Somerset and North Devon …

… was the place to be this weekend. This has been a good experience where my husband and I have heard about and celebrated with ten different and mainly small United Reformed Churches. To do them all justice this is, I am afraid, a rather long Blog. I could have written only about the themes which emerged during the weekend:

  • the recognition that Christianity is shared not merely within the four walls of the church building but as Christians live their lives day-by-day, “in this community everyone knows everyone else and people see us living daily lives beside them, that is so important as our Christian witness” said one elder.
  • “Underpinned by prayer” a phrase featured again and again as people recognise they do nothing in their own strength.

But it seems to me that one of the reasons for writing a Blog is to make sure that stories are shared with wider audience so that we can all learn from each other and celebrate our collective lives widely, so here is some more about our visits.

We began on Friday (22nd) at Westfield United Reformed Church, Bridgewater

and Cannington United Reformed Church.

Here were two churches in a pastorate where life was busy and purposeful. In Westfield we heard (amongst other things) about the three services they held each Sunday to meet the different needs of different groups, the lunch club for 70 or so people held each week and the Youth and Children’s work which they supported, enabling two youth workers to undertake work in schools and a number of different communities.

We met Nurse Josephine from Uganda, visiting both these churches where links with the Ugandan community have challenged them to raise £10,000 each year over the last few years. Where members of both churches have visited Uganda and helped physically with the building of classrooms and enabled people to receive hospital treatment which would have been impossible without outside support. These visits have ‘changed everyone who has made them’ said one of the elders. Elders at Cannington told also of their networks in their community which help them to make links with people who would not call themselves Christians but with whom this particular branch of the Christian family is witnessing. The importance of nurturing people from outside the church fellowship was obviously so important in Cannington.

On Saturday (23rd) I was leading a conference for the Mid-Somerset Group of Churches (Curry Rivel, Glastonbury, Langport, Somerton and Street). 25 members of these churches came together for an annual event when we spent the day thinking about mission and evangelism. Can we tell the story of our own faith journeys? how do we share our stories with others? what does the Bible have to say to us. On that last point we quickly came to the conclusion that it told how we needed very little in order to share our stories and what we did need, God would provide if only we would listen to his calling. Here was another group of enthusiastic Christians, struggling to know what God is calling them to in their various communities but involved in those communities bringing Christian witness to their daily lives as members of their churches but also as members of all sorts of other organisations and activities outside the church.

On Sunday (24th) I led worship at the Mid-Somerset Group service and then in the afternoon travelled down the country lanes of that part of Somerset to visit Middle Lambrook. We had been told that it was a lovely peaceful place and we were not disappointed – as we left we asked what happened if we went down the lane in the opposite direction from that from which we had come “you will drive into a field” we were told! The building is listed which gives a feel of times past and presents problems in planning adaptations for disabled access or 21st century witness. (But how many of us have faced a clock like this one to remind us how long we have preached for?!) However, the life of the  church did not give a feel of times past, more of a small group of people aware of their Christian heritage and striving to maintain it in an appropriate way for the 21st century. We also met members of Stoke-sub-Hamdon and a representative from Templecombe who told us something of their life and witness.

Our final visit (on Monday 25th) was to Lynton. By this stage the themes were beginning to emerge. Here too was a church set at the centre of a community and recognising the effect it could have on that community. They had spent time about twelve months ago planning a range of activities and events which they would like to see happening and they showed us the results of those deliberations on the flip chart they still used as a check list of progress. Much of this plan had materialised, numbers of adults and children had increased both in worship and seeking membership.

We came away from the South West Synod in no doubt that God and his disciples were alive and well in this corner of our island.

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