Derek Estill, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, reflects on the highlights of his moderatorial engagements
At the beginning of May, I joined the jubilee anniversary celebrations at Christchurch – a local ecumenical partnership between United Reformed and Methodist churches in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The church was founded in 1969 when Methodist churches at Broad Street and Nightingale Road united with Queen Street Congregational Church.
The bold step of a union, and the congregation’s joint vision, has paid dividends over the years, as the church is still flourishing 50 years later. Christchurch draws people of all ages and is actively engaged with today’s communities in a positive, attentive and meaningful way. The work of this church involves people, intrigues people, and attracts people to find out more.
On arrival in Hitchin, I was met by Chris Blackman, the church’s treasurer, who had invited me to stay with him and his wife Ann. I was warmly welcomed into their home and immediately felt at ease. Chris then showed me around the town, and by the time we got back, Ann had prepared a very nice evening meal. After a good night’s rest, it was off to church to lead and share in a service to mark the church’s 50th anniversary. I was made very welcome. Well done to all at Christchurch as they celebrate 50 years of active service and continue to respond to God’s call.
Later in May, I took part in a Messy Church session themed ‘God’s creation’, at an infant school. Parents as well as school representatives expressed considerable enthusiasm and appreciation for the church running the session as an after-school club. The session began with prayer, a story about our world and all that is in it being God’s creation, and song (‘Our God is a Great Big God’). Crafts to illustrate the diversity of God’s creation came next, and finally, the sharing of food. The crafts made by the children were to be prominently displayed in the school. It was clear from this experience that parents and children are keen to know more about faith at a time and place that is convenient and familiar to them. The environment enabled natural conversations to take place between the church and its community.
Community work meeting
As I am a member of the United Reformed Church’s church-related community work committee, I attended a meeting of this committee in May, which looked at the work being done by Church Related Community Workers (CRCWs) across the country. You will no doubt be aware that church-related community work is a very successful ministry provided by the URC. CRCWs enable church congregations to build up connections with their neighbourhoods, in part by helping break down barriers and by building up partnerships between worshipping communities, individuals and/or groups in the surrounding areas. (To find out more, click here, or email the CRCW Programme Administrator.)
I was fortunate to be involved in the launch of a new initiative called ‘Topical Talks’ – a programme to help encourage engagement with important issues. The first of the talks featured a personal account of the circumstances that led to a family becoming refugees and seeking asylum. That family left their home, country and everything they had behind. First-hand accounts such as these are powerful. I was privileged to help launch this initiative and facilitate discussion and thinking.
The bid question was: what should we as Christians be doing to help those in such desperate situations? Perhaps we should be lobbying MPs and authorities, or working in other ways to address the difficulties that refugees and asylum seekers face? Of course, many are already engaged locally and nationally with refugee and asylum seeker groups, but there is always more to do.
Another matter I can recall from this session was the need to raise public concern and awareness that Christians all over the world are facing persecution, and in some places are experiencing persecution that approaches genocide. Christians make up 80% of those being persecuted. What should you and I do in response to this? I leave that question I with you.
Mission Council – the executive body of the URC’s General Assembly – met in May. Much business was discussed, debated and decisions taken. It is at the heart of the way we operate as the URC.
It is important that listen to each other in these councils, aiming to come to a consensus when making decisions. Discussion, debate and decisionmaking at Mission Council is always surrounded by worship and Bible study. In this case, our chaplains led worship and the Revd Neil Thorogood led each day’s Bible study. The focus of these sessions was to help us think more carefully about listening and engaging with God in our daily lives. Listening is the theme that Nigel Uden and I have agreed should be the thread running through our time in office, and beyond – especially as the Church faces up to challenges and new opportunities that give us the opportunity to put our faith into action.
Towards the end of the month, I was invited to visit Rutherglen URC, just south of Glasgow, which was a real pleasure and a great experience. The church there was celebrating its 118th anniversary. I was able to join their Saturday evening candlelight supper and lead the anniversary service the following day. More than 100 people attended the candlelight supper, a good many of whom came to worship on Sunday morning too. There was an obvious enthusiasm for this occasion as they celebrated and remembered all those years of worship and began to think about their future witness.
Scottish hospitality was great. I was looked after very well by Rutherglen URC’s minister, the Revd John Sanderson, and his wife, the Revd Lindsey Sanderson. I was very pleased that the Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator of the URC’s National Synod of Scotland, and his wife Jan, were able to join us for the service on Sunday.
The pictures below show us enjoying the candlelit supper on the Saturday evening, and then worshipping the following morning still in celebration mode with balloons in among us.