By John Ellis
A triangle of Lent travels has kept me happily grounded in the realities of local church life even whilst all the planning for General Assembly in only three months’ time accelerates. Lent or not, good food has been plentiful and generously offered.
The south western point of the triangle was Bridport in Dorset. A Sunday visit to the United Church while their sanctuary is being refurbished involved the church hall being in quick succession sanctuary and dining room. Relatives past and present greatly enhanced the visit as I saw the predecessor Barrack Street chapel where my great, great grandmother was baptised in 1825; discovered plaques in the United Church commemorating a total of 93 years’ service as organist by two cousins; and had time with the Revd Nelson Bainbridge, former Wessex Synod moderator, who is my brother’s father-in-law.
The northern point of the triangle was a hotel just north of Preston where the North Western Synod had organised a 24-hour conference to refresh their Elders. I was glad to share with them some reflections on that sphere of service and its continuing importance to the United Reformed Church. An interviewer from Radio Lancashire was impressed at how hard URC Elders work. The presence of the URC was evident even to visitors strolling through the car park as a leading member of the Synod, who has a churchy name, has a relevant number plate too.
The south eastern point of the travel triangle was in Hassocks, just north of Brighton. The small town has a centrally situated and thriving church with 100 at morning worship. At breakfast with the Sunday Club I learnt that in Sussex the tooth fairy pays out £1 a tooth these days. At lunch with some older members l gained the impression that this congregation was perhaps the URC with the greatest concentration of Bluebell Railway enthusiasts anywhere but also enriched by a crop of retired ministers. During the Communion service I was glad to greet the Revd Peter Scotland, who has completed 50 years as a minister and, far from sitting back, was also inducted for a period of service on the Elders’ Meeting.