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The Diary of a President - June's Blog

It really does not seem possible that it is over a month since we all met in Oldham for the May Assembly.

The Friday evening discussion time before Assembly was held at Greenacres Congregational Church in Oldham. There were a good number of people there and there was some very interesting and lively debate that gave insight into the churches’ views on the future of the Federation. This is just the sort of debate that helps move things forward with the Federation.

The May Assembly was something I will remember forever as I became President for what may prove to be thirteen months rather than a year! There were so many things to celebrate and all the successful churches and individuals joined us on stage for an acknowledgement of their achievements.

May AssemblyI had the opportunity to address Assembly on how we must be "A Past - WITH A FUTURE!" Thank you to our Worship Band and CF-XTRA for leading us in a rousing song "You've got the power in you!". I hope this song will resonate with you all year and remind you that we really do have the Power in us.

Outgoing President Betty Bentham handed on the baton of responsibility (and the “Chain of Office”!) as she completed her year in office with her reflections. Assembly closed with the announcement of Rev Martin Spain as President Elect. We welcome Martin to the Presidents' Group - Betty, Martin and myself. Together we will seek to serve the Federation in the coming year. All in all it was an amazing day!!

On the Sunday after Assembly we joined the March of Witness from Springhead Congregational Church. Rev Liz Dean and the folk at the church hosted a lovely time which included the beautiful Whit Queen and her princesses before we gathered for an ecumenical Whitsun Service. It was a great witness to the community.

On the Sunday evening following the Assembly we took the opportunity to join Rev. Foday Kamara and his fellowship at Chinley Chapel in the High Peaks for their evening communion service. This rounded off a very busy weekend.

On Whitsun Monday we visited the Youth and Children's office at Heaton Park, Manchester. Kathryn showed us their facilities and the resources they can offer to churches. On the wall was a map of the churches in the Federation and this brought home to me how scattered some of the churches are and therefore how much support they need as they serve their communities. If you feel you are a bit isolated and sometimes neglected, please get in touch with me and invite me to visit you. Yours are exactly the churches that need the support of a visit.

In the days following Assembly we tried to have a few days’ rest.

We visited an Anglican church in Bunbury in Cheshire and found a very interesting feature of their pulpit. Built into the pulpit was an hourglass, a solemn reminder to preachers about the quality of time. Perhaps we should all take note of this warning!!

Manchester CathedralLater we visited Manchester Cathedral Tea Rooms where we encountered another form of timer. The tea was served in a red pot and we were provided with a triple sort of egg timer marked 3 minutes, 4 minutes and 5 minutes. When your tea had brewed for the chosen length of time and the timer had run through, you poured your tea through a strainer into the (COLD) white teapot, ready to be consumed. I don’t think we will bother at home – we will just continue to use tea-bags.

Whit Friday is a new date in the calendar for me - the Friday after Pentecost. At Ebenezer Chapel in Uppermill, Audrey, Graham and the fellowship welcomed us to a special treat - the Whit Friday Walk of Witness and Brass Band Contest. The ten churches in Uppermill combined to make a tremendous witness to the community and those who had come to see the band contest. After gathering at the chapel we walked about 5 miles with the other churches through the town and finished with an ecumenical service in the town field attended by at least 300 people with 300 more looking on. This was a great testimony about Christianity to believers and those without a faith and an act of togetherness with the Churches Together in Uppermill.

Following the Walk of Witness, Uppermill and other villages in the area hosted the annual Brass Band Contest. I think there were over 60 bands from all over the world gathered to parade and compete travelling from village to village to display their abilities. As a real "southerner" this event was an innovative experience. Serious bands, children's bands and storm-trooper bands (!) competed well into the night.

The following Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, we shared worship with Ebenezer Chapel in Uppermill. The service was a welcome oasis in the rush of Assembly week. Uppermill hosted us all weekend, arranging all hotel accommodation and some excellent food in the High Dales.

