Our Moderator David Herbert looks at the Synod Way Forward and Kingdom-living
âA Way Forwardâ sounds such a clear and definite process, yet we all know, Kingdom-living can be a more organic and messy affair, and rarely runs according to our clearly delineated plans and strategies. The twists and turns, surprises and messiness may, we feel, point to a certain sense of humour on Godâs part, and at other times feel simply frustrating, especially if things are simply not moving quickly enough for us.
St Paulâs letters in the New Testament provide ample evidence that the frailty, fault-lines and frustrations of life in the church are nothing new! Paulâs second letter to the Corinthians concentrates on the paradox of power in weakness, a spiritual reality weaving through the letter: weakness, not extravagant power, seems to be the mark of authentic Christian experience: âwe have this treasure in clay jars, so that it be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us â¦ so we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day â¦ we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternalâ (2 Corinthians 4).
How far have we come? Standing back, we can see we have made significant steps with A Way Forward albeit at different speeds and in different phases in different areas and in different ways across Northern Synod. For example, newly formed groupings are getting closer to being able to look for their next stipendiary minister, fresh initiatives such as Growing Leaders are bringing a new confidence to more of our companions in every part of the synod and conversations are taking place between and within churches, and we are excited to explore new resources being brought out by the URC nationally, which dovetail so well with this synodâs vision of A Way Forward.
All point to a context of flux, of changing expectations and awareness of where ministry and gifts in the life of the church are to be found. I would love to see us pioneering new models of being and doing church as a synod, and being prepared to take risks as we experiment and test fresh initiatives, providing experiences and insight we can then share with the wider church.
I feel quite strongly that if we lay down a piece of work or mission, we should immediately be wanting to see what new thing we can begin as we seek to be fluid and allow Godâs Church to evolve.
Maybe itâs best to do fewer things, and do them well; and in our groupings I would encourage us all to look to each other for help and support, perhaps one congregation can specialise in ministry or outreach, another in youth work, music, vintage church or providing much needed safeguarding or administrative support, so that between us, we feel we are collectively offering up a rich palette of gifts and ideas as we use our God-given opportunities and creativity right where we are.
All the while, our most important work continues through the life of our local congregations responding to Godâs call to engage in Godâs mission in the communities in which they are set. The faithfulness, openness and flexibility of our congregations is both humbling and encouraging. Not every moment or initiative will be pioneering, yet every act of faithful service remains vital to the nurture of Godâs kingdom in the world.
As we move forward steadily, we can be reassured that Godâs priority is not slick presentation, but that we form communities of heartfelt hospitality, where people are nurtured in the faith, Godâs love is expressed both inwardly and outwardly, and all can feel truly welcome.
St Paulâs words to the early church in Corinth echo through the millennia to us in Northern Synod today, speaking powerfully: âKeep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.â (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
I close with a quote from Francis Frangipane, and American writer and pastor, âThere will be no âknights in shining armorâ in Godâs kingdom; our armor will have many dings and dents. No, no perfect Hollywood heroes will ride to save the day; just wearied saints to look to God and, in weakness, find Christâs strength. This, indeed, is the essence of Godâs kingdom: divine greatness manifest in common people.â
I would be delighted if anything I have shared above stirs up further reflection or comment, agreeing or (constructively) disagreeing. Please feel free to ensure the above does not remain a Moderatorâs monologue!
As ever, and in Christ,
David Herbert, Moderator, Northern Synod of the United Reformed Church.