September Newsletter

At the beginning of September many of us will have returned from our summer holidays refreshed (hopefully) and ready to dive back into church activities as all our various groups start up again after having a few weeks break in August. This year though we have had extra activities over the past couple of months as we have celebrated not only the Queen’s platinum jubilee but also the 50th anniversary of the creation of the United Reformed Church with garden parties, tree planting and even sand castle building. Both anniversaries have prompted questions of identity – the jubilee about who we are as a nation and what it means to be British, and similarly the URC’s unique identity as the only denomination that has united rather than split up in the history of Christianity in this country.

A few years ago I went as a representative to General Assembly in Southport where the question of what is the URC was considered. The Synod Moderators of the time seemed to be a bunch of caffeine addicts and their report to Assembly might well have been titled, “Life according to Starbucks” (other coffee shops are available). It was concerned mainly with the identity of the United Reformed Church and remarked that when you go into a coffee shop you know what you are getting – latte, cappuccino, espresso, Americano, mocha, flat white, etc, etc. But what is the URC?

The answer might seem obvious – the URC is two things – United and Reformed! It is the product of a series of unions between denominations which all have their origins in the Reformation of the 16th Century. That means that although we are a small denomination in the UK we have particular gifts to offer to the wider church. And because we are small we are very aware that we are not the whole body of Christ.

Being ‘United’ we have a passion for ecumenism and doing things together, we routinely cooperate with other churches at local, national and international level to engage in mission, justice and peace issues, campaigns and environmental causes, amongst many other concerns.

Our position within the ‘Reformed’ tradition means that we have particular gifts of lay leadership, governance by councils, patterns of ministry and an understanding of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ which adds to the great tapestry of faith. Of special value are our examples of ordained Elders and Church Related Community Workers.

Being small though brings problems as well as advantages. We are not only a small denomination, many of our churches and congregations are small too and one of our frequent problems is that, like Starbucks and Costa and the rest, we still look to offer the full range of ‘coffee’ – of church activities and services – in every church in every location. Within the URC we need to learn to specialise. It has been suggested that one of the marks of a healthy church is that it ‘does a few things and does them well’. The moderators gave a few examples of things they had seen which included a mental health chaplaincy, ‘guerrilla gardening’, street church (run by and for homeless people), a dementia café for sufferers and their carers, and other activities for older people such as a ‘Memory Tree Club’, ‘Music for the Mind’ group, and activities such as snooker, curling, films and singing.

Nick Page in his book ‘The Invisible Church’ wrote “I like espressos… small but incredibly potent… tell your people to stop trying to be cappuccinos and try to be more like espressos.” So what is the URC? It is what, or how, we make it! The challenge is that we find what we are good at and that we be the best (cup of coffee) we can be. That is something for us to bear in mind as North West Synod continues it’s review of synod structures, use of financial and other resources, and how we can best support each other as individual congregations, Missional Partnerships and as a Synod.

Meanwhile I hope you all had an enjoyable summer, whether at home or on holiday, and that fortified with plenty of refreshing cups of coffee (or even tea if you prefer) you are ready to dive back into the hurly-burly of church life.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.