Arriving for an early March visit to United Reformed Church House in London’s Tavistock Place, I was stopped in my tracks. The walk from Kings Cross station takes one through an estate of unexceptional flats, but as I emerged to approach our offices, the winter-despatching sight of cherry blossom was a joy. It punctuated the urban scene with prettiness, it enhanced the 1950s building and it lifted my spirits.
It also alerted me to how different a superficial image can be from the reality inside. As I enjoyed the pink prunus blooms, I recalled the internal remedial works taking place inside Church House. A year or so back, building works took place to transform of Church House. But since then, further works have been needed to correct issues with the basement. This work has been essential and unavoidable. Although disruptive to the working conditions of many of our staff, they have worked on, uncomplainingly, and to great effect. From a moderator’s vantage point, I find myself impressed and grateful in equal measure for all our staff, some of whom have had to steer the project for far longer than it was ever anticipated to last, and others of whom have borne its not inconsiderable consequences whilst maintaining their work so fruitfully.
Musing upon all this, my mind then left London, and went on a virtual tour of the 13 synod offices. There similar work goes on only with more regional emphases, from Glasgow in the north to Taunton in the south west, via Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cambridge, Southampton, London, Croydon and Cardiff. I looked them all up in the Yearbook and thought gratefully and prayerfully of those whose ministries are based there – administration, oversight and support. Having worked in one of them, I have some insight about what is involved. In truth, though, I do not presume to know exactly what it is like, for as the world changes so it changes the Church, and consequently the demands that synod offices and their personnel are required to meet. It isn’t as it was when I worked with a synod through the noughties. That dynamic change is persistent, as we strive to be the best we can be as the United Reformed Church for years to come. In their service to the local churches, I believe we are all in debt to these dedicated colleagues – some paid and many more volunteering. Moreover, it’s not all cherry blossom; there are days when the brickbats our synod staff receive outnumber the affirmations. All the more reason then, to say how essential and how valued their oil is to the smooth running of the URC and particularly its congregations.
This took my mind to those 1383 local churches, without which we would not be the United Reformed Church at all. Their life and work are similarly undergirded by the dedicated ministry of a wide range of people. When I think of the three that I serve, one has quite a team of staff, alongside many hard-working volunteers, and the other two each thrive with a few people who give hours of their time without counting the cost. As I share with Derek Estill in the privilege of visiting churches throughout these islands, I meet so many of these people. My hope is that our visits convey something of this appreciation but I am also eager to put it across through this blog.
Springtime’s cherry blossom is short-lived – an annual delight – but our gratitude is best when it carefully punctuates every season of church life – the tricky times and flourishing ones. After all, there is nothing like being appreciated to stir us to be our best.