From the Moderator
During Lent I often find myself turning to a poem* written by the late Kate McIlhagga – a previous minister of ours in north Northumberland.
She writes (and I only quote a few lines):
Lent is not for the faint-hearted.
It demands that we, like Thomas,
put our hand into the side of the crucified Christ.
Lent is a journey towards the cross…..
Lent is a journey
So at the end of Lent
we should expect to find ourselves
somewhere different from where we started.
Lent can be an opportunity
to explore what is the nature
of the promised Kingdom of God on earth that we long for;
a time to discern
how we are called to work for it.
No, Lent is not for the faint-hearted!
When Jesus told his disciples – “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” Luke 9:23-24 – he wasn’t talking about denying themselves chocolate or cake, Jesus was saying: If you want to follow me, you will need to understand that you might die. The cross was the death for revolutionaries, people who fought against the status quo; for people who wanted change. Jesus told his followers that to follow him meant taking a risk. A big risk. It was for those who wanted things to be different, who wanted to take risks in their work for the kingdom of God, for those who were not afraid to stand up and speak out. He was saying that discipleship was not for the faint-hearted!
Of course, we don’t live in a country where we might die for our faith – though there are plenty of Christians in the world who are persecuted and killed. As I follow Jesus’ journey to the cross I often find myself asking ‘would I be prepared to die for my faith?’ and I have to
confess that I would most probably be like Peter and I’m ashamed of that. The trouble is though, that many of us seem to be averse to even taking even the smallest risk to speak out about our love for Jesus; we can’t take the risk to share our faith stories not only outside the church, but in it! Are we faint-hearted disciples? Is it possible that in your journey through Lent you might ask yourself: How can I take a risk for Jesus and the kingdom?’
So, disciples and followers of Jesus, what risks might we begin to take? It might be something simple: perhaps reading a book that helps develop our faith, or meeting with one another to listen in prayer, or reading the Bible a little more closely. Our congregations are getting smaller and older and the share in teaching and ministry of an ordained minister will become less and less as the years roll by. Perhaps for some of you, taking new steps towards God might mean taking more of a lead in your church community, encouraging one another, praying with one another more often, just as the first Christians did when the Apostles had to travel over many miles to minister only occasionally to the new, excited, growing congregations
. These people were all eager to learn more and share their experiences of what the Holy Spirit was doing in and through their lives. Paul’s letters tell us how he encouraged and taught these churches to minister to one another.
For every member of every church in our synod, God asks us to dare to take risks and let the Holy Spirit be alive and active in us. Stepping out and taking risks feels daunting, yet we are not alone in this, and we can teach each other as we build up our knowledge and confidence. You and your church may have ideas about this already and if you have found excitement in your church, could you help another by sharing what you have learnt? Perhaps you know of or want an event or course which might really help you and your church? I will be delighted to hear what might work for you so that we can grow together as strong-hearted disciples.
I hope you will use this time of Lent to think and pray for courage so that you might be enabled by the Spirit to take a risk. No, neither Lent, nor discipleship, is for the faint-hearted!
* The green heart of the snowdrop: Wild Goose Publications
NEWS OF PEOPLE
We welcome a new synod treasurer in the person of retired minister Tony Haws, whose appointment will be confirmed by synod meeting on March 19th.
We send greetings to Liz Blair, whose ministry at St Columba’s North Shields comes to an end in March; and we welcome to synod retired minister Vivian Buddle, who is living near Yarm.
Retired minister David Welbrock, whose last ministry was at Roker, died on January 16th aged 89: we offer our sympathy to his family.
And we welcome home synod ecumenical officer Andy Lie from his three months service as an Ecumenical Accompanist in and around Bethlehem. Some of his experiences have been recorded on the EAPPI website blog – and we hope there will be opportunities to hear more from Andy at first hand in the coming months.
Two new lay preachers are to be accredited within our synod. Helen Cooper from Waddington Street, Durham and Ann Sinclair from St Andrew’s, Monkseaton, who have both completed the TLS Gateways into Worship course, will be commissioned at a service to be held at Jesmond on April 2nd.
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NEWS OF CHURCHES
West Denton is looking forward to closer links with the local Youth & Community Project, following a very successful Community Festival jointly sponsored at the end of last summer. A small mission grant from Synod helped the church achieve its aim to “get out there and love our community to win the right to share our faith”. Over 700 people attended the event: for more details see the report on the synod website.
St Andrew’s Benton shared the Christmas message at their local metro station by giving out mince pies and engaging in conversation. One member reported that “people were very appreciative when they realised that we were not going to preach or ask for money.” The mince pies were wrapped in printed serviettes linking the gift with the birth of Jesus and giving follow-up contact information.
St Andrew’s also took part in the Christmas Angels Project – as did St George’s, Morpeth and Bellingham, and several other churches across the synod. The knitted angels were scattered around the towns and villages, and taken home by their finders as a reminder of the true significance of Christmas.
Our church at Felton has closed after a history of nearly 200 years. The final service, a celebration of all that this has meant, was held on January 10th.
Many of our churches will be holding some form of Good Friday procession, but few walk as far as enthusiasts from our Swaledale churches at Low Row and Keld. The 12 mile ecumenical walk of witness will follow the old corpse way down the dale from Keld to Grinton, stopping along the way to mark the traditional Stations of the Cross.
SYNOD NEWS AND EVENTS
SYNOD MODERATOR POST
The interviewing panel which met in January decided not to make a nomination. The post is being re-advertised, and interviews will take place at the end of May. Synod clerk Mel Campbell says “Take heart: is not unusual for moderator posts to be re-advertised.” We are asked to continue to pray for God’s guidance through this process.
Faith streams, living waters – 16-20 May
There is a new format to this year’s pilgrimage, as participants will be travelling out each day from the central hub of the Windermere Centre to different places of saintly interest in the Lakes, following in the footsteps of St Patrick, St Oswald and St Herbert among others. Details and booking forms will be found here – or contact Linda Gowland on 01434 605837.
STAYING ALIVE 2016
This joint partnership event between our synod and the Diocese of Newcastle is an opportunity for young people across the North East to spend a long weekend together – exploring faith, taking part in worship, chilling out, trying new stuff. It takes place at Seahouses Hostel, July 28-31. Book before April 30th for the generous Early Bird rate! Details and booking forms are on the synod website, or contact Children’s Work Advisor Hannah Middleton on 07548 900290.
And remember… The spring meeting of Synod takes place on Saturday March 19th, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm, at Jesmond URC. Synod Meetings are open events, and all who wish to attend will be warmly welcomed.
Keep the news coming in! –
Contact Wendy Watson at Synod Office – Tel 0191 2321168
A printed version of this news is sent to each church with the monthly mailing