From small beginnings grow strong bonds of friendship, peace and reconciliation.
Our International Church Partnership is, we believe, unique. It brings together five congregations of the Reformed tradition, and has now lasted for some 50 years. During that time, numerous people have been involved in shared worship, in conferences and other events, in informal visits and in prayer for one another and our situations: and the friendships that have been formed and the experiences that have been shared have been in some cases literally life-changing.
After World War 2, in a spirit of reconciliation, contacts began to develop between local Reformed congregations in England and Germany, largely as a result of personal and family ties. The first of many shoebox food parcels was sent from Worthing to Wolfstein in the Palatinate in 1946, and this gradually led to increasing links between the Congregational Union of England and Wales and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz (EKP). Alison Morgan, now a member of Purley URC, was one of three Worthing young people – the others were her late husband Kenneth and Revd Beryl Chatfield – who visited the Palatinate in 1949.
In the mid-1960s, Purley’s minister, Revd Cyril Franks, was approached by Revd Eric Allen, then ministering in Banstead, on behalf of Dekan Eugen Herrmann, whose church in Ludwigshafen in the Palatinate by then had a link with Banstead Congregational Church. Dekan Herrmann had recently been appointed as Dean in Speyer, where the headquarters of the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz is located, and wanted to encourage his new church to develop a link like the one he was leaving behind. Thus began, in 1967, the link between Purley Congregational Church and the Gedächtniskirche in Speyer.
The history of the strong denominational link between the URC and the EKP is told in full in John Reardon’s 2007 book ‘Together Met, Together Bound’.
The American connection evolved after a pulpit exchange in 1967 between Purley and Immanuel Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut, in which Revd Cyril Franks and Revd Bob Edwards took part. Mr Franks was disturbed at finding in the USA continuing significant negative perceptions of Germany, and as a way of reversing these stereotypes, suggested to Purley members that Immanuel should be invited to join a meeting with members of the church in Speyer which Purley was due to host in 1971. This was effectively the first Partnership Conference.
After the partition of Germany in the late 1940s, links established between churches in West Germany and the then German Democratic Republic (GDR) included EKP connections with the Evangelische Landeskirche Anhalts. These denominational links led to contacts between the Gedächtniskirche and the Petruskirche, Dessau and, indirectly, the Ostrava congregation of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren. From 1966 onwards there was an annual weekend meeting in East Berlin between members of the churches in Speyer and Dessau, to which German-speaking members of the Purley, Ostrava and Hartford congregations were later also invited: and there were two similar weekend meetings in the mid-1980s between the congregations in Dessau and Purley. Other than the Berlin meetings, however, early contacts with Dessau and Ostrava were limited by political circumstance mainly to exchanges of letters between individuals, although a number of people from Purley and Hartford paid private visits to both the GDR and Czechoslovakia during the 1970s and the 1980s, and three people from Dessau were permitted to attend each Partnership conference from 1980 onwards.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, all that changed. A high point in the history of the Partnership was undoubtedly the conference in Purley in 1992, attended by about 120 visitors, of whom nearly half came from Dessau and Ostrava. This was the first time that all five congregations had been able to participate on equal terms in a conference, and the BBC featured it on a ‘Songs of Praise’ broadcast for which they paid visits to Czechoslovakia, Germany and the USA.
The strength of the Partnership lies in its day-to-day existence. Formal and informal contacts are maintained, and the immediacy of e-mail, Skype, Facebook and other new technology media means that news and conversations can be shared much more easily now than they were in the early days: then the communication was of course all by letter, and necessarily involved very few people. English tends to be the default language for most people, but a good number of the Purley congregation over the years have learned some German, and in some cases a little Czech.
Formally, the congregations share aspects of worship at least twice a year. A service at the end of January incorporates material (readings, an ‘epistle’ and prayers) prepared by each minister or congregation in turn: and on the first Sunday in September, we share in prayers for peace, again created in turn by each minister. The idea for this came from the minister of the Petruskirche in Dessau, Pfarrer Wolfgang Steckel, in the late 1980s: and it is to Dessau also that we owe the peace candle presented to each of the other congregations at the end of the conference hosted by his church in 1989. In Purley that candle is lit at the beginning of every Sunday morning service as a reminder of our commitment, through the Partnership and in other ways, to peace and reconciliation.
Since 1971 a Partnership conference has been held every three years: this is hosted in turn by the congregations, resulting in a 15-year cycle now that all five members do so. The most recent conference took place in Ostrava in July/August 2016, and this was the occasion on which our ‘Declaration of an International Church Partnership’ was formally adopted and accepted by all the congregations.
Between conferences, links are maintained through many smaller meetings and visits. Events for young people have always played their part in the Partnership, resulting in a number of lifelong friendships which see those involved in them as young people now in positions of leadership within their congregations. Purley will be hosting a young people’s gathering in the summer of 2018, when two of the adult leaders will be people who met as teenagers at a Partnership youth event in Germany.
The depth of friendships means that informal visits happen regularly. Invitations are issued for special anniversaries, birthdays, inductions and other occasions: and over and above this, it is generally understood that anyone visiting in the area of one of the partner churches can always be assured of hospitality and accommodation. Given its proximity to London, that certainly happens a good deal in Purley!
