A surprisingly sunny yet cold weekend saw us head up to Tulliallan police college for this year’s residential synod meeting. It was a typical synod meeting of intense business and discussion interspersed with prayer and items for reflection. The theme of the synod was “Aspiring to follow in the steps of Jesus”, and in reflections, the parable of the prodigal son was used throughout the weekend, referring in part to Henri Nouwen’s book, the return of the prodigal son, and his reflection on Rembrandt’s painting of the same name.
Whilst there, we followed up several questions that we were asked to try and find answers to. Our current pulpit supply fee of £40, we were told, is about standard and is apparently less than what the church of Scotland pay. The buddy system that was once discussed has largely fallen by the wayside, and the moderator will be looking at his diary for the second half of the year shortly to see if he is able to respond to our invitation to come back to lead a Sunday morning worship. Detailed information concerning the process of authorising someone to preside at communion as a lay president was also obtained and can be passed on to anyone who is interested. Regarding lay presidency, part of the process is a short training session, which Rev Dr Jack Dyce is happy to come to Annan within the next few months to lead one Sunday afternoon after church, as long as there are sufficient people interested in learning more about communion (you don’t have to want to be a lay president to attend the training – it will be open to all).
We asked specifically about the position of Annan URC with regard to future deployment of ministers, and about cross border links. We were assured by John Bremner, the current convenor of the ecumenical and world church committee, that links were already forged by this committee with relevant people in the Cumbria ecumenical area and that they would do all they could to assist us with ecumenical and united reformed church links to our neighbours south of the border. It was observed that with our two closest churches in Scotland being Selkirk in the borders at 55 miles away (which incidentally already is a cross-border church), and Carluke at 65 miles away, us being involved in a cluster or joint pastorate in Scotland has several impracticalities, especially considering the reduction in ministers of word and sacrament as explained below. In contrast, the closest URC church to us looking into England is only 25 or so miles away. At the moment, however, North West Synod is also looking into their own reduction in ministers of word and sacrament and at present are not deploying anyone new. This means that Annan potentially will have to wait on North West Synod making some decisions before any significant moves can be made towards us having a paid minister again.
The workshops available to us included one on Human trafficking run by the Rev William Young, the URC’s representative for ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland) Anti Human Trafficking group. We hope, all being well, to use some of this information as the basis for a worship service later in the year, however details can be made available now if anyone wants it. Suffice to say, it made for harrowing listening especially when one considers that there are more slaves today than there has been at any point in history, and that half of those slaves are children.
We attended a workshop together on “Holy Habits”, based on the book, Holy Habits, by Andrew Roberts. The habits discussed were: biblical teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer, giving, service, eating together, gladness and generosity, worship, and making more disciples. We are happy to discuss this at length but the book would help and would certainly have more information than we were able to glean from an hours’ presentation. Suffice to say the discussion was very revealing and gave us a lot of food for thought and space for reflection in an otherwise hectic weekend.
The final workshop we attended was about the Reformation, 31st October 2017 allegedly being 500 years to the day since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg. Much of this information will be of use in preparing worship for the end of October when we can as a church celebrate this anniversary together. If anyone would like to get involved in the celebratory services, or is more of an expert on the reformation than we are (!), please speak to Joseph. On the same vein, all churches were asked to prepare their own theses for change. Some churches took theirs to this synod weekend, but we can still prepare our own and send them on, as long as they are sent by the end of July. If this is of interest, we have relevant contact details to submit our thoughts.
Every representative was asked to encourage their churches to think about how they might respond to the decline in the number of ministers available to be deployed. The number of ministers of word and sacrament expected to be available to be deployed in Scotland is expected to reduce to around 14 by 2025. Given that there are 47 URC congregations in Scotland, the mathematics of deployment suddenly becomes rather complex. A consultation document has been sent out and churches are asked to respond by 16th June. If anyone wants a copy of this, one can be provided.
All lay preachers, whether accredited or otherwise, are invited to the Lay Preachers Annual Conference, which takes place on Friday 12th to Saturday 13th May at the cathedral of the Isles in Millport. Joseph unfortunately cannot attend as he is leading worship on 14th May and doesn’t know if he would get back in time! For more information please contact Elinor McCulloch, the synod lay preaching advocate, via the Synod office. We believe that people who have not yet led services but who are interested in having more information about being a lay preacher can also attend, but Elinor McCulloch can confirm this.
We were advised at the synod by Police Scotland of an extreme right wing group called National Action, which has become the first extreme right wing group to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK. If anyone has any questions about this or has any information about the groups’ activity, we have an information sheet and were advised to ask people to telephone Police Scotland on 101.
We also have a detailed booklet of guidelines for the use of social media within the URC. This will be passed on to anyone who administers our website or facebook account or other social media or internet platforms on behalf of our church. If anyone believes they need a copy of this, please ask.
The weekend contained so much other information, so many other valuable reflections and resources, that it is impossible to summarise them in a report. Some of these, such as information about the environment and “eco-congregations”, Joseph hopes to use in future Sunday services. Other information was complex, or felt overwhelming after the weight of everything else that was presented. If anyone wishes to look at our synod papers, or our notes, or wishes to see the final minutes, or would like to have a discussion with us about any subject or topic that came up, please just ask.
A short summary of this report will be prepared for everyone, with this longer report being for elders, worship leaders, and anyone else who requests it.
Joseph and Benjamin Kidd-Bentley
21st March 2017