Sunday, 6 July 2008

Emmaus legacy

The ministry of the Church of Reconciliation in Westcliff (in Scunthorpe) has come to an end, the local Rural Dean told me last week.

It had been started when the estate was being built in the 1970s. Well established churches up the hill in Old Brumby came together to sponsor an ecumenical church for the estate. Here there would be mutual recognition of ministry as far as possible between the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church (URC). The name ‘Church of Reconciliation’ was noble (and is also the name of the church at the Taize Community) but frequently it had to be explained that it was a name for some main stream churches working together rather than for some odd sect. What have now come to be called Local Ecumenical Partnerships were thought to pioneer the shape of church of the future, but the parent churches have never caught up and often these vanguards have been ended up as eccentric isolated pockets.

I lived in the Vicarage next door and was part of the ministry there for just five years 1989 to 1994. I hope that the naivete and over confidence of my ‘first incumbency’ ministry didn’t make too great a contribution to beginning the process of eventual closure despite the experience and maturity of my URC colleague. There was a regular congregation of thirty or forty in those days and some very creative activities going on; I notice that congregations in the more traditional churches in this parish are two thirds of the size they were in 1994, so the wider context is, of course, part of the story.

I’m aware of the way the influence of some of the closed churches in Grimsby is still evident, so I’m sure there will still be fruit from the Church of Reconciliation’s ministry in individual lives for some time, and even unrecognised outer ripples of it in future generations.

There is an additional legacy in a prayer frequently used at Communion there in my day, drawn from the Church of Scotland via the United Reformed Church. It picked up the Emmaus story in a way that little else in our Communion liturgies does. I happened to be a member of the General Synod as the Common Worship Communion service was being prepared which is how an amended version of the prayer found its way into that service:

You have opened the Scriptures to us, O Christ,
and you have made yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Abide with us, we pray,
that, blessed by your royal presence,
we may walk with you
all the days of our life,
and at its end behold you
in the glory of the eternal Trinity,
one God for ever and ever.

I’ve always felt each Communion service is in part a return to the first Easter evening: disciples find themselves walking and talking together (The Gathering), their hearts burn within them as the scriptures are spoken about (The Liturgy of the Word), they recognised the Lord in the breaking of the bread (The Liturgy of the Sacrament) and as a result they go back to where they had come from with new urgency (The Dismissal). The prayer speaks of some of this, and whenever I use it or hear it I’ll remember that this is so because the Church of Reconciliation existed, prayed it and tried to live it.

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