On the Sunday evening after Pentecost we travelled to Tapton Hill Congregational Church near Sheffield to join their afternoon worship. There were several really interesting points of interest in their church. Their organ was played most excellently - way beyond its theoretical capability by an amazing organist who featured music representing the three parts of the Trinity. It was, after all, Trinity Sunday. They also showed us something I doubt that any other church possesses. Underneath each of the flip-up wooden seats is a wire contraption designed to hold the gentleman's top hat in safety during the service. If you have a unique feature like this in your church, please let me know.

On return from Oldham via the High Peaks, my wife and I were invited to represent the Federation at one of the Queen's Buckingham Palace Garden Parties on 24th May. It was wonderful honour to be within the palace grounds. We were shepherded very gently but very firmly by Her Majesty's equeries to allow for the royal party to pass through the throngs and we were instructed most severely that photography was strictly prohibited!!

Buckingham Palace Garden Party

From the sublime to something a little more mundane. 25th May was the Strategy Group meeting in Nottingham. As the meeting started at 9.30, it meant getting the 7.00 train from London and leaving home at 5.30am! The things we do for the Federation!

We then had the Bank Holiday weekend off from official duties. Just a lot of emails and paperwork to catch up on and plans for future visits to be made.

On Wednesday I made a visit to York St John, our validating University for the Training Course and that involved another 5.30am start from home. Tiring but useful.

This was then followed by a frantic but enjoyable weekend in Scotland with the churches in Aberdeen. On Friday 3 June we flew from London City Airport to Aberdeen. We managed to visit five of the churches and shared worship with them all. They are all so different but so relevant to their communities.

Welcome to AberdeenOn Saturday 4th June we shared in the First Annual Assembly of the Scottish Congregational Fellowship. Rev. Andy Cowie was presented with a Long Service Certificate for his 30 years of service in the Ministry. All the churches were represented and we were taken to the nearly-finished church building at Balmedie. A long time, a lot of hard work and a lot of prayer has gone into this building which should soon be open. We then returned to Danestone Congregational Church for a party and BBQ. Even the Red Arrows put on a display for us!

On the Sunday, the day started with a flat tyre on the way to church but this was soon resolved. The first church we visited was Woodside Congregational Church which serves a very needy area of Aberdeen. All ages were represented among the local people who meet as this church.

The second church we visited during our weekend in Aberdeen was Northfields Congregational Church. This church, although small in numbers, served its community including through its Boys Brigade. We were told that the Company was so strong that, on drill nights, they had to do drill in three sections to get them all in!

Our third church visit of the day was to Danestone Congregational church. Here, they have a beautiful building and strong support including a good Sunday club. Each time we went to Danestone we started the service with a chocolate given out by the young people. I think I will come back again!

The fourth church on our journey was Balmedie Congregational Church. This was a really interesting situation where the church has been planning a new building for some time – and it is nearing completion. In the mean-time they are meeting in a room off Costa Coffee - a true Cafe Church. We shared communion with them and looked forward to the time when they can move into their new building. It is causing considerable community interest and is working as an area of evangelistic discussion.

Finally, we visited Kittybrewster Congregational Church. They have been going through some difficulties recently with the place where they meet. The Council have found asbestos in the centre they called home so they have moved into the foyer of a local building Despite this difficulty, they are strong and look forward to having a more permanent home. Many fellowships would have given up under these circumstances, but not Kittybrewster! What a wonderful finale to an inspiring visit to Aberdeen. The Aberdeen churches are well served by Rev Andy Cowie and Mrs Margaret Cowie with Rev Anne Robertson and Rev Denise Cowie.

Then a flight home – and so to bed!

On Thursday 9th June we set out early to drive to Wales where Bethlehem Chapel, Blaenavon Lunch Club held a special tea to commemorate the Queen's 90th birthday. The chapel looked splendid and the hall was decorated for the occasion. Excellent food prepared by church members and served by the Minister and her able assistant, Rev Jill Stephens and Anthony Ayres who dressed most regally for the occasion. It was a great time for the whole community.

Following the special tea at Blaenavon we took the Garn-yr-ew road up into the hills. There was an ice cream van and the idea was attractive. We got ice creams and I was wandering around when this herd of wild horses arrived and one of them took a liking to my ice cream. Never have I eaten one so quickly!!

