From the Moderator
It is now time to look back over the last (almost) three years and wonder where the time has gone! I would like to think we have spent those years well – reorganising committee structures, consolidating relationships and beginning the task of planning for a future of changing patterns of ministry. I have visited and led worship in almost every church and feel that I know many of you quite well and some of you very well indeed! It has been a happy time for me and though I’ll be very sorry to say goodbye, I know I will be leaving you in the good and capable hands of a strong Synod Executive and the new Moderator-elect Revd David Herbert (his appointment has yet to be agreed formally by Assembly).
As I indicated at the last Synod meeting, and have done so since we held our Thinking Day in 2015, there are some challenges to be faced by the Church – not only here in the North East, but across the whole denomination. Indeed, across many other churches too. Smaller church congregations mean sharing a minister, as most of you already experience, but for a variety of reasons the number of ministers is declining too and every synod will have a reduced allocation to share around (we call this ‘scoping’). We have 18 at present but by 2020 can only have 15. We have two pastorates vacant at present and four ministers will be retiring next year. This means that each congregation will have to share their minister even more and this isn’t sustainable – not if we want our ministers to stay fit and well! So, Synod Executive is drawing up some ideas for future planning and they will be brought to the next Synod meeting in October.
What will this mean for each congregation? I think it will mean several things but above all, you will need to be proactive rather than just sitting and waiting for something to happen or another minister to arrive:
- Every congregation will need to gather together to pray on a more regular basis to discern God’s will about the way forward for them. If you underpin all you think about and do with prayer then I’m sure the Spirit will empower and enable you to do what is right and good.
- Every congregation might ask themselves whether joining in partnership with another church is a possibility. It is extremely hard to consider leaving your building – where your parents had their funeral, where you were married and your children baptised. But please ask yourselves: are we the church or is it the building? How much is your building helping you or holding you back from being part of God’s kingdom?
- We are going to have to embrace the URC belief in the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ This means that the ordained minister is not the only one who can lead the church. You all can. Each congregation must ask: ‘what exactly do we need a minister for? What is it that they have always done in the past that we could do for ourselves? And then ask for some training to do it! Then the ordained minister can be a gift to the many congregations they serve, rather than someone who rushes from one meeting to the next trying to keep up with the admin and running of every church.
- How many of you have been asked to help take part in leading worship but said: ‘Oh no, not me. I couldn’t!’ Remember Moses? He said he couldn’t possibly help God lead the people out of Egypt. But with God’s help he did. So can you and there are plenty of people around to help.
The future of Northern Synod is in God’s hands – helped by the committee structures and by your church meeting. How much do you commit to God? How much do you allow the Holy Spirit to empower and enable you, or do you leave her outside sitting on the church roof, or caged up and unable to fly? I think we are nervous of what the Spirit might do and in one of his hymns John Bell aptly describes the Holy Spirit ‘The enemy of apathy’. Brian Wren writes in one of his hymns:
May the Spirit fill our praise,
guide our thoughts and change our ways:
God in Christ has come to stay.
Live tomorrow’s life today.
May the Holy Spirit guide all your thoughts as you seek to change.
Wishing you all God’s blessing for the future
With love and thanks
A CELEBRATION OF MINISTRY
Revd Lis Mullen, our Synod Moderator s retiring from Northern Synod in July
A service of thanks for Lis’s ministry amongst us will be held on Saturday 16th July 2016 at 4.00 pm at St Margaret’s United Reformed Church, Prince Edward Road, South Shields NE34 7ND.
The preacher will be Revd Kevin Watson, Moderator of General Assembly.
The service will be followed by refreshments and a ceilidh.
If you would like to attend please let the Synod Office know by July 1st
NEW MODERATOR NOMINATED
David Herbert, currently minister of our North Northumberland churches, has been nominated as moderator of Northern Synod, to serve from October. Most of David’s ministry has been exercised in our synod, and has included chaplaincies and industrial mission work as well as pastorates at Alnwick and North Northumberland.
NEWS OF PEOPLE
Paul Dempster was ordained to St George’s, High Heaton, and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust on 4th June. Also serving as hospital chaplains are Max Shepherd who has moved to the Northumberland, Tyne & Wear Foundation Trust, and Liz Blair, who has replaced Max at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Ron Forster, minister of St George’s, became Deputy Mayor of Morpeth Town Council in May.
Sadly we report the deaths of two retired ministers who have served in our synod: Ken Aitchison, formerly a non-stipendiary minister at Winlaton, and latterly living at Lockerbie, and Reg Burton, whose last ministries were in Sunderland. And also the recent death of minister’s widow Minnie Dickey, of Morpeth.
The congregation of Barnard Castle has decided with great sadness to close the church this October. The decision has been precipitated by frustration over the Heritage Lottery Fund’s dealing with grant applications for essential repairs, which has led the small elderly congregation to lose heart over the process. This is the last surviving Independent congregation in Teesdale, able to trace its history indirectly to the events of the Great Ejectment of 1662.
NORTHUMBERLAND LAY PREACHERS
Preachers and worship group members from our Northumberland churches met at the St Cuthbert’s Centre on Holy Island at for a day gathering at the end of April. The theme of the day, Journeying with Jesus, together with the venue, were clearly popular, as they enjoyed a record attendance of 21 people. Northumberland preachers who are accustomed to gatherings like this twice a year are grateful to Margery Tate and her team who support them by organising these events.
PICNIC TIME FOR TEDDY BEARS….
Jesmond opened their community garden last year, at the time of the reopening of the refurbished church. It is proving a popular feature in the neighbourhood, hosting a variety of events which included a teddy bears’ picnic on May 15th.
REFRESHING THE PARTNERSHIP
It is now some years since we raised funds to purchase a 4 wheel drive vehicle for our friends in the Presbyterian Church of Mozambique. So it was no surprise when our moderator and others visited Maputo last year for them to discover that our car was no longer roadworthy. It has been decided that the best way forward will be to sell it for scrap, and for us to raise sufficient funds to add to this total in order to buy a replacement. We aim to do this in a number of ways, including an appeal to the churches for £1500 – which we hope to raise in the course of this summer.
A Refreshing the Partnership fund-raiser is to take place as an open day at the moderator’s home – in the form of a Strawberry Coffee Time / Tea, Time: 10.00 am to 4.00 pm on Saturday July 2nd at 50 Ridgewood Crescent, Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1SQ.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY 2016
General Assembly will meet in at the Convention Centre in Southport, from 8th to 11th July. Northern Synod representatives are Revds Elaine Brown, Gordon Brown, Joan Grindrod-Helmn, David Herbert, Rachel Poolman and Matthew Prevett; Mrs Margaret Brock, Mrs Melanie Campbell, Mrs Margaret Humberston, Mr Robert Jones, Mr Luke Noble, Mrs Linda Robson.
The Book of Reports and other material will be found on the URC website.
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