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Feb 2017, Sarah Moore: Best not to assume...

One of the things that I find most interesting about working on the implementation of the God for All strategy ecumenically are the assumptions that get revealed about how to ‘do’ church in almost every respect: mission, ministry, questions about buildings, how to make decisions, stewardship, worship, and the list could go on…

This is true not only between traditions but within denominations too. As I travel around the county leading worship, mostly though not exclusively, in United Reformed congregations, I usually enquire about how the service works, most particularly customs around the serving of the bread and wine at Holy Communion. “We do it the normal URC way” an elder might comment, not realising the very subtle though significant differences between congregations, or indeed that there is a different way to what they are used to doing.

I have ‘caught’ assumptions in other ways too. There was the day that I arrived at the last minute and parked some distance from the venue that a meeting of the Methodist District Synod was taking place where Bishop James and I were both being welcomed as associate ministers of the district. As I arrived hot and bothered having run halfway across Cockermouth, the steward on the door innocently asked if I’d found my reserved parking space! It never occurred to me that I would be allocated a reserved space! Earlier this month at I was installed as an honorary ecumenical canon at Carlisle Cathedral, I discovered only a few minutes before the service was due to start that an honoured place had been reserved for the URC Synod Moderator for the service who was sat in the congregation chatting to other guests. I assume that the staff at the cathedral had assumed that I would know that a place in the procession would be the case! The truth is that the possibility that such provision might be made had not crossed my mind. We tend not to go in for such formality in this part of the United Reformed Church. Whoops on all sides perhaps.

We make assumptions about other Christian communities alongside us in our localities too. The tricky thing about assumptions is that we don’t know that we’re making them often until it's too late. Sometimes perhaps we don’t even realise that we’re making them. We carry what somebody said or thought about somebody else deeply. Our experience of one or a few people colour our view of a whole denomination, or a whole country or profession or…

We make assumptions about what we can do as individuals and as fellowships based on other things too. Age, or gender, or (dis)ability, or education, or race, or … . We remember stories about assumptions in the Bible too. The story of the elderly matriarch Sarah in the early chapters of Genesis who laughed when she overheard her visitors say that she would bear a child in old age. The assumptions of two of Jesus early disciples, brothers James and John, that they would be given pride of place positions in the Kingdom of Heaven, not realising that it doesn’t work that way.

One of the strands of God for All is about ‘every member ministry’ emphasising the understanding that every Christian person, every member of our churches, perhaps even every person in Cumbria, has a ministry that God is calling them to exercise. The difficulty is that sometimes our assumptions get in the way. Occasionally the “I can’t do …” is true. But many times it is not, sometimes we can, and maybe in a different way to how we assume that role is properly done. Here in Cumbria we are re-imagining Church for the future, building on the very best of the past and the present. Many of our ministries will look different, both lay and ordained, and that is a good thing as we have to look at our assumptions and check that they are true.

Sarah Moore
President of the United Reformed Church in Cumbria

 

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