Category Archives: Moderators’ blog

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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Sights and stories from the Holy Land

Derek Estill

Derek Estill, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, tells of his experiences in Israel/Palestine

In September, 22 United Reformed Church members, including myself, went on a ten-day educational visit to Israel/Palestine, to see and hear for ourselves about life there – particularly for Palestinians. While we visited holy sites, our visit was principally focused on Palestinians – hearing about their lives, and the challenges they face day to day.


Our trip started in Bethlehem, where we visited the Church of the Nativity, met a local Palestinian family that run an olive wood-carving business, and heard their account of tolerating deliberate provocations in light of threats from Israeli authorities. While in Bethlehem, we also met with the Revd Dr Munther Isaac, who serves as Pastor of the Lutheran Christmas Church. Dr Isaac talked about the life of Palestinians, making it clear they feel like strangers in their own historic land. He gave many examples of the physical, emotional and religious difficulties they face.

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