The East Midlands Synod of The United Reformed Church - Saturday 12 October 2019
Here are my* personal observations of some of the things that went on at Synod. These are not official minutes, and can not be guaranteed for their accuracy. I have concentrated on the things that struck me as interesting or important, and I will have omitted reporting on some issues which you may have picked up.
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Not everyone will be aware of Gainsborough United Reformed Church’s association with the Mayflower Pilgrims.
In 1892, Revd. Hugh Griffiths, the new Congregationalist minister of the Caskgate Street Chapel in Gainsborough, concerned that the building was too small for the burgeoning congregation, initiated the scheme for a new church to be built in the town as a memorial to John Robinson, pastor of the Pilgrims. John Robinson had made the initial journey from this area to Holland in 1607. He was minister of the church in Leiden and intended to follow some of his congregation to America after they left Holland in 1620. But he never did so, dying in Leiden in 1625. Inspired by the Pilgrims story, Revd. Griffiths convinced leading English and American Congregationalists to support his scheme. On 29 June 1896, Hon. Thomas Francis Bayard, the American ambassador, laid the foundation stone of the church which was formally opened for worship on 9 June 1897.
There are various powerful themes in the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims: themes of journeying in hope of a better life; fear of an uncertain future; grief and loss in leaving behind family, friends and homeland; flight from persecution; the quest for tolerance.
The Pilgrims’ story is one of struggle, of survival against the odds. Leaving Holland and the UK for America in autumn 1620, they said goodbye to loved ones, risking their lives as they set sail across the Atlantic. When they arrived in Cape Cod, they found themselves plunged into a freezing winter. Inadequate shelter and poor food led to the death of half the company during the first few months.
But there is one theme which I want us to hold on to this morning. Over recent years we’ve become increasingly concerned about the divisions in our nation, indeed in our world, which seem to deepen on a daily basis. So often in times of uncertainty, we look to our churches as sources of stability, places which remain reassuringly the same. But as a Synod we have wrestled – and are wrestling - with change and restructuring, which threatens us, can pain us, and can itself prompt divisive arguments.
So at a time punctuated by division and dislocation, I’d invite us to grasp one of the themes central to the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims, and indeed to the account of the building of the John Robinson Memorial Church. That is the theme of dreams and visions.
Dreams and visions give hope and inspiration. The dream of a better life, of the possibility to worship without harassment and persecution, led men, woman and children to leave the area around Retford and Gainsborough in N. Nottinghamshire for Holland in 1607 and 1608. Twelve years later some of those same people, along with others, sailed from Plymouth on board the Mayflower for America. These Mayflower Pilgrims were inspired by the dream of a better life in a new land, a place of fresh beginnings.
As we get older, and experience life in all its fullness, its joys and sadnesses, and as we discover church doesn’t always provide the stability we might have hoped for, it can be difficult to hold on to hope of a better future. But however old we are, we can still dream. In fact, God calls us to dream: for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren, for our churches and ultimately for the kingdom within and among us.
Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Our dreams and visions come from God, as we are reminded in the great litany of the faithful from Hebrews 11 – and note those named were fallible just as we are: the childless Abraham helping God achieve his promise by sleeping with his wife Sarah’s slave-girl Hagar, Jacob the deceiver robbing his older brother Esau of their father Isaac’s inheritance...
The story of the Mayflower Pilgrims encourages us to hold tight to our hopes and dreams. It also urges us to have the courage to pursue them, even against the odds. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said once on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ that the ability to dream offers us a ‘route from the depressing world that is to a hopeful world that will be.’ The Pilgrims were dreamers and visionaries, determined whatever the obstacles, whatever the pain, to make a new life. In a world which currently seems short on dreams and visions, their example continues to offer us all inspiration.
So this is a hugely important story for us to remember. That is why at Gainsborough URC we have been determined to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower in 2020. We’ve been blessed with some energetic community partners, in particular Bassetlaw Christian Heritage, who are passionate about highlighting this area’s importance in faith heritage: key people in the Congregationalist, Methodist and Baptist traditions originated within a 30 mile radius of the neighbouring market town of Retford. Bassetlaw District Council have been enormously supportive of the initiative to celebrate Mayflower 400 in N. Notts., and West Lindsey District Council, the local authority for Gainsborough, are also promoting the anniversary. Mayflower 400 and Pilgrim Roots are two national organisations working tirelessly to support events and raise awareness. As a church, we have been very grateful to benefit from grants from West Lindsey District Council and East Midlands Synod to improve our building. These have enabled us to install new lighting and data projection systems in the sanctuary and update our PA system and website.
Most recently, we have installed a Mayflower exhibition in some underused rooms at the back of the church. This interactive exhibition was created and installed by CreateInn Design of Retford. It includes a timeline of key events in UK Christian history as well as displays relating to the Pilgrims’ voyage. It also incorporates memorabilia relating to the story of the building of the church in 1897, so that we can remember the hopes and dreams of Revd. Griffiths and his congregation at a time of great industrial change too.
