Thought for the Month (June 2016)
Why do we look forward so much to the appointment of a full-time stipendiary ordained Minister for our Group of Churches? Because we've always had one? Because it is comforting to know "someone" is in charge, that there is a senior figure to go to if we are in spiritual need? Or to preside over the communion services and three offices of birth, death and marriage?
The United Reformed Churches in our group should be better off in dealing with the "vacancy" than Vale Royal Methodists who are also technically without a Minister. The URC Churches have known interregnums before but, in my time in Tunbridge Wells, I know Vale Royal Methodist Church has never been without a Minister or the promise of a Minister Elect, so this situation is new to them. (When Rev. Steve Mann moved on, the Methodist circuit decided there would be no direct replacement for him).
What do we look for in a new Minister? Here is some of what the Group Churches wrote in their Pastoral Profiles about the kind of Minister they hoped for. (The Pastoral Profile is the document which is posted on the website of each Synod across the nation, and is the means of both advertising our Ministerial vacancy and attracting a response.)
"We look to a Minister's role in keeping the fellowship between the three Churches alive whilst encouraging each to develop in ways specific to their own locations. All three Churches hope for the wisdom of an ordained Minister to give direction to their work, particularly in Evangelism & Church growth. Encouragement for the small Sunday Schools at Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells, and help in starting one at Hawkenbury would be a bonus."
"An important part of the Ministry will be encouraging, training and building-up lay leadership in each Church. In addition, the present sharing of buildings, activities and worship at Tunbridge Wells URC with Vale Royal Methodist Church adds another factor."
I note that the line about "wisdom of an ordained Minister" answers one of the questions I posed at the start of this letter for, although our Elders and Stewards have proved equal to keeping our Churches jogging along, and although Tunbridge Wells URC has the valued assistance of lay-workers from the Methodist circuit, it can feel a bit draughty. But the word which stands out to me in the "hoped for" list for a stipendiary Minister is the word "encouragement"; encouragement for the training and building up of lay leadership in each Church: that, folks, involves all of us and not just the Minister. So does the phrase "giving direction to our work in evangelism and Church growth."
In compiling the Group Pastoral Profile, it would have been easy to make a list of all the things we wanted a Minister to do for us, but it seemed wiser to indicate that – rather than expecting an incoming Minister to do all the jobs – we, the congregations of the Churches, were looking to take an active part in doing them ourselves. When, and it will be "when" and not "if", a prospective Ministry candidate for this group of Churches comes forward, I do hope that all our people will see this as a great opportunity to extend their roles in the Church and to give active support to the new Minster; to be ready to be "encouraged and trained" in taking up enlarged responsibilities in our Churches, rather than just sitting-back and expecting him/her to do all for us.
Bob Webb (Secretary and Elder, Tunbridge Wells URC)
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