Northumberland Lay Preachers and Worship Groups Spring Gathering 2015
The Northumberland lay preachers & worship groups Spring Gathering in March welcomed a visitor from further afield than usual. Mrs Judith Johnson, Assembly Advocate for Leadership in Worship on the United Reformed Church Ministries Committee travelled up from the south of England to join lay preachers and worship group members and friends from North Northumberland, Mid-Northumberland and the South East Ecumenical Area in Rothbury, where we enjoyed the hospitality of the United Reformed Church in lovely surroundings for an afternoon of fellowship, laughter and discussion.
The afternoon began with opening worship exploring our Lenten journey then Judith gave some background into her role. As we explored the theme of ‘Developing Lay Preachers – Why and How?’ Judith invited us first of all to think about how we started as lay preachers, members of worship teams, or as members of the congregation participating in parts of services.
In the discussion that followed we discovered that there were a number of different routes that had encouraged us to begin leading worship – some were inspired by the short training course for worship groups, one of the TLS units (prayer, worship, and pastoral) by enrolling on the TLS Foundation course, or discovering TLS Lite on the URC website. Many had embarked on study originally as a way of developing their personal faith and the encouragement of others had led to further involvement in becoming a worship leader or lay preacher.
A few began by reading the lesson, or a reflection/poem, and working alongside their minister or an experienced lay preacher had given them confidence to continue further. All agreed that the responsibility of leading worship was a nerve racking yet enjoyable experience and whether a worship leader or a lay preacher it was good to work together on a service, both in the preparation and the delivery.
Judith moved on to cover aspects of on-going development and talked of the importance of those who led worship regularly to find opportunities to be spiritually fed themselves. It was essential for those embarking on courses to have the support of our family, our congregation and to take a break from our other church ‘jobs’ in order to devote time to study. Various ways of accessing information were mentioned from locally delivered courses run by Northern Synod, the Methodist on-going development through SENEA, or study days on Holy Island, to the resources provided by the Windermere Centre and the 4 courses run each year by Westminster College, Cambridge. Judith also mentioned courses run by the College of Preachers and referred to the page on Leading Worship on the URC website (accessed through Ministries Committee page and the link for Assembly Advocate) which included links to resources available on the internet.
Questions were raised about access to further training if people were unable to travel far from their own immediate area and also regarding how to find funding for worship leaders who wished to attend events outside Northern Synod as part of their on-going development. People shared their experiences of some of these, including studying the Psalms of Ascent in the Message Bible and discovering new songs for worship today, and an interesting and informative evening recently in Newcastle arranged by the Council for Christians and Jews where Rev Dr Janet Tollington of Westminster College spoke about the Jewishness of Matthew.
Judith concluded by asking us to think about ways of encouraging members of our churches to participate in taking a more active part in leading worship on occasions, from prayers to leading short devotions. She was delighted by the enthusiasm of those present as they spoke about leading and sharing in services and their living faith which brings God’s presence into the worship they lead. She found their sense of how God leads and guides them as they work together in preparing worship inspiring and hopefully this will be an encouragement to others. We all shared in the closing worship, followed by informal chat over a pooled tea.