Since our official opening during the West Lindsey Churches Festival week-end in May, we have been open on the first and third Thursday mornings of each month (except Dec./Jan.) between 10-11.30am. Visitor numbers have been relatively small, but we recognize it takes time for new initiatives to bear fruit. We are served by a rota of volunteers from the church and wider community. Groups can arrange to visit the Mayflower Room by contacting our Church Secretary. Since 2016, we have opened for the West Lindsey Churches Festival week-end in May and also for the Lincolnshire Heritage Open Days in September. Next year, the 400th anniversary year, we look forward to welcoming further visitors, and do hope as many of you as possible will attend our special celebration service to mark the anniversary on 13 June.
David brought us up to date with the new Stepwise Training programme.
- It replaces TLS which is being phased out this coming year
- Is much more flexible, allowing for a less academic approach to learning.
- Will soon lead to a Synod Recognised Lay Preacher qualification on the way to the current Nationally Accredited qualification
- Training is being given to those who volunteer as mentors
- It can be used for a course of study with a group in a local church
- It can be used as a follow up for TLS to support recently accredited lay Preachers
- Further Training for Lay Preachers is already available through Westminster College
- It is possible to link up with others doing Stepwise nearby.
The Presentation David used is available in the resources section at the bottom (including some slides he did not get to show to Synod),and you should also be able to play the video that he used in the presentation (above or to the left).
A block of group reports were presented, some accompanied with some run of the mill resolutions. Under the new arrangement, convenors only took to the platform if there were substantial questions, or resolution from the group.
Synod Council – presented by the Synod Clerk, Helen Lidgett.
Resolutions were passed dealing with members of Synod and Synod attendees to Assembly - that our Clerk and Moderator will automatically represent the Synod, and that one person aged between 20-40 in addition to the prescribed places for under 26s will be sought;
The resolution regarding the proposed addition to the promises of Elders was passed after some discussion. You might like to discuss this at your elders meeting and respond directly to John Proctor via this page:
Q. Do you promise as an elder of the United Reformed Church to seek its well-being, unity and peace, to cherish love towards all other churches, and to endeavour always so far as you are able to build up the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church?
A. By the grace of God I do, and all these things I profess and promise in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ordained Ministry and Churches – presented by Convenor Geoff Townsend - during which Synod Resolved to submit the Ecumenical project at Lubbersthorpe to general Assembly for recognition as a URC Mission Project, and gave notice that it will propose to submit "Church without Walls" for recognition as new United Reformed Church once the ecumenical wording had been agreed among the denominations involved.
The reports from Lay Ministry, Training and Development, and Mission Focus were received.
Have you ever wondered about Palestine and Israel?
Jenny Mills tells us more, and wants you to invite the team that recently visited Israel and Palestine to speak to you about the trip and what they discovered.
The second block of group reports included a rather lively discussion on the proposed Synod Environmental Policy from the Justice Peace & Integrity of Creation group - presented by Charles Jolly. It was lively because the Group wanted churches to discuss it and get comments back to the group by early January at the latest, so that a revision can be brought to the Synod Council ready for Synod in March. Some churches thought that was impractical, as they only had one Church Meeting between now and the end of the year. One church said they would call an extra single issue meeting just to talk about this.
Everyone did agree that this is an urgent issue, and that the Synod and its churches should be doing their utmost to become 'carbon neutral' as soon as possible.
The resolution acknowledging the work of JPIC, encouraging local churches to study and discuss the draft policy and submit any proposed improvements to JPIC, and asking JPIC to work towards bringing the revised Policy to the March Synod meeting for adoption was passed.
You can see the draft policy (from the book of reports) in the resource section at the bottom.
The other reports in this group were presented and received - Finance, Property, World Church, Ecumenical, and Synod Structures & Priorities Review Group.
Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) should check their constitutions are based on the latest Charity Commission for England and Wales approved "Model Governing Document". It is available from this Churches Together in England page. There are changes in the law that are being implemented in the next 12 months or so that will require this constitution for Single Church LEPs of incomes much less than the current £100,000. It is believed that ALL our LEPs will be caught by this, and it will streamline the process of registering with the Charity Commission if you adopt it now as it takes some time to approve the wording with your constituent denominations and set up any changes that will be required.
There is available a Synod Retired Ministers House Fund that can help with fabric Repairs - contact the property officer.
Sarah Gower, Convenor of Children and Youth, and Jane Henderson, CYDO, both spoke to the report and then told us what the children had been doing alongside Synod (using Alice in Wonderland as a way in to think about Jesus' teaching ). They then helped the children to show and explain the crafts. Tricia Legge gave the updates presentation on FOFA (Friends on Faith Adventures) a program that can be used very flexibly with almost any church children or young people. The presentation is in the resources below.
After all the business was completed, a moving tribute to both Farewell to Moderator Peter Meek and Training Officer Dr Deborah Baird, and they both retire from full time stipendiary Ministry.
Tributes were given from friends and colleagues Revd Samuel Silungwe, Revd Geoffrey Clarke, and Clerk Helen Lidgett who also presented them with a beautiful bouquet. A card was given by one of the children present. Both Deborah and Peter responded.
The Synod will not be the same without them.