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