Pretty much a fixed date in the diary each June is the Wales Synod Minister’s Summer School and this year was no exception. Last week 21 of us gathered at a hotel in the Wye Valley for a time of learning, refreshment and colleagueship – the main speaker being Rev Dr Robert Pope (who gets around a bit!) with additional input provided by other ministers with experience to share.
With this year being the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, Robert spoke about the Reformation of the Church that this event gave birth to. We explored the reasons behind it and how it affected the church then and now as we in the United Reformed Church, trace our roots, in part at least, to the Reformation in Europe which started in the 16th Century with people like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others. Whilst much of what was said was from a historical perspective, it was interesting to note the connections between the questions the Reformers asked then and the questions we still grapple with today. Things like – the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture, the nature and purpose of the church and the plight of humanity. Big questions that continue to tax the minds of those greater than mine!
In-dispersed amongst Robert’s talks was meaningful and refreshing worship, Bible study and also stories told from a number of churches in the Wales Synod where new things are working, or beginning to work which are in some ways reforming the church of today. We heard examples of a Holiday Club for the older generation, a community lunch in an inner city church that has led to new ways of worship for those people who attend, a church that shows a film once a month to open up discussion and attract new people who might not attend more traditional forms of worship and a church whose membership was so small they had to either ‘do or die’ – they felt called to ‘do’ – and this is beginning to bear fruit. Through these and other stories of churches reviewing their mission and purpose it was fascinating to try and imagine whether any of these things could work in Dyserth – or for that matter, to think of the things that we are presently doing that could grow and develop into new ways of being church.
As a congregation we have recently restated our desire to continue to serve the community of Dyserth and also to grow as a church. Neither of these things will happen by themselves, (although miracles can happen…), and our experience and the experience of others would suggest that growing the church is a slow and far from easy thing to do. Yet it can and does happen, mostly in places where congregations have a clear sense of vision, are willing to experiment and are intentional about encouraging others to the way of discipleship and the challenge of faith. There are no easy answers and no quick-fix solutions, but it is a question that we cannot afford to lose sight of as we seek to reform the church in the 21st Century as those previously mentioned did in their generation.