The Diary of a President, July 2016 (Part 1)
One of the joys of being President is the opportunity to lead worship in many churches. On 20 June, I was asked to lead worship and preach at a local Baptist Church where I had been in membership many years ago. It brought back all sorts of old memories and friendships.
It reminded me that many of our Federation churches will be holding celebrations of various sorts this year. If you have something to celebrate, please let me know and I will try to come to visit you especially if you don't usually get a Presidential Visit. Blessings.
I am reminded how important it is to take time with someone trusted. I spent time recently with my Spiritual Adviser. It took me a long time to realise just what a blessing these folk are. We ranged through personal and church topics and spent some time in prayer. I really value these times together.
I also met with Margaret Morris, Chair of Council, using the time to catch up with recent events in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (and England too!)
June 24 saw me in Nottingham for the Tutors' Meeting and the Training Weekend. We are blessed to have so many talented and dedicated tutors teaching on our course. We are also blessed to have so many students and this weekend marks the end of this academic year of study.
June 25 and the Training Weekend is in full swing. Students are rounding off the modules they have been studying this year and looking forward to new Modules for the new academic year. My small group of students who have been looking at Christian Ethics with me have done well and have developed new skills and insights. This weekend we said farewell to the students who have completed all their studies and will be graduating in the Autumn. We should all be very proud of them and their success.
The students never cease to amaze me with their commitment and their enthusiasm - tutorials, seminars and other sessions. It was good to renew contact with the students and to hear how they are making progress through their courses. I was able to give some advice on Accreditation and its complexities. We are really blessed with our students, our tutors and, of course, our Course Director, Janet Wootton.
We were also able to congratulate our graduating students this year. They have completed all the requirements for their Foundation Degree in Practical Theology and were commended at our service at the Training Weekend. They have all worked so hard and so successfully. They are a tribute to themselves and to the work of their Tutors. Our Training Weekend ended with a time of worship hosted by the Congregational Centre in Nottingham.
While we were at the Training Weekend, an expert on the caves of Nottingham ran some tours into the caves under the Nottingham offices and library. Apparently these caves date back to at least 1250 and were built to roast malted barley for brewing ale. Fascinating bit of local history. Wonder if this industry could be revived to provide an income for the Federation or, at least, some liquid refreshment!
On 27 June I had one of those sad duties - to attend the funeral of one of our retired Ministers, Rev John Taylor. John retired three years ago after 15 years as Minister at Penge Congregational Church. He was, among many other things, a tutor with the Foundation Course and Secretary of the South East Area. He had suffered ill health for some time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Julie.
June 29 and I attended the Strategy Group where we were trying to find a way forward to make recommendations to Council. It was fruitful and we have agreement on the Group's vision for the Federation for the next five years.
I visited the beautiful city of York on 30 June going to York St John University. The Minster, the river, the quaintness of some of the buildings entrance me. I didn't make it to the Shambles this time to watch the fudge-makers at work!
I actually spent the day at York St John University in the beautiful environment. It was so stimulating to be among real thinkers who are not afraid to challenge ideas.
July 1 and 2 was taken up with a day and a half of Council.
July 4 saw me visiting the South West Area. We drove to Crediton and were made most welcome there. We spent some time with Minister James Gregory at Crediton Congregational Church and received tremendous hospitality. Excellent food. I am sure my waistline is disappearing! I then had the opportunity to participate in their Prayer Meeting followed by time with their Leadership Team. It was a good opportunity to begin to understand this thriving church and to share with them the resources available from the Federation.
The church is in the middle of a major development work, pulling down load-bearing walls and making things disabled friendly. They are completely redesigning some of their back rooms. Inspiring but a bit scary! What a major undertaking!
On 5 July I visited the SW Area Assembly at Bow Congregational Church in Devon.
The church has a feature that is unique in my experience - the pews are tiered - the back ones raised a little above the level of the front ones. Is this to allow the congregation to see the preacher better or to allow the Minister to see who is dropping off during the sermon!
An interesting Area AGM and Exec where useful views were exchanged about churches helping one another within the SW Area.
I visited Cawsand Congregational Church on July 6 and made very welcome. This is a unique church built above the rocks and the beaches of Cawsand in Cornwall. The church is reached up a short flight of steps and has its hall underneath the chapel. The folk here run several facilities including their cafe and their youth work is not just ecumenical but international in collaboration with an Austrian agency.
We were also treated to lunch, sitting outside the beach-side pub in brilliant sunshine contemplating a meal of local shellfish or Ploughman's with local Cornish cheese. It's a tough life!
Sometimes, the duties of the President are very arduous and trying. I am sure that you are grateful that I can visit Cawsand beach on your behalf so that you are spared that chore!
And I am also sure that you would not wish to have this view from the Pastor's office window. It would be just too distracting!
On July 6 it was on to Loddiswell Congregational Church to visit and share a meal with them. They are a very progressive group of people having recently achieved not just the status of a LEAF church but also a LEAF Resource church, available to advise and help other churches, particularly in the areas of pastoral care and cafe church where they excel.
They also excel in their hospitality and catering. Thank you!!
In the evening I was invited to join the Loddiswell "Attic" Youth Club.
Then I learned that they were meeting on the local playing field instead of their usual venue in the attic of the church hall. Finally, I learned that the young people were to have a water fight and water slide!!!!
When all the kids were soaked with wet sponges, water bombs, washing-up liquid and water, they proceeded to “hug” me!
On July 8 it was onward to the URC Assembly in Southport. We had an inspiring talk from the Coptic Bishop Angaelos. The URC method of holding an Assembly was very different from ours with a lot of debate and real decisions being made as a result.
There were debates on same sex marriages and personal membership. We also watched the film "Constance" on the battle that Constance Coltman had to be admitted to Mansfield College to train for ordination and the Ministry. This was an excellent short film.
The assembly included the presentation of the Congregational and General Insurance Awards. There were four excellent projects. The winning entry was for a club for children with special needs where families could meet together and share their experiences and feelings without being in any way "different". An inspiring story and an example of how churches can make a difference in our communities today.
On Sunday 10 July we visited our friends at Bretherton Congregational Church. The service was taken by Richard, a retired Anglican Rector, who held the attention of the children (and the rest of us!) with his lovely stories to illustrate the story of the Good Samaritan.
By good fortune the chapel was taking part in the National Gardens Scheme Open Gardens Day and had a seemingly endless supply of sandwiches, rolls, home-made cakes and trifle. I think we will come again.
And so I come to the end of my second month as your President. Many miles covered, many friends met and made. Good times and not-so-good times. But all in the hands of the Lord.