All these links are underpinned by the mutual support offered in prayer, whether on occasions of sadness or joy, and whether individual or wider. Thus, for example, Purley’s Prayer Link on occasion offers prayer for someone in one of the partner congregations, and messages of support and concern are sent and shared on occasions of wider concern. Purley received many messages from friends in the partner congregations following the EU Referendum, and messages were sent to friends in Hartford following the result of the US presidential election. We also offered our ‘virtual’ support to the large group of people from Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford who took part in the Washington Women’s March on 21 January 2017, and were the recipients of messages in the wake of the Westminster attack in March 2017.
Our International Church Conferences are held every three years with each church taking it in turn to act as hosts. These meetings begun in 1974 and our next conference is scheduled for 2019/20.
Hosts: 1971, 1980, 1992, 2007, (Youth Conference planned for 2018)
Hosts: 1974, 1983, 1995, 2010
Hosts: 1977, 1986, 1998, 2013
Hosts: 1989, 2004
Hosts: 2001, 2016
Declaration of an International Church Partnership between:
Petrusgemeinde, Dessau (Evangelische Landeskirche Anhalts)
Immanuel Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut (United Church of Christ)
Českobratrská církev evangelická, Ostrava
Purley United Reformed Church
Gedächtniskirchengemeinde, Speyer (Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz)
“May they all be one…” – John 17 v.21
The Story of our Partnership
Our Partnership has its European roots in contacts developed in a spirit of reconciliation between local congregations in England and the Palatinate (Federal Republic of Germany) after the Second World War. The first visit by three young people from Shelley Road Worthing to Wolfstein in the Palatinate took place in August 1949. This led indirectly to a “Communion of Pulpit and Lord’s Table” being established in 1957 between the Congregational Union of England and Wales and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz (EKP). The link between the Gedächtniskirche in Speyer and Purley URC developed from personal contacts between ministers and lay people in England and the Palatinate and dates from 1967.
The American connection developed after an exchange of pulpits in 1967 between Revd Cyril Franks, minister in Purley, and Revd Bob Edwards of Immanuel Congregational Church, Hartford, which revealed continuing negative perceptions of Germany and Germans in the USA. As a way of reversing these stereotypes, a first three-way conference was held in 1971 in Purley. After the partition of Germany in the late 1940s, links established between churches in West Germany and the then German Democratic Republic (GDR) included EKP connections with the Evangelische Landeskirche Anhalts. These denominational links led to contacts between the Gedächtniskirche and the Petruskirche, Dessau and, indirectly, the Ostrava congregation of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren.
From 1966 onwards there was an annual weekend meeting in East Berlin between members of the churches in Speyer and Dessau, to which German-speaking members of the Purley, Ostrava and Hartford congregations were later also invited: and there were two similar weekend meetings in the mid-1980s between the congregations in Dessau and Purley. Other than the Berlin meetings, however, early contacts with Dessau and Ostrava were limited by political circumstance mainly to exchanges of letters between individuals, although a number of people from Purley and Hartford paid private visits to both the GDR and Czechoslovakia during the 1970s and the 1980s, and a few people from Dessau were permitted to attend Partnership conferences from 1980 onwards. After the momentous events of autumn 1989, all that changed. A high point in the history of the Partnership was undoubtedly the conference in Purley in July/August 1992, attended by about 120 visitors, of whom nearly half came from Dessau and Ostrava.
Purley URC also maintains an informal bilateral link with Woodvale Presbyterian Church, Belfast. Whilst they do not wish to become full members of the Partnership, conferences and other gatherings in recent years have been greatly enhanced by the presence of a few Irish participants.
The Purpose of our Partnership
Partnership acts as a focal point in all our congregations for:
Continuing our commitment to peace and reconciliation in line with the origins of the Partnership. This is demonstrated through our dealings with other Christian communities and other faith groups (“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”- 2 Corinthians 5 v.18).
Developing an international Christian understanding and perspective on issues of justice, peace and the integrity of creation (“Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” – 1 Peter 3 v.15)
Establishing deep and sustainable friendships and contacts which provide a framework for understanding, mutual support and encouragement (“…all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” – 1 Peter 3 v.8 )
The Features of our Partnership
“Love one another with mutual affection. Esteem others more highly than yourself.”- Romans 12 v.10
Partnership seeks to achieve its purpose through:
Annual shared worship
Annual prayers for peace
Mutual support by prayer for all our congregations and for individuals within them
A three-yearly conference, hosted in turn by each congregation
Informal small-scale visits as opportunity offers (e.g. special occasions, holidays, business trips)
Regular sharing of greetings, planning calendars, newsletters and ad hoc news of individuals, including links between websites
The Local Church within our Partnership
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”- Romans 12 v.18
Each congregation aims to enhance the Partnership as a whole in its own way. Each church’s individual contributions are based on Its understanding of the role of a Christian community in its society
Its denominational and other networks, both in its own country and internationally.
The challenges it presents, both to its own members and to members of the partner congregations. These may be issues and concerns of local, national and/or international importance affecting our own churches, other faith communities and/or the world.
Our Partnership Commitment
We honour the legacy of those whose original vision it was to achieve post-war reconciliation and mutual understanding, which the Partnership made possible. To sustain this treasure, we commit ourselves anew:
to uphold the purposes of our International Partnership in a changing world to nurture together the development of our International Partnership in ways that ensure its relevance to present and future generations
to explore together, theologically, spiritually and personally, what it means to be committed to one another in Partnership and what it means to be committed to the tasks of reconciliation and peace
to promote our International Partnership within each congregation as a relationship that all are involved in, not just the few to be part of God’s ministry of reconciliation.
“May they all be one…” – John 17 v.21
APPROVED BY PURLEY URC CHURCH MEETING – 30 NOVEMBER 2014
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Partnership Group Photographs