I generally like the month of September. Usually, the weather is good, and we can look back at an enjoyable summer before engaging again in new things. Schools, colleges and similar educational organisations begin new terms in September, and so, whilst we are heading for winter, I always feel quite positive at that time of the year.
Part of taking stock has been looking back and evaluating General Assembly. I’m sure you will appreciate that for me, as General Assembly Moderator, it was a very busy and important time. As well as being a new experience, with many challenges, it is one which I enjoyed and can look back on in a positive way. However, as always, there are things one might wish to have done differently. We are always learning, so it is good to have feedback from those who were there. If you were at General Assembly, you will remember the weather was very hot, and that might be a major part of your memory of Assembly. Overall, it seems, we can count Assembly as being an occasion that went well. I hope that if you were there, you agree with that assessment.
In the early part of September, I attended a finance committee meeting. The committee, as you can imagine, does detailed, accurate and very important work. We are blessed with having dedicated, skilled and experienced people serving on this committee, and give thanks for all the time and effort they give so willingly.
On 16 September, I preached in Bolton, at St Andrew and St George United Reformed Church. This church is in a group of three churches that includes Rosehill and Church at the Centre, Tonge Moor. It was good to have congregants from all three churches at the St Andrew and St George service. The Revd Mark Bates, Minister to this group of churches, led the service and I preached a sermon based on Psalm 133 and Romans 12. The occasion was the 7th anniversary of Mark’s ministry to these churches, and all there showed their appreciation for his work.
The theme of the service explored how important it is to feel at one with God, and with our fellow human beings. I used the image of a dartboard as a way of illustrating how together and rooted our lives are in Christ. The various segments on a dartboard radiate outwards from the central bullseye. The segments can be seen as representing the various parts of our complex lives, rooted in and informed by God. I found the dartboard a simple and handy way of illustrating that all aspects of our lives are rooted in a close and unified relationship with Jesus. I also found it a useful way of talking to others about how important and central my faith is to my whole life.
After the service at St Andrew and St George, there was a ‘Desert Island Hymns’ session where I was the person (metaphorically) marooned on the island. I was asked questions about myself, just like in the radio programme ‘Desert Island Disks’. It was all really good fun. After this, we enjoyed lunch together, and I was able to meet and talk with people which was most enjoyable. Everyone made me feel very welcome.
Later that same day, I took part in an interfaith event in Blackburn at St Silas’ Church of England. There, URC representatives, as well as representatives of the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain, each gave brief descriptions of their denomination to an audience of Muslims. The audience included a good number of young people. The whole event was in response to a request from the local Muslim community to better understand the various parts of the Christian family. The Mayor of Blackburn was there, along with other leaders and people from communities across the town. As part of this gathering, I explained the importance of prayer to all Christians, irrespective of denomination. As always on these occasions, there was food shared, this time served by a joint team of Christians and Muslims at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. It was a good occasion for people from different faiths to get to know each other a little, and to find out that we have quite a lot in common.
Later in the month, I attended a URC Trust meeting where I was made a trustee. I will now serve in that capacity whilst I am a General Assembly Moderator.
On 21 September, I attended a Mission Council Advisory Group meeting to discuss the arrangements for November’s Mission Council meeting. Preparations are progressing.
September is also the time when political party conferences are held. Through our membership of the Joint Public Issues Team (Jpit) – which is a partnership between our church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Salvation Army and Quakers in Britain – I was able to go to the Labour Party Conference as a member of Jpit’s faith leaders’ delegation. Whilst there, we met: Stephen Timms MP; Christian Mathison MP; Janet Daby MP; Councillor Jane Corbett, the Assistant Mayor of Liverpool; and Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action. The day started with a prayer breakfast in Friends Meeting House, led by ‘Christians on the Left’ (formally the Christian Socialist Movement). There, we met, talked and prayed with Louise Davies, Director of Christians on the Left, before making our way to the conference. Whilst meeting with those listed above, we were able to discuss and ask questions on topics such as the hostile environment, the treatment of refugee and asylum seekers, universal credit, Brexit, mental health issues and social care. It was a very good occasion as it gave us an opportunity to speak directly to serving MPs and other influential people, making the voice of the Church heard whilst offering help and support. We took the opportunity also to remind MPs that churches are in, and part of, local communities, providing good connections with local people. One of the things Jpit is promoting is a campaign to encourage churches to engage with their local MP. Click here to find out about how best your church can engage with MPs.
The picture above shows Jpit’s leaders delegation meeting with Stephen Timms MP (second from right) at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Pictured, from left to right, are: myself (Derek Estill), Rebecca Keating (representing the Salvation Army), the Revd Phil Jump (representing the Baptist Union of Great Britain), the Revd Michaela Youngson and the Revd Bala Gnampragasam (both representing the Methodist Church), Stephen Timms MP and Jane Dawson (representing the Quakers).
On 27 September, I attended the mission committee meeting in Leeds. The meeting discussed a range of topics associated with the mission of our Church, including global and international relationships with other Churches, the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade in connection with mission, the Commitment for Life programme, Fresh Expressions, ecumenical and interfaith work and the URC’s involvement in Greenbelt festival. The scope of this committee’s work show’s the URC’s strong commitment to mission and social justice.
I am keen to encourage and celebrate faith in action, and would be glad to hear from you if you have things to share about what you are doing to illustrate putting your faith into action. Email me here, or leave a message for me with the URC switchboard: 0207 916 2020.
Looking ahead, I am getting ready for a holiday in Wales. I’ll be heading south, towards the Gower Peninsula, visiting places I know well and others that will be new to me. I look forward to letting you know how I get on.