On Saturday 26 October, I went to Vine URC, in Ilford, for a URC Church and Society Network event: Inside–Outside, attended by over fifty adults and young people. We were welcomed by Sandra Ackroyd and our opening worship was led by Revd Melanie Smith from Enfield.
This was followed by four presentations.
Ruth Musgrave, a member of Vine Church first talked to us about Climate Change – a very topical subject at present, telling us how we are now, as a global community, in a climate emergency, with rivers in Bangladesh being poisoned, soil losing its fertility and seas being polluted.
She said we must tell a different story from the media which often claims we can exploit creation for our own use. We come from the soil and when oppression ends, creation rejoices. She quoted part of John 3:16 ‘God so loved the cosmos‘, which should make us think about caring for God’s creation.
In the book of Revelation trees are said to be for ‘the healing of the nations.’ As people of faith, we know we are not strong enough on our own – we must pray and follow this with action. We must imagine a different future and give encouragement to those who are trying to achieve this.
Alison Jackson, a retired civil servant, spoke to us about poverty in the UK. She is a member of Church Action on Poverty and Christians Against Poverty. She mentioned how women in the Rhonda Valley in Wales had been instrumental in ending poverty there and challenged us to think how we can end poverty in our localities.
Celebrating Diversity was the next topic and Tom Howells, the Children & Youth Development Officer, for the Synod, spoke about how diversity was important in our churches and we should celebrate it, dealing with cultural shifts when they occur.
Richard Reddie, Director of Justice for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland spoke next on Media representation – Justice/ Injustice.
He encourages churches to engage in Refugee Networks. He mentioned how violent deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are often not reported by the media as they are not deemed newsworthy. It would appear certain lives are more important than others.
There is serious youth violence in our country and often the media appear to infer that those killed deserved their fate. There is a lack of compassion for refugees who make perilous journeys to our country and moral panic is whipped up.
After that, we split up into workshops. I first went to one led by Ruth Musgrave on Climate Change, which was interesting. She is a member of Vine URC and she told us how her church is in the process of becoming an eco-congregation.
She mentioned Walter Wink, who was an American Biblical scholar and she recommended one of his books, ‘Engaging the Powers’.
She told us many churches are now divesting from fossil fuels and have linked up with Operation Noah, a charity which promotes eco-friendly activities.
Her church has worked along with Transition Ilford, planting trees locally. They also have joined forces with Greening Redbridge, an Interfaith group.
Before enjoying a delicious vegan hot lunch, Seven Kings Gospel Choir sang to us and Mike Excell played his guitar to accompany a song on Climate Change.
The second workshop I attended on Justice/ Injustice was led by Richard Reddie, who began by asking us, ‘What makes the news?’
We agreed that sensationalism sells newspapers and often we identify with people like ourselves. Celebrities are feted and bad news is highlighted.
He said churches should get involved in reporting good news to their local newspapers and on their websites, as often it is bad news that hits the headlines.
To finish the afternoon, we had a panel discussion, with the workshop leaders answering questions arising from the workshops. It was generally agreed that churches should speak ‘Truth to Power’ and proclaim a message of hope.
Closing worship was a very lively rendition of ‘Lord of the Dance’ and the afternoon finished just after 4pm.
I really enjoyed the day, meeting people from other churches of all ages and ethnicities and getting involved in lively discussions. It would be good if more people from the Forest Group could attend
future Church and Society Network events.