The Revd Nigel Uden, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, urges prayer for the needs of our Church and society
Last month, I wrote about the value of praying with and for politicians. There have been times when people have criticised my praying for a local MP because they (the critic) did not share that parliamentarian’s philosophy and commitments. I nevertheless continue, convinced by Paul that part of the Church’s vocation is to be a community of prayer for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Current developments in parliament only confirm me in that conviction.
This month, I am in a similar vein. But I also urge prayer for the Church, and particularly for the United Reformed Church. Over the coming months, there are several processes of discernment in train: for the appointment of a General Secretary to replace the Revd John Proctor, when he retires in August next year; for a Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) to succeed the Revd Richard Church, whose retirement is just a few weeks prior to John’s; for a Principal for Westminster College, Cambridge, as the Revd Neil Thorogood’s term will be complete at the end of the Easter term next year; and for four new Moderators – for North Western, Yorkshire, East Midlands and Southern Synods – to build upon the work of the Revds Andrew Mills, Kevin Watson, Peter Meek and Nicola Furley-Smith respectively. Nicola is replacing the Revd Craig Bowman, who after 12 years is moving on from being Secretary for Ministries. Craig has accepted a call to the Cheam and Wallington churches.
In part, our prayers can be of thanksgiving for the leadership that these eight people have offered over many years. Each, in distinctive ways, have brought the gifts and graces with which God blessed them, and deployed them for the good of the Church – both the URC and the ecumenical community within which we determinedly take our place. We are in their debt.
Looking to the future, there is much else for which our prayers are vital. Groups have been appointed to enable the recruitment of a new generation of leaders, and a range of people are applying, nominating, or thinking through whether to respond to a nomination by submitting an application. After the shortlisting process, candidates will prepare themselves for interview, or adjust to the process having come to an end. Each process culminates in extensive conversations in which all concerned are ‘seeking the mind of Christ’. Once a call has been discerned, issued and accepted, some have new beginnings to stir their enthusiasm, and others will settle back into what they were doing before the possibility of doing something different disturbed them.
These are not processes for us to undertake lightly, less still without prayer. Prayer is that opening of ourselves to the presence, the power and the wisdom of God, as we see God in Christ. My strong sense is that we stand at a moment in the URC when all of us who are this Church have an obligation to pray: in the immediate term, for these processes and for those who will be appointed as a result. But more than that. We have to pray for the fresh reformation into which God is calling us, that we might be the Church in ways as fruitful in our generation as it was in our forebears’.
In one of his many books, Vision and Authority, the Revd John Oman, a former Principal of Westminster College, reminds us of the tradition in parts of the Church to be at least outwardly reluctant to assume high office. It’s akin, perhaps, to the House of Commons’ custom when electing a new Speaker – the speaker-elect is expected to show reluctance as they are ‘dragged unwillingly’, grudgingly moving from the back benches to the Speaker’s chair. In churches of another tradition, the Latin phrase Noli espiscopari sums it up: ‘I do not wish to be bishoped.’
I confess to this attitude myself. Oman, though, is unpersuaded and has made me think of the call to roles of particular responsibility in a more nuanced way. In Vision and Authority, Oman writes: ‘The Church … has something higher to seek than the ruler who is least eager to rule.’ Mindful that we do not seek ‘rulers’, might Oman nevertheless have a point? He wants for the Church those who have been delivered from the love of power for its own sake, but who still offer themselves for positions of responsibility ‘for the good it may accomplish and for the call and opportunity it represents of larger usefulness.’
At this important moment in the URC’s life, let us pray for such people, for those charged with finding them, and for the Church House personnel who oversee the processes.
We pray with those whose service is to identify people for these Assembly posts,
that by your Spirit they may be blessed with discernment.
And we pray with those to whom you have given gifts of leadership
in the world and in the Church,
asking that they might be blessed with both
the readiness to set themselves at the disposal of others
and the grace to know that it is servanthood to which you call us all,
according to the model of Jesus Christ,
in whose name we pray.
Nigel Uden, September 2019