Derek Estill, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, on Lent, and his other commitments in March
During Lent, I often need to take time to consider my own spirituality. This year, in addition, and mindful of needing to try and make a difference, I signed up to one of the ‘Living Lent’ campaign challenges by giving up meat during Lent. Led by the Joint Public Issues Team (Jpit), Living Lent, as many of you will know, is about creating a climate of change.
This Jpit initiative is a great way of catching people’s imagination to be a catalyst for action in changing our climate meteorologically and spiritually. So far so good – I am managing to keep myself focused on both these objectives.
Standing with Muslims
Did you take the opportunity to have a look around your local mosque on national Visit My Mosque Day (3 March 2019)? I was able to go to a mosque not far from the church I am a member of, with friends. During my visit, I was able to affirm and say to local Muslims that though we have real differences, we have a lot in common. Building good community relationships by finding out a little bit more about each other, and non-Christian faiths, is a good thing to do. As we know, Jesus was clear about reaching out to all communities and is a prefect role model for us in this troubled world. Such interfaith experiences help me to build confidence in speaking to others about my own faith, and I know that people from other faiths appreciate that.
Close on the heels of Visit My Mosque Day came news of the horrendous attack on two mosques in New Zealand. Blackburn with Darwen, where I go to church – like many other towns across the country – held a public two-minute silence. Ours took place on the steps of the town hall on the Monday morning following the attack (11 March). We kept silence in memory of those that had been killed. The silence was followed by statements condemning the attack and urging all people to work for peace and understanding in all sections of the community and for all faiths. At the event, I made a statement on behalf of the local interfaith forum, alongside the leader of the Council, a Blackburn Cathedral representative and the Director of the Lancashire Council of Mosques. I stated that it is most important that all faith communities demonstrate a united determination against all terrorist attacks, to make it clear that such mindless acts of violence can never and will never succeed. There was a good crowd of people there from all sections of the town’s diverse community.
Visiting church communities is a wonderful privilege and a great blessing. During March, I led worship in two churches and attended a three-day synod meeting. All have been really uplifting occasions.
The first church I visited was St Andrews with Castle Gate in Nottingham, where I led Sunday morning worship. I was most warmly welcomed and very well looked after. It was a joy to be amongst a vibrant and busy church that has a large congregation, including many young people. They have a very good choir! You may remember, if you were at General Assembly in Nottingham, we had an augmented choir for worship on the first day, which St Andrews with Castle Gate brought together. Their singing made a wonderful and memorable contribution to that occasion, as it did with a somewhat smaller choir, in the service during my visit. My thanks to all who made my visit such an enjoyable one, and to their minister, the Revd Christopher Ford, who most graciously allowed me to lead worship.
My second visit was to the National Synod of Scotland’s meeting at Tulliallan Castle from 15 to 17 March. I was made to feel at home in a warm, welcoming and friendly atmosphere that made it very easy for me to feel accepted and not a stranger. The Revd John Bremner met me at Falkirk High station and took me to his house for a cup of tea before a quick look around the area. We then on to Tulliallan.
The weekend’s theme was ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’. The synod meeting blended worship, business, fellowship, workshops and Bible study, which was led by Roderick Hewitt. The Bible study encouraged us to explore how we can develop our discipleship by following Jesus into challenging and difficult places, and putting by our faith into action by reaching out to those in need.
During the synod meeting, I contributed to Interfaith discussion workshops, took part in the ‘Walking the Way’-themed, Question Time-style panel discussion, and led a short act of worship on Sunday morning. I also took part in the Commissioning of Nicola Robinson as an Assembly-accredited lay preacher, presenting her with a certificate and bringing congratulations and greetings from the whole Church. And it was good to be present at the Commissioning of Jess Pool as Children’s Ministry Development Worker, and Matt Baines as Youth Ministry Development Worker.
The close-Christian-family feel of this synod’s time together was further enhanced by a very enjoyable social event on Saturday evening; people of all ages enthusiastically took part, and I was warmly embraced. I recall at the time thinking and saying: ‘This is how the Church is meant to be.’ So, a big thank you to the Revd David Pickering, Synod Moderator, and to all those who arranged this gathering. It was a very good experience for me, and I hope for everyone else too.
Lastly in March, Burnley and Nelson United Reformed Church invited me to lead their Mothering Sunday service, which I delightedly accepted. I chose a theme of ‘caring by sharing the love of God’. Mothers are such special people aren’t they? It seems to me they provide us with a clear and tangible working out of God’s love for humanity through their selfless dedication to nurturing, supporting and simply being a constant well of love and understanding. My experience at Burnley and Nelson was another example of being warmly welcomed by the whole Church family, and it was very much appreciated.