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The past and the future (August/September 2018)

Dear Friends,

Well, this will be my last letter to the Newsletter at Trinity-Henleaze URC.

At the beginning of August, I’ll take my final service here as your minister, and I’ll move to the new post in Trowbridge at the beginning of September.

There are a lot of ‘for the last time’ things at the moment, and, amongst the planning for what happens here beyond the summer, a lot of remembering and reflecting on the years that we’ve shared and the ways in which the church has moved, changed and met the challenges of being a Christian presence in this place.

In June I really enjoyed welcoming you to the Manse for dinner. Over 50 people took up the invitation and around the table we told stories, remembered people, places and projects and gathered up some of the things we’ve learned together. In 15 years, there was a lot of talk about (I intend to share some of those reflections with the whole church by producing a small booklet.)

As I draw things to a conclusion here I’ve been doing a lot of thinking back and reflecting too. I am deeply aware that we have grown together … with my understanding and practice of Ministry, and indeed Christian life, having developed over the years along with you in the church. To share some themes, I’d say, there has been much of interest and challenge around : -

Reading and understanding the Bible. The Living the Questions course encouraged us, and showed us how, to ‘take the Bible seriously but not literally’. We learned to bring the real questions of our lives now, some of them questions about ‘faith’ that we’d held inside for a long time, to our interaction with the Bible. The suggestion that the ‘questions’ we bring are the important starting place for growth and a living faith, was a liberation for us. Digging deep, being prepared to think critically, creatively and with conscience when reading and reflecting on what we find in holy scriptures brought our faithful engagement with the Bible alive and into the world we live in.

This brings me to my second line of thought. We’ve tried to speak about ‘real’ things. Bringing our reflection of the scriptures into the discussions and debates of our day, time and culture. It has often not been easy to do this as the challenges of being a church in a time when society generally sees itself as having ‘moved on’ from religion means that the church, and its Christian faith exists in a society that has some even negative ideas about who we are and what we do. We have talked about poverty, housing, politics, Brexit, living in a multi-cultural/multi faith society, spirituality and sexuality, migration and the experience of refugees and asylum seekers, responses to violence and terrorism, homelessness and maintaining an open, welcoming community in a time that often feels fragile and frightening. I’m sure we’ve considered much more too, always with the purpose of bringing the insights of Christian faith to the searching conversations of our time. If God has called us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ for the message and work of divine love in the world, these real reflective conversations at the heart of our life of faith, difficult as they are, are essential.

And thirdly, we have built ‘community’ both within the church and beyond the walls in and with the people of our neighbourhood. Within the church we have deepened friendship and done lots of new things together. We’ve travelled, danced, played board games, created and enjoyed arts and crafts, read books and discussed them, made bread, gone on pilgrimage, thrown parties, welcomed neighbours and friends and eaten many, many meals together. We raised funds and built a building that transformed the Church and our relationship with the community around us. With the people of our neighbourhood we have been able to build good friendship and welcomed the many ways they’ve come to see and visit the church as a place of rest, recreation, service and enjoyment. The building hosts a gloriously varied and vibrant local life every week and people who see the church in their community as a very good thing. Building community is a long-term project and often defies definition or control … I think, it is a way of ‘living, moving, being’ present (Acts 17) in a place and bringing our calling to be followers of Jesus into the relationships that can be grown and celebrated.

There will be much to reflect on. Some things we may be glad to let go of and others to gather up, treasure and take with us into the future. I think that my prayer, as I remember and reflect, is that we will let all we’ve shared together in these last 15 years deepen our wisdom, broaden our view of faith employed in the world we live and encourage us to grasp a faith that lifts us and those we can share it with to the hopeful life of growing as followers of Jesus today. 


Yours in thanksgiving and hope,