Synod Moderator’s Opening Remarks
Four years ago, in March 2015, the synod saw a vision of our local churches as “vibrant and relevant, purposely engaged in God’s mission”. Most of our churches are, which we celebrate. We continue to support the churches striving to be effective in mission.
In the same year, we chose Discipleship to be our primary mission- to grow as disciples and make new disciples. However, the first step is to regain confidence in our faith narrative. Discipleship is radical because it requires change, first within us. A good disciple is more alert to the world and its needs.
Bishop Newbiggin wrote, “The only effective hermeneutic of the gospel is the life of a congregation which believes it” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989).
Mark Greene said that the whole life discipleship is an intentional activity. We must be intentional about teaching faith and how to apply our faith in life.
My experience of visiting churches and meeting people in the last few months tells a beautiful narrative. I returned home from visits with amazement. How our churches live out their calling, irrespective of their size, strength or resources and continue to engage with God’s narrative.
For example, St Andrew’s Borehamwood celebrated its 60th anniversary on 10th Nov 2018 at the same time announcing a merger with Chesterfield Road, Barnet. The church was packed, and people had travelled from long distances. They gave testimony of how their lives had been touched and changed for the good by being part of St Andrew’s. A building may close, but the church would continue because the people are the Church, and they have been spread out widely. The church had successfully created a ripple effect.
I attended the retirement services of two ministers: David Bradburn and Elizabeth Welch. I heard incredible appreciation of their ministry. People spoke of how they were personally touched by these ministers’ ministries, things that the ministers were often unaware of. Servants of God retire but their labour has not been in vain. Their ministry has left evidence of transforming lives.
I went out with a little hope; I returned filled with hope.
Brexit, the Mexican border, wars, the greenhouse effect, selfish and greedy nations! We live in a wounded world; a spiritually depraved world. We often forget that our planet is our life and our future is bound up with one another.
People seek answers in yoga, self-declared gurus, organic food, cotton clothing, gym, recycling, cleaning the ocean and so on. There is a desire and need for peace, contentment and joy.
What hope can the Church bring in this context?
Do we have faith in our Christian narrative? This is an era of narratives, not doctrines. God’s Kingdom is God’s narrative. We join in and lose ourselves in it. Our identities or denominations aren’t important. Because it is God’s narrative.
But the Christian presence in our villages and towns makes sense. In the URC, we usually close a church where there is no congregation left, but I am pleased to say we have taken a different step this time, in faith. Totteridge Union would have closed last summer. But now it has a mission project to replant a congregation there- with support from 2 local area groups, Trinity, Harrow and the synod.
I have noticed a trend in recent years in our synod of large-scale projects, whether building or mission. We currently have a few multi-million-pound church building projects and mission projects of tens of thousands of pounds, which involve paid staff. Larger congregations can pull together large projects and that is good.
However, most of our churches are small, with membership below 40. They do not have the capacity or pool of skills to engage in large scale projects. However, we should not lose the notion of small initiatives, small steps, small-scale impact.
These small churches would engage in projects which are relatively small and manageable and thereby make a difference. Issues like climate change, food banks, fair trade or care for the elderly are massive.
A small step, if taken by many, will make a difference.
We should consider creating a fund focused on small-scale mission or social activities, such as a little support towards a drop-in centre, coffee mornings, language study and so on!
Little drops of water make a mighty ocean.
Rev Dr Andrew Prasad