On 26 February 2016 the Elders gathered again at the Emmaus Centre, in West Wickham, for our annual retreat. The theme this year was “what’s in a name — reformed or reforming?’
Russell started our first session by asking us to think about the definitions of United, Reformed and Church, getting us to choose what we think the words actually mean and how people outside of the church perceive these words differently to us. In groups, we were then asked “What are the core things that make the URC unique and what things do we value the most about the URC?”
On Saturday we were joined by the Reverend Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary – Discipleship, who led our discussions on re-forming discipleship, re-forming Church and re-forming mission. Richard introduced as all to Fresh Expressions — a new way of establishing Christian communities that reach those outside the church, listening to people and entering their context, making discipleship a priority and then forming new groups. Fresh Expressions are not meant to replace established Church communities but to complement them.
Richard then went through the key stages of the Fresh Expressions Journey.
We watched two examples of new church communities being formed, one in a rural area in the Border countries, the other in a poor part of Urban India. Both these communities had striking similarities. They both started with prayer, they met the needs of people and they focused on community empowerment. Most importantly they were enabled within their context not imposed on by others.
Richard then set us a challenge. We had to imagine that PURC had been moved overnight to Lesotho in Southern Africa. What would the most important things be for us to work with our new neighbours? Despite some creative uses of organ pipes as potential irrigation systems, the most important items were felt to be those which enabled communication e.g. Bantu-English dictionaries, helped socialisation e.g. coffee cups and, of course, the Bible.
- What is the smallest change we each could do to make PURC more welcoming to visitors?
- What three changes would we like to see to PURC?
Suggestions for the smallest change included smiling at visitors, making eye contact and wearing a cross or a badge. A broader selection of ideas were discussed under the three wishes for the future ranging from changes to the fabric of the building e.g. that we were no longer a listed building, to having the church full of people and the Holy Spirit every week.
On Sunday we were led by Russell to pull together all of our discussions from over the weekend, and look ahead one year to see what we wanted to be different in the life of PURC, what successes had been achieved and what challenges had been overcome. We were also asked to summarise what we had taken from the weekend. We all felt that our Church is more than what happens on a Sunday morning. It encompasses all activities that meet on and use our premises. We need to become more proactive and make all of the groups feel they are valued as part of our wider community. Equally, as a church we should be working in partnership with others – our fellow Christian communities in Purley and Kenley Churches Together, and the community chaplain team, and we should be investigating the possibility of establishing closer links with nearby URC communities e.g. St Paul’s and Sanderstead URC.
Andrew Mander, Elder, PURC
Article first appeared in ‘Reflections’, PURC monthly magazine, April 2016