Category Archives: Moderators’ blog

Jesus Light of the World

Towards the end of the year our thoughts turn to Advent and Christmas.

Everything seems to be going much faster when what we really need to do is to slow down to give time to quietly reflect on the huge importance of Christmas.

Like everyone, I too am caught up in this rush to do many things in what seems to be less and less time. I think Antony Newley, an English actor, singer and songwriter¸ got it right when he sang about stopping the world so he could get off in his 1961 play Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. We could do better at finding time to step to one side for a while to give ourselves the opportunity to think more deeply about the wonderful significance of Christmas.

I have been able to do a little of this, firstly by remembering the work done by Mal Breeze, a United Reformed Church Related Community Worker (CRCW) based at the North and East Blackburn Group, and the three church communities he works with building community relationships and starting new ones that puts them at the centre of life so important and central to Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today, the United Reformed Church’s (URC) focus on lifelong missional discipleship. 

Close on the heels of celebrating CRCW work came Remembrance Day. This year I had the privilege of taking part in marking remembrance near to where I live.  In addition to the normal service I was able to participate in the launch /commissioning of a unique sculpture that illustrates the futility of war and the huge human sacrifices made by so many on behalf of others both during the conflict and then afterwards. Civilian life can be hard for those who made such significant sacrifices in the first place. 

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Mary’s manifesto for an Advent election

Statue of Blessed Virgin Mary (2000) by David Wynne (1926-2014) in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral
Statue of Blessed Virgin Mary (2000) by David Wynne (1926-2014) in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral

A general election in Advent is unusual. There has not been one since 1923. On the surface of it, that is a minor detail. But actually, despite the alleged inconvenience of a campaign in the run-up to Christmas, to allow some of the Advent themes to shape our pre-election thinking might be helpful. 

All my life I have been singing Mary’s song, Magnificat, according to its first word in Latin. In a process of spiritual osmosis, it has permeated my thinking. Every time I visit our local cathedral in Ely, I am struck by the statue of Mary – I see a woman at once exultant and yet so very thoughtful. And such are the words St Luke records as Mary’s response to the news that she is to be the mother of Jesus. It occurs to me that, although Magnificat is part of Anglican Evening Prayer every day of the year, it adds a particular value in our Advent worship. The version that got into Rejoice and Sing is Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith’s Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord. It’s number 740 and I imagine it will have an airing in many of our congregations’ December services.

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Faith in action in October

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. 

Pictured: Grange United Reformed Church, Reading

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. 

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