those thoughts into action, and grant me further gratitude for new beginnings.

New ministry

I was pleased to represent our church-related community work (CRCW) committee at the commissioning of a new CRCW minister in early January. This new minister, Jo Patterson, will serve in a local ecumenical partnership of the URC and the Church of England in Peckham, southeast London. Having completed her CRCW training, Jo accepted the invitation from Copleston Church Centre to work alongside Anglican Priest in Charge, the Revd Edward Collier. Copleston is a very busy church community centre serving a diverse community of people in many ways.

It was a joy to be able to be at this important occasion, and to be able to sign the church’s important covenant document, with others, at the beginning of what I am sure will be a very busy and exciting new ministry for Jo, with many epiphany moments. What a great way to begin 2019! 

Pictured below, from left to right: The Revd Jo Patterson’s husband; Noel Irwin, Tutor in Public Theology for Northern College, Manchester; Derek Estill, Moderator of the URC General Assembly; the Revd Edward Collier, Priest in Charge serving at Copleston Church Centre; the Revd Jo Patterson, CRCW minister serving at Copleston Church Centre; the Revd Nicola Furley- Smith, URC Southern Synod Moderator; The Revd Jo Patterson’s son and daughter.

commissioning of a new CRCW

Leading my first service of 2019

Leading worship and Communion in the church I belong to is always a privilege. Doing this at the beginning of the year allowed myself and those present to think and pray about the future, as well as the opportunities and challenges that the forthcoming year could bring. We all have gifts we can share as we live out our Christian faith, and it was good to talk and think about this in the early part of January.

A new, joyful experience

The URC Youth Assembly from 18 to 20 January was a joyful a new experience for me. There were more than 100 young people present, from all parts of our national. Those three days were packed with fun and business, all surrounded and inspired by worship. Music was provided by a group of very accomplished musicians and singers, which uplifted everyone.

The theme of the Youth Assembly programme and work this year is ‘One Body: We are all in this together’ – a reference to 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. I agree that we all must work together, playing our parts in pursuit of God’s commandments to love God and one another. The Youth Assembly’s theme is particularly appropriate at this time, our nation seeks to redefine its place in the world. We all rely on each other, and it’s great that URC Youth are reminding us of this through its 2019 theme.

Youth Assembly was extremely well organised, allowing me to reflect on how truly blessed the URC is to have such a wonderful group of staff and young people. Towards the end of the conference, I was privileged to induct new young people to serve on the URC youth executive – a group of 17 young people, each with a specific role.

The process of electing the new youth executive team involved hustings, where all who were being considered gave a short account of themselves. The hustings allowed candidates to explain what experience and capabilities they could bring to the role being considered, ahead of a vote. I was particularly interested in this process as it is a process that has now been adopted for General Assembly elections next year (2020).

Newly-inducted Youth Executive members conducted business very professionally using the URC’s consensus decisionmaking process as well as the majority voting method. Hannah Jones, Immediate-past Moderator of the Youth Assembly, gave a rousing speech describing her time in the role. She was sincerely and enthusiastically thanked by the new Youth Assembly Moderators, Natalie Gibbs and Katie Henderson – who are job sharing the role.

Pictured below (from left to right): Youth Assembly Moderators Natalie Gibbs and Katie Henderson; Derek Estill, Moderator of the URC General Assembly.

Youth Assembly Moderators

Pictured below: Derek Estill, Moderator of the URC General Assembly, shakes hands with the Youth Assembly Moderator-elect, Reuben Watt.

Youth Assembly Moderator-elect

New people

Towards the end of January, I led worship at St Johns URC, Warrington. What a great privilege it was to meet new people there, and to worship with them in what was a warm and very friendly gathering. We were able to spend time thinking, praying and singing. While these, I was reminded of our ever present need to love God and others as ourselves, and of how important it is to listen to each other, particularly at this national time of uncertainty.

Holocaust Memorial Day

As you may know, I am secretary of the Blackburn with Darwen Interfaith Forum, which worked alongside the town council to mark Holocaust Memorial Day this year (27 January). I have been intimately involved in the planning, preparation and conduct of the day, enabling our commemorations to take place on a day when local schools can take part (in our case, 29 January).

At our Holocaust Memorial Day event, we had Year Eight-aged secondary school students participate in recounting ‘Torn from home’ stories – accounts from Jewish children that had been on the Kindertransport. Representatives of the local charity Youth Action also took part in our event, as well as Islamic primary school students.

Four refugees from different countries (Rwanda, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Syria) told a little of their tragic and emotionally distressing experiences of being ‘Torn from home’ in these present-day genocides. Their accounts really brought home how important it is that we actively remember the Holocaust, and that dreadful acts still happen today.

We must do all we can to build good relations, understanding, peace and justice in our societies. Antisemitism and hatred of the ‘other’ is an ever-present threat that we must willing to speak out and act against. The Mayor of Blackburn and the chair of our interfaith forum both emphasised the importance of building good relationships and understanding in our communities. I recounted a public protest we made locally, following the attack on a Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh late last year. Rabbi Arnold Saunders as well as Councillor Mohammed Khan, Blackburn council’s chief executive, each called for unity, encouraging us all to work together to combat hatred.

Pictured below (from left to right): Rabbi Arnold Saunders, Cllr Mohammed Khan and me lighting candles for peace and understanding, at the end of the service of remembrance which was held in the Council Chamber of Blackburn Town Hall with at least 100 people present.

service of remembrance

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