Musings from the Manse

Dear Friends,

Rev Helen Higgin-Botham

Life as a Minister can be challenging, rewarding, exhausting, and exciting – and that is often all in one day!    But occasionally, there are times when I am encouraged to step back, ponder, and re-invigorate myself, away from the telephone and the emails.

One such occasion was very recently at the North Western Synod Minister’s Winter School. Entitled, ‘Lost for Words? Evangelism through Welcome’, it was led by Francis Brienen, (the URC Secretary for Mission), Lawrence Moore, (URC Moderator Elect, and Director of the Windermere Centre), and Rev. Stephen Collinson (NW Synod Training Officer).

Together we looked at five headings: Encountering Jesus – Telling our stories; Jesus and Welcome – The centrality of welcome in Luke’s gospel; A Theology of Welcome: inclusion and embrace; Creating a Culture of Welcome in the Church; and finally, A Campaign of Radical Welcome.

All the sessions were challenging in many ways – from our own experiences of ‘welcome’ and our earliest memories of first attending church – to the final session, which was a preview of the URC Ad Campaign (see article further on) due to be launched in November, but aired at the NW Synod on the 12th March.

However, overall they presented a difficult picture of the task ahead, not just for the URC or Methodist Churches but for all Denominations, as we try to reach out and welcome those in today’s society who have never experienced ‘church’    (nor, it often seems, do they want to) or who have had bad experiences of ‘church’ and are wary of venturing in again.

We were given a booklet, written by Alison Gilchrist, (who some may remember was the Curate at Christ Church Fulwood until 2009) called ‘Creating a Culture of Welcome – in the local church’ (Grove Booklets, Ev66), and encouraged to read and ‘inwardly digest’. But as several of us pointed out – “It’s not just us who need to read this; this is important for all the folks in our congregations!” So here I am doing just that!

The problem is often that, when asked the question ‘How welcoming is your church?’, most church members would say, “Of course our church is welcoming!” But as Alison points out, ‘Regular attendance means we forget how ill at ease folk might feel on that first visit….’

For many, just coming through the front door of a church may have taken weeks in terms of plucking up the courage – and what if their first experience of church didn’t exactly entice them to come back again. Also, what of those who attend for a few weeks/months and then suddenly stop coming? Was it something we said or did, or didn’t say or do?

Addressing the issue of dwindling church attendance is not easy – but maybe creating a culture of welcome would be the first step in ensuring that we are doing all we can to make church a positive experience?

In this ‘Vision4Life’ year of Evangelism, and at a time when we are actively encouraging everyone to read their Bibles more – through initiatives like ‘Bible Fresh’ and the ‘Year of the Bible’, we have so many opportunities to share our faith and show others the love that God has for them.

I pray that we will all be encouraged through everything that is taking place – especially ‘The Big Read’ book for Lent: ‘Matthew’ by Tom Wright – so that by God’s Grace we can be the people and the church He has called us to be.

Yours in Christ,

Helen    <><

P.S.  During the course of Winter School – Francis Brienen shared with us a poem by Jan Berry. I think it gives an interesting slant to the sometimes difficult issue of being an ‘inclusive’ and ‘all-welcoming’ church. What do you think?

But Lord –

But Lord – if They come to our church
we might hear about Life outside.
You would,

said the Lord.

But Lord – there is no Life apart from you.
That’s right,

said the Lord.

But Lord – then there is no Life outside of church.
Not true,

laughed the Lord.

But Lord – to learn their story is to
feel their loneliness.
My loneliness,

said the Lord

But Lord – to listen to Them is to
know their terror.
My terror,

said the Lord.

Or to hear Them is to
know their fear.
My fear,

said the Lord.

And to know Them might be to love Them
or to hate Them
To love me, or to hate me

said the Lord.

Or to embrace Them truly,
truly, we would then belong to Them.
Truly, truly, you would belong to me.

said the Lord.

But Lord – if we do this we will be changed.
We can hope,

laughed the Lord.

We can pray.
But Lord – if we do this thing
we would no longer be our church.
No!
My church.

said the Lord.
You would be My church

© Lucy Berry

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