Thought for the Month (August 2013)

By the time you read this, the local Synod will have commenced a "Local Mission and Ministry Review" which will help the churches to ask "how do we see ourselves?" and will be a helpful way to prepare for Bob and Karen's retirement.

One way of preparing for the Review is to spend time prayerfully reading Revelation Chapters 2 and 3 the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. There we read of churches with strengths, churches with weaknesses, and the church that stands most firmly condemned that which is lukewarm! And as my Ministry began nearly half a century ago, I could (from my own experience) see that relationships between those who serve in full time Ministry and those in their congregations could be slipping into a lukewarm phase - across the denominational divides. One piece of evidence of this is the way in which fewer and fewer people will be seen in church say, on forty-eight Sundays of the year and, where preachers are advertised, a marked movement in numbers occurs from one week to another depending on who fills the preaching slot.

All the churches in England are facing challenging times. People speak of declining congregations, but the real problem in the next five to ten years is that most mainstream denominations are going to see a massive reduction of full-time Ministers. The Roman Catholic Church in one recent year only had ten Ordination candidates in England and Wales. Far from sending out missionaries, they now have to import Priests from overseas to try to maintain some kind of thinned down Priestly presence. The Church of England closed nearly three-quarters of its theological colleges, and still those which remain are not full. There are Reports from both Methodist and United Reformed Churches about almost halving the number of Ministers it is not an optimistic picture.

Why are folk not offering themselves for Ordination in the way in which people have done in past years? The present Archbishop of Canterbury assisted me with an answer when addressing a packed Albert Hall full of post Alpha course Christians. He said "the deepest wounds I have suffered in my Ministry have been inflicted by fellow Christians". (You may now care to pause and reflect on whether my use of an illustration from the Church of England, is due to my becoming overwhelmed with a tact I usually lack, or whether there is truly no story in the United Reformed Church, of any lay person ever being unkind to a Minister, to be found).

Those of you who made the journey to All Saints, Langton Green on Pentecost Sunday evening will have learned how highly those of us who are members of other denominations regard Bob and Karen's seventeen year Ministry here. Long before they take their leave of us, I would urge you to pray for blessings on them in their retirement. But (especially for those who do not do this regularly) I would urge you to remember the Elders in your prayers. They collectively have two massive tasks to plan for the future, whilst carrying out a very heavy work load for period of the Interregnum, which could be of some significant length.

May God bless you all,

Rev. Michael Dent (Hawkenbury URC)

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