WalesThe following day we attended the Welsh Leaders Day at Nicholaston House in the Gower. This is a lovely place to stay. I led a session on "Reluctant Pray-ers", a subject with which several people seemed to identify. Then General Secretary Yvonne and Graham Harry took over and explained the concept of Messy Church. We had a session on the practical side of Messy Church led by Yvonne. The theme was the Valley of Dry Bones but the session was anything but dry! We did some craft activities to illustrate the army of dry bones. After lunch Richard Cleaves had us portraying the parable of the Good Samaritan in many different ways including as Messy Church crafts. A great time with excellent teaching all in a beautiful setting.

Saturday was a "rest day" between events in Wales so we visited St Fagan's National History Museum. Beautiful grounds. Then on to Merthyr Tidfyl which was busy celebrating the victory of Wales over Slovakia. The fact that the game had not started at the time did not seem to matter!

On Sunday, 12 June, we visited Saron Chapel in Tredegar. I was invited to lead communion which was a great honour as a visitor. Saron has a distinct place in my memory because it is the only chapel I know that has a pulpit in the church hall. I can only assume that, if the Minister goes on a bit, they can get on with refreshments while he or she finishes the sermon.

In the afternoon we visited Ivor Chapel, Dowlais and joined in their afternoon service. They have a magnificent chapel with platform, raised pulpit and, presiding over everything, a pipe organ. It was also Pastor Daryl Griffiths' "significant" birthday and we shared cake! Pastor Phil Harris who serves at Markham Chapel led our service and spoke to my heart. We are so dependent on these Pastors who serve our churches and chapels week by week, often with little recognition. I would like to pay tribute to these loyal people - a mainstay of our Federation.

On Tuesday 14th June we flew to Country Antrim in Northern Ireland to attend the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (NSPCI) The Synod was held in the Old Presbyterian Church in Glenarm and we attended the Synod Communion Service. They used a very interesting form of bread, more like a sweet biscuit, that is specially made for them by the local baker. Following this was the Synod service and the induction of the Moderator of the NSPCI, Rt. Rev. Chris Wilson who is a good friend of the Federation and who was being inducted for his second term of office.

Cairncastle Old Presbyterian ChurchOn Wednesday 15th June I attended the Synod Meeting itself. This was a mixture of very lively debate and some fairly mundane business. The Moderator, Rt. Rev. Chris Wilson successfully steered the meeting through some difficult matters, assisted by the Clerk to the Synod, Rev Robert McKee. The Synod took place in Cairncastle Old Presbyterian Church, courtesy of Rev Lena Cockroft.

We stayed in a lovely old hotel in a small village with a wonderful name of Ballygally. It had terrific views along the sand. This was so attractive that my wife forced herself to forego the pleasures of the afternoon Synod to contemplate the view and the sunshine! As the evening drew on, the coast of Scotland appeared in the distance. We understand this to be the Mull of Kintyre which we were told was over 55 km away.

The NSPCI could not possibly end without a social event. This was held at Cairncastle Old Presbyterian Church and had some homegrown talent. Singers, musicians and a poetry reader entertained us. One of the singers enlisted the help of our own Rev. Jim Smith to sing with her - on his knees! Jim then decided to adopt one of the guitars as his own. This was all followed by a BBQ as evening fell. I have to confess I have never before attended a BBQ in a graveyard.

And so ended our trip to Northern Ireland and to the NSPCI. They were fantastic and very generous hosts.

That brings to an end the first month of my Presidential Year.

Coming events: 19 June - preach at a local Baptist Church. 21 June – meet my Spiritual Advisor. 22 June – Meet with the Chair of Council. 23 June – Home Group. 24-26 June – Training Weekend with the CIPT, 27 June – funeral. 29 June- Strategy Group. 30 June – meeting in York. 1-2 July – Council. 4-7 July – Visit to SW Area and Assembly. 8-11 July – attend URC Assembly in Southport. 15 July – attend SE Area Executive Meeting at Union Chapel. 17 July – preach at Orsett Community Church (my home church). 20 July – Investment Board in Nottingham. 23 July – run the Quiz Afternoon at Orsett. 25-28 July – CF XTRA Summer Camp. 26 July – visit to York St John. 29 July – Love Hutton Festival.