At a meeting of our Synod Area (URCs across South London) Rev’d Jennifer Millington, known to many of you from her time as assistant minister in Purley, reflected on the changes in attitude to and practice of ministry since she had been ordained in the mid 1980s. She concluded the changes were significant and not always positive. Wearing a ‘dog collar’ is no longer a guarantee of being admitted to a hospital ward for visiting, modern communications make it less easy to get space away from constant demands for attention and, because there are fewer ministers available to serve churches and to maintain the structures of the church, expectations and pressures seem much greater.
As I reflect on my ministry, the nature of it has certainly changed. I was never trained in the management of risk assessment or health and safety issues. That is why I am grateful for the collective expertise of those I work with here in Purley. For one thing hasn’t changed. It is that sense of collective responsibility we share within the life of a United Reformed Church. The minister does not work alone – we work with a team of elders, church members and many others who enable us to function and witness to the presence in our community of a loving, compassionate and just God.
When I was approached by the Moderator (Nicola was definitely wearing her moderator’s hat in this conversation!) as to the possibility of Purley acting as host for a minister seeking to return to the roll of ministers, I was keen to explore the possibility. This wasn’t because it might mean he could take lots of services for me. Rather, I was enthusiastic that we should be able to help someone fulfil their calling to ministry. Also, I believe Purley has unique opportunities to offer someone who has limited time available each week to explore what it is to be a minister in 2015. Ministry is not just about preparing worship, although this is an important aspect of it. It is not just about being up to date on matters like safeguarding and being a trustee of a charity, although that is the reality of modern church life and ministry. But, as always, it is about being able to get alongside people and being able to help people, often in times of great need, to recognise the presence of a loving, compassionate and just God in their life and in the life of our community and world.
I was not surprised that Church Meeting responded so positively to the news that Martin Knight is going to be working with us for up to the next 6 months. I hope you will all be able to get to know him and appreciate his gifts over this time. It is important to appreciate that this is not just an opportunity for us to help Martin but also a time when he can help us reflect on who we are and how we can best serve God in our community. If there is an aspect of church life you think it would be helpful for him to experience please do not hesitate to contact me as we begin to plan his work.
With love and prayers
Russell J Furley-Smith