From the Moderator
First of all, I want to thank you for having enough confidence in me to ask me to stay in post until July 2016 when I retire. I felt encouraged that as you arrived for the Synod meeting in October I knew nearly everyone. Remembering names is perhaps not quite so easy, so please forgive me if I have to ask for yours yet again! Having another 20 months together gives us time to continue the work we have set out to do in our work for the kingdom of God in this small corner of the URC.
During 2014 we have restructured and streamlined the synod committees and a great vote of thanks must go to our Synod Clerk, Mel Campbell, for the huge amount of work that she has put into this. It has been commented that she and I ‘make a great team’ and I want to acknowledge that if it were not for her help and guidance on so many matters of organisation and policy and general good sense, we would not be in the good place we find ourselves at the moment. Mel has also been working hard to ensure our safeguarding structures are in place and ensured our Elders’ Conference was well organised. Wendy Watson is another person who makes sure I don’t mess up too much; without her help I’m not sure where I’d be! In fact it is a real joy to work at Synod Office with Andrew and Helen too, and I want you to know that you are always welcome to come and see us…. the kettle is usually on! It is your synod office and we’re all there to help things in your churches run as smoothly as possible.
Plans for 2015 are well underway. We have planned three mornings to refresh pastoral carers in the Spring, and a day for lay preachers to get together where we will have a short service of Welcome and Recognition for the new commissioner Barbara Allen on March 7th. After the inspiration and enthusiasm gained from the elders’ conference, I would also like to have some kind of annual event to refresh and encourage elders in the hugely important work they do. The northerly synods will continue to work and pray together and you will see an advert in February’s Reform for two shared posts across NW and Northern Synod for a Mission Enabler and a Training and Development Worker. Please pray that the right people will feel called by God to this new venture of sharing and helping us in our work to develop our mission across the synods. I am also convinced that we need to think ‘outside the box’ about ministry in this synod – both lay and ordained – and to this end I intend to plan a ‘thinking day’ in the Spring. Watch out for the notice – you are all invited!
Several weeks ago, I was privileged to take part in a conference at the Windermere Centre where we looked at where the Church and the Kingdom collided. If I were to give a brief summary of some excellent papers it would be that the Church has been so busy looking towards its structures, buildings and finances that we have lost sight of what it is we should be about – sharing the kingdom of God! So, in the midst of all our plans, organisation, gatherings and developing we must not lose sight of why we are doing it.
The early church grew out of a desire to know more about Jesus, and to follow him and his teachings. Let us aim to get back to basics: tell someone new about Jesus this month and make sure that our church meetings include some action that promotes the kingdom rather than our church!
Some 2015 dates
The dates for the Pastoral Care course referred to by Lis are Saturday mornings 25th April, 30th May and 13th June, all at St James’s, Newcastle. It is for anyone who does visiting in their church and would like to be refreshed and helped in this most important ministry.
Earlier on in the new year comes the annual Synod Retreat, which will be held at Ampleforth Abbey, 10th – 12th February, and will be led by one of the resident monks. As usual, the retreat is open to everyone in our churches, and qualifies for training grants. Look out for more information and booking forms — or act now by contacting Ruth Crofton (0191 375 7454).
And the same week, book the memorable date of 14th February, when our moderator will be holding an “at home” as a Mozambique fund-raiser.
NEWS OF CHURCHES
Stockton Road, Sunderland closed its West Park church centre (right) at a service on 17th October led by the Moderator. Around 150 people including members, former members, friends and representatives of local churches and community organisations came together and (in the words of one of the West Park members) “transformed what was going to be a sad and emotional occasion into true thanks, praise and gratitude to God for what the Church had achieved in its 131 years”.
Jesmond has been much occupied both within and without its premises. First, the new community wildlife garden at Haldane House, just across the road from the church, opened at the end of October; and then on 16th November the congregation which had been worshipping in the hall for some weeks, returned to the church after the completion of the first stage of the refurbishment programme.
NEWS OF PEOPLE
We are delighted that Mission Council has agreed to the request sent from our synod meeting, that our formerly-interim synod moderator Lis Mullen should be no longer interim, and that her period of service should be extended until summer 2016.
We offer our sympathy to North Northumberland minister Dave Herbert following the death in August of his wife Diana, following a long illness.
And our sympathy goes too to the family of Judith Hanning, who died suddenly on 11th November. Judith was a mainstay of the Mustard Seed at Seaton Delaval, and regularly provided and presided at the bookstall for our synod meetings.
Further changes in SENEA (SE Northumberland Ecumenical Area): we welcome Methodist minister Jim Magee to Trinity, Ashington and St Andrew’s & St Mark’s, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea; and record that his colleague Ian Farnsworth is the new Area President.
Gateshead ministers Gordon & Elaine Brown are spending November in Myanmar, where they report that they have been warmly welcomed: “Our time with students at the theological college has been engaging and we are learning as much as we are giving.” They will take the remainder of their sabbatical early in the new year, when they plan to spend a month working with our global partner church in Mozambique.
ON THE WEB
Plans are under way for a new-look synod website, which we hope will be up and running early in the new year. Meanwhile the Hartlepool Knitted Bible has its own Facebook page, as has our Jesmond church, and also the St Cuthbert’s Centre on Holy Island. Be sure to visit these pages and “like” them!
Some forty elders from our churches gathered at the Novotel at Kingston Park 15th – 16th October for a 24 hour conference led by General Assembly Moderator John Ellis. The event allowed elders to meet and share experiences, and reflect on the nature of eldership, with a view to working together more effectively. As the moderator pointed out, URC congregations are devolved and diverse, and the heart beat of our church is not in the central structure but is to be found in the Elders’ Meeting.
Elders attending found the event both challenging and encouraging. As one reported, “It was a really interesting, informative and challenging experience, and it was encouraging to see how much discussion went on both within and without the sessions and how open the attending elders were to the challenges we all face in the future.”
The final session looked at “Changing Contexts for 21st Century Elders”, where insights and guesses were shared over how things may look in the next 10, 20 or more years. One elder later summed up her feelings: “What I took away was how we as elders have to step up to the plate and support what ministry there is or will be. How we really do have to look at working differently and how spiritual leadership and eldership cannot be separated. But it is very important not to make the present eldership feel inadequate but to encourage learning and sharing together.
“We have shared our experiences with our Elders’ Meeting and now our minister is following it up with us. I think we plan to work, share more, study and pray together more so we really feel supported to take our work as elders forward with more confidence. We plan for elders to lead this supporting role forward.”
Another participant commented, “I think we all left with a lot of thinking to do, and the need to convince elders not at the conference of what has to be done and how it might be done.” And a final comment: “We went away with food for thought and action. The 24 hours was an excellent use of time – highly recommended”. So let’s hope it’s repeated!
Our 2015 pilgrimage is to return to the course of the 62 mile St Cuthbert’s Way, running from Melrose to Holy Island. The dates are July 13th – 18th , and the planning group has already met with our moderator, who has written in her invitation “Pilgrimage gives time to reflect on the journey itself, the journey of our lives and our journey towards God.” For more details, and a booking form when ready, contact Linda Gowland (01434 605837).
Keep the news coming in! –
Contact Wendy Watson at Synod Office – Tel 0191 2321168