The place for renewal and reconciliation

The Revd Nigel Uden, one of the Moderators of the United Reformed Church (URC) General Assembly, says that in this time of continued division, the Church must continue to be a place for renewal and reconciliation.

Zion United Reformed Church, Northallerton

As the United Kingdom continues to negotiate its way out of the European Union, I cannot help but feel a growing concern about the impact of the process upon our equilibrium – as individuals and as a community.

In recent sermons I have referenced Ann Morisy’s book, Bothered and Bewildered (2011), in which she uses the phrase ‘irritable and fragmenting’. That’s what it often feels like.   

It seems that politicians might feel that way, too. The Prime Minister recently said that, when all the decisions have been made, our priorities will need to include what she called ‘renewal and reconciliation’.

Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprising for a person immersed in Christianity, Theresa May borrows profoundly theological language. After all, if Jesus is God’s offer of anything, is it not those two things? Reconciliation to God and to each other, and renewal of life until it is abundant for all.

And if that is what God offers to us, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, I am led irresistibly to the conclusion that renewal and reconciliation are also what best defines the Church’s gift to the world.

Neither of them is easy. Both take effort, determination and some very particular charisms. In the public square we are hearing society’s plea for the very things that defines what God calls the Church to be and do.

As the world pursues them surely the Church is being prodded to give its voice and endeavour free expression.

Ten days ago, my travelling around Great Britain took me to Zion United Reformed Church in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

It was the 250th anniversary of the church occupying its current premises and I was impressed by so much that I saw of that congregation and its witness.

It’s this church that was given one of the Congregational and General’s community awards at last year’s General Assembly. As I was being shown The Secret Garden – the community space that it has created out of reclaimed wasteland – the sky darkened and the sun shone.

A vast rainbow appeared and pitched directly into the church roof. It was as if, on its anniversary, God was pouring renewal and reconciliation into Zion, and reminding it to go into the town and share them.

While all the stuff that surrounds Brexit continues to bother and bewilder us, I sense that the rainbow of God’s grace and truth is both encouraging the United Reformed Church into being renewed and reconciled itself, and thrusting us into the public square, to take our place as instruments of our nations’ restoration and healing.

It’s a big ask, but so is the rainbow.


Pictured is Zion United Reformed Church, Northallerton, viewed from its award-winning project The Secret Garden.

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