The Wisdom of the Years

By John Ellis

Michael Jagessar and I have been in even more frequent contact than usual over recent days as we prepare for the meeting of Mission Council this week. Routine business is unusually thin so we have the welcome luxury of time for reflecting on some of the wider issues facing the Church. We shall consider what being a “Learning Church” should look like, we shall review how we communicate the Gospel using contemporary media, we shall ask how the spiritual leadership potential of the Eldership could be developed further, and we shall ask how the URC passion for ecumenism can best be channelled in future.

In some of our discussions we shall explicitly draw on our past. This will be very obvious when we consider how the URC might most appropriately contribute to the lengthy commemorations starting this year of the First World War. To my generation even the early days of the United Reformed Church are more history than memory but on recent visits to churches I have met a sequence of alert nonagenarians who have brought history alive as they have told something of their story.

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Ken Ohlson

Pride of place perhaps goes to Ken Ohlson at St Andrew’s, Cheam, who marked his 90th birthday weekend by serving Communion with his fellow Elders. He remembered clearly the 1933 building being erected and, apart from going away to another War, seemed to been central to the congregation’s life ever since.

On the same visit I was able to see Bernard Edwards, also 90, former Southern Synod Treasurer, now in a nursing home in Cheam. The previous weekend in Lymington I discovered the lively 94-year-old at the next table at the church lunch was Bernard’s cousin, Winnie. With her husband, Frank Tovey, they had remarkable stories of their time as medical missionaries in China and India before I was born. They kindly gave me a copy of their book of reflections.

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St Andrew’s, Cheam built 1933

This morning at after service coffee I found myself talking to a 91-year-old with vivid memories of Dunkirk and sharp thoughts on the Ukraine. An intriguing aspect of such conversations is that sometimes the perspective at the time remains the perspective; in other cases the passage of time has cast a quite different light on decisions made in an earlier age.

I wonder what Christians two and three generations on will make of our stewardship of our Church inheritance.

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