Moderator Kevin Watson

 

“CHANGE AND DECAY IN ALL AROUND I SEE”

 

A change-management consultant (now there’s a 21st century vocation!) who was a member in one of my former pastorates used to say that the gap between church culture and today’s world was widening exponentially, as the Church seemed incapable of making the necessary changes to communicate with the world. He would give the picture of the church trying to decide what new land-line telephone would look nice, seemingly completely oblivious to the invention of mobiles! In contrast, another friend who designs software for phones is warning us not to bother with 4G phones as he expects them to be redundant in 6 months. I feel we need to hear both voices – the need for radical change if we are to have any future as a denomination and as local churches – BUT not to simply replace one redundant way of doing things with another that, in a climate of rapid change, will be redundant itself in no time!

 

It seems so simple and powerful to me that the Christian Gospel holds the answer. The good news of the amazing love of Jesus for us, gives us the Faith, Hope and Love to follow Him.

 

Faith – the antidote for Insecurity. Here is the Truth to overcome our doubts, the truth that Jesus Christ has died to save us. We can trust God! Our past Sin is dealt with – we belong to Jesus, and nothing can separate us from that love.

 

Hope - the antidote for Despair, With Jesus with us, who is against us? No situation is hopeless – for in Christ all things are possible, for God works for the good in all circumstances for those who trust Him.

 

Love – the antidote for Fear, as the presence of God’s love – the Holy Spirit – drives out all Fear, so we can face the future, whatever will happen. In Christ we already have the victory! Empowered by Love the world is transformed into the Kingdom of God! Alleluia!

 

As many have the confidence to join me in shouting, “Amen!” to this, how come that confidence in the Gospel seems to trickle away, when we start thinking about the Church? Is the Church not the risen body of Christ? Are we not the temples of the Holy Spirit? Did Jesus not promise that we would do even greater things than he did, in creating that Kingdom of peace and justice?

 

And so we are to rise up and overcome the voices of Insecurity, Despair and Fear to lead the United Reformed Church in Yorkshire to be a SYNOD OF GRACE. Grace its motivation, Grace its life-blood, Grace its way of life. It is grace alone we need to be reliant upon, not traditions we hold dear, or changes that excite us, not local independence or Synod structures. We do not want nor need beautifully crafted policies and strategies for their own sake, or as extra burdens on the life of our churches. As I said to one church that had policies for everything - “You are the best run cemetery that I know!” We must not stifle the Life of the Spirit in our churches. But then our churches too need to experience Grace to know we are in covenant with each other as the Body of Christ. In anything we do as a Synod, let us ask the simple question – “Does this equip, encourage and enhance the mission of our local churches in their communities, and bind us together for mutual mission and care?

KEY FRAMEWORK FOR OUR SYNOD

1. LOCAL MINISTRY AND MISSION REVIEW Church Life Review and Ministers’ Accompanied Self Appraisal are key to help our local ministers and churches to reflect on their ministry and looking for new opportunities for mission. Whilst we can pat ourselves on the back how far we have developed these, in comparison where we were after the dissolution of districts, and in comparison with other synods, we cannot be complacent if these tools are going to be used well for our Synod’s  development. That is why we have listened carefully to Revd. Liz Brown, our CLR organiser, to our partners and to the churches already visited. We have learnt and will go on learning how to improve this service for our churches. We are proposing the appointment of Revd. Sue Macbeth as our Synod Church Life Review Co-ordinator, as 25% scoping of stipendiary ministry, for a period of two years to promote CLR, to develop a larger and equipped team of visitors, organise the reviews themselves, and monitor the results more closely to see what local churches need and whether there are any trends occurring.

 

2. GENEROUS HOSPITALITY We responded to the cry of Synod that rejected ZI as an unworkable programme, with some questioning its theological foundation, but a longing to see the biblical principles of Jesus’ welcome to all. This we have carefully followed through, and offer the material produced nationally, as well as other resources as a tool for mission to be shaped for the needs of each individual church. This we have called “Generous Hospitality” a programme through a series of roadshows we hope will stimulate our churches to reflect on their engagement with people in their communities, and look to developing new ways of welcoming people into our church life, but also our churches reaching out into our communities’ lives!

 

3. CONFLICT AWARENESS We have had a whole series of Conflict Awareness Roadshows. We hope many have been equipped to see conflict as something which can actually be creative, building up the body of Christ through our diversity. However, as we are hospitals for sinners not museums for saints (claimed to have been said by many, but I think the writer was Abigail van Buren) things can still go wrong! It saddens me when conflict is not handled well in our churches – to the point of people hurt, leaving the church, even church-splits. Because we think we should be nice human beings as Christians, often conflict is suppressed, creating a bad spirit, and rising up again and again in new conflict. We look at training a number of people to work alongside churches for conflict resolution.

