Derek Estill, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, tells of where his moderatorial engagements have taken him during October
Local church visits
While on holiday on the Gower Peninsula, south Wales, my wife Margaret and I went to Burry Green Presbyterian Church. As I had represented the United Reformed Church at their General Assembly in Wrexham, earlier in the year, the congregants there recognised me, and gave us a very warm welcome. How nice and unexpected!
After our holiday, we made our way home to Lancashire via Reading, as I had been invited to lead worship at Grange URC, which is in the town. On this occasion, Grange URC was celebrating the anniversary of their church being planted in Southcote, Berkshire, 65 yearsago. Back in 1954, Southcote was a new estate, with many young families with lots of children. An outreach initiative looked as if it could prove fruitful. In answer to their prayers, a hall that had previously been a milking shed was made available to Christians there, which was a great help in starting a new church on what was a growing estate. As I understand it, things grew fast in those early days. Records show that in 1954 they had nearly 300 children attending Sunday school. In 1972, with the church well established, the congregation joined the URC. Today the church continues to be actively involved in their local community and with other local churches. A pre-school group meets every weekday in their premises, and the church opened a cafe for parents to meet and chat whilst their children are in pre-school. This arrangement works very well. This year, pre-schoolers will perform their Nativity play in the church. In addition to working with children, Grange URC have a Memory Cafe, working in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society. Such initiatives are increasingly needed and valued.
Margaret and I were most impressed with Grange URC’s active engagement with their community. I was very pleased to be able to lead this well-attended, special service, celebrating the life of the church on their 65th anniversary. We were both made very welcome, and after the service enjoyed sharing in a four-course hot lunch before driving home to Lancashire.
Training, and a meeting
A few days after our visit to Reading, I joined the Revd Nigel Uden, also Moderator of the URC General Assembly, and others in taking part in two days’ worth of media training in London. We were shown how to conduct ourselves in radio and TV interviews. It was very interesting, instructive and valuable. We were put through our paces during role play, and took part in simulated interviews. Nigel and I felt that the training would be most useful to us as we continue in our roles as General Assembly Moderators. Having had this experience, I certainly look at TV interviews and listen to radio differently! I can see how the techniques we were shown can be, and are being used, by those being interviewed.
My next engagement was to take part in a meeting of the URC’s children and youth work committee, at Luther King House, Manchester. When I first became General Assembly Moderator, I consciously decided, whenever possible, to follow this committee, as young people are so important to our Church’s future. Unfortunately, my time available on this occasion was short. because I had been invited to lead worship in Coventry. Though I had to leave the meeting early, I still felt it was worthwhile. It was good to hear about the work that is going on in so many ways, and I was pleased to be able to spend a little time with this committee.
Visiting West Orchard URC, Coventry, proved to be another great occasion. I met new people, and heard about their work and worship at first hand. I was made to feel very much at home, being met from the train and given a lovely evening meal. I was then taken to meet the Revd Yvonne Stone, West Orchard URC’s Minister, who I stayed and breakfasted with.
I soon found out that West Orchard is another very busy church. It has strong connections with uniformed organisations including Scouts, Cubs and Beaver groups. They have formed the ‘DRENCH’ youth cafe, open on Tuesday afternoons, for pupils. The cafe is a safe space for them to meet friends before getting home. DRENCH was pioneered by the non-profit organisation Youth for Christ, and is run by church members. It is clearly meeting a need because they now have 15 or so young people calling in on a Tuesday.
The church employs the Revd Pete Kimberley as their mission outreach worker, who works alongside Ms Stone. It was great that both took part in the service on the Sunday. It was privilege, as always, to lead worship, and to after the service meet many people over lunch, before leaving to catch a train home.
The picture below shows a cross that was made by one of the West Orchard church members using wood from pews that had been taken out of the church. I was presented with two of them – one for myself and my local church, and another for offering to a suitable contact in Palestine. The church was aware of my recent visit to Palestine as part of the URC’s delegation, and felt that their cross could be used as a sign of friendship between those living in the Holy Land, and their congregation.
You will be aware, I am sure, that the purpose of the URC’s delegation to Israel/Palestine was to find out more, at first hand, about the situation in the Holy Land, including the difficulties that a Palestinian living there can face. All those that went on the trip were emotionally affected by what we saw and heard, and have undertaken to tell the story back home in the UK. If you would like one of our group members to visit your church, or to tell you more about it, please let me know (click here to email me); I’d be happy to put you in touch with a representative from your area that went on the trip.
I attended a meeting of the communications committee in URC House, London, to hear about the good work being done, in so many ways, to publicise the work of our Church. This opportunity seemed to me to be a good one to take advantage of, having just experienced the pros and cons of interviewing techniques!
Publicising our Church’s work is so important, and I therefore encourage all of us, in our various churches, to share what we are doing with the URC’s communications department (contact details are published online here). We should also seek this team’s help in making what you are doing more widely known. Our communications department at Church House has considerable expertise and are more than willing to help. If we don’t tell others about our work as faithful disciples inspired to Walk the Way and live the life of Jesus today, no one else will do it for us, so please speak up whenever you have an opportunity.
Derek Estill, November 2019