 

We are in discussion with our national church for the appropriate provision Of Human Resources advice and support. In an age of litigation an employment rights, and when quite soon ministers will be seen as employees there is certainly going to be a need for Human Resources’ professional service.

4. CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE If any age group are at the heart of change, it is our children and young people. That is why there has been caution in simply replacing our CYDO with another. Instead we are seeking the appointment of a lay Youth Chaplain. We see this as a Team Challenge, as the person appointed will work within our Synod Children and Young People’s Team (Pilots’ Officer, Silcoates School Chaplain, Youth Workers and Church Leaders with experience, as well as young people themselves who are forming their own Youth Executive. We believe support for children’s work will be met from within the team, but the focus of the chaplaincy post will be twofold:

 

i. Hands-on - helping local churches start or revive their own youth work, and supporting those youngsters who are scattered in small numbers across synod.

ii. Strategic – helping us find the right way to relate to younger people, as local church, synod and nationally. I was concerned when reading the review of the chaplaincy at Leeds how little had changed since my time as student there over 40 years ago. And then to read the numbers attending midweek events were in the handful! I realised the need to rethink 21st Century chaplaincy for a population of over 70,000 students, and that is just one of our cities in Yorkshire. That is why we have put Revd. Peter Clarkson as temporary chaplain to allow some serious thinking about our future commitment. That is why we rejoice at Jean Russell taking on Revd Sarah Hall’s work at Sheffield University as a lay chaplain.

 

5. MISSION DIMENSION We had hoped to come to this Synod proposing a partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Korea. There have been reciprocal visits between the two countries, much discussion, prayer, and a lot of work by the Global Group. At Synod Council it was felt that this is not the right time for a new Partnership and serious questions about the programme proposed, and so we are not recommending that we continue with this. Coming to this decision reminded me of where we were a year ago with ZI – when Yorkshire recognised it was a flawed programme but we didn’t want to lose the challenge of radical welcome. Similarly, we may not link up with Korea, but I hope we will not lose the challenges Jason and I saw in their living out of our Faith. Nor dare we lose the challenge to be Missional. We take these challenges to our Mission Enabling Group – to help us see how our Mission is both evangelistic and service to our community – it is not an either/ or, and they are not in conflict! We need the breadth of the Mission Statements in Vision 20/20 for a healthy church.

 

6. MANY ARE CALLED Every member in Yorkshire knows we cannot sustain the level of ministerial provision that we currently enjoy. There is a ratio of stipendiary ministry to members no different to 40 years ago, in a Province twice the size, number youthfulness and wealth of today’s Synod. We all know that, yet somehow feel we are impervious to the need to change. The proposals in “Many are Called” can only be but an exciting and positive way to ensure provision of ministry in our churches.

 

The one major area that is crucial to our development is ELDERS’ DEVELOPMENT, of which we have made deep progress through the roadshows, in ‘equipping the saints’. Whilst excited by the deployment of David Coote to work with Methodists in the Goole-Selby Area, the application for an ecumenical CRCW for the Manor Sheffield, and an SCM as chaplain to the World Heritage site of Saltaire –all raise issues of resourcing and sustaining.

 

HOW THOROUGH? HOW RADICAL?

The challenge is what is not in the paper. How do we reconfigure the resources we have to pay for

future ministry. There will be challenges such as

i. How do we calculate payment for ministry in groups, or across cities?

ii. How do we release monies for specialist ministries?

iii. How do we pay and resource the training and development of elders and lay ministries?

iv. How much of our traditional understanding of call will have to be left behind as the link between church and minister is loosened?

 

The consequences of this paper are far-reaching. It will also challenge whom we are seeking into ministry, and what is the right training for different ministries. We are asking the questions that every synod and every denomination should be asking, so there will be questions about cross-synod co-operation and ecumenical partnerships. We need to look again at

 

i. How do we pay to belong to the United Reformed Church? Is it still workable and fair to link that to provision of ministry? If so, how is it most fairly calculated?

 

ii. Should ministry of word and sacrament still be at the heart of our Ministry and if so, what is its purpose?

 

iii. Are some congregations still viable? If not, how do we help them close?

iv. Is it right for local churches to hold large reserves?

v. What it costs to run a synod? Can there be savings? Should we invest in doing more together?

vi. Should we spend up all our reserves, or only use some to prime the pump of new initiatives?

vii. What does receptive ecumenism mean, being enriched by what the other denomination offers?

 

We are already in territory that other synods have described as dangerous water. But if there be rapids, then rapids have to be navigated. Remember, if Jesus is in the boat….

 

O THOU WHO CHANGEST NOT, ABIDE WITH ME!

(Thank you Henry Lyte)

 

In Christ’s love,

Kevin