15th Anniversary Celebrations!
On 15th January 2017, we celebrated the 15th Anniversary of the founding of St David’s Uniting Church. Much fun was had as we thanked God for where we have come from and where we are going. Some of this was ad libbed but below is a rough account of the reflections offered in the service.
Happy New Year…last time I was here on a Sunday morning was last year…on Christmas day! And is it my imagination or did Bethan, Ben and I eat bugs that day?! Weird! But that morning we celebrated the birth of Christ and this morning we celebrate another Birthday of sorts – the birth of St David’s Uniting Church for today is our church anniversary. This is the day when we celebrate the coming together of Pontypridd United Church and St David’s Presbyterian Church some 15 years ago; the service in which we remember Carmel Baptist, the English Cong and all the faith communities which have played a part in our journeys; it’s a day to remember, give thanks and celebrate. And one way we mark Birthdays and Anniversaries is with food! I know this as I had 15 Christmas dinners in advent!!! But it’s good to gather together and share food and drink in fellowship and thanks – it’s what Jesus did time and time again in his ministry and its what we are doing today as nearly 40 of us head to the Heritage Hotel after the service to enjoy an anniversary lunch. It’s even the United Reformed Church’s theme for all of this year– ‘Feasts and Festivals’ so as not all of us can make our celebration lunch and for even those who can, I was thinking – why wait – why not start the party – and the feasting now?! Does that sound okay to you? Over the next hour then, in our worship, we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of this church and giving thanks for the people who have led us to this place through the medium of food and drink. I hope you’re hungry! Already on your table are party rings which you’re very welcome to dig into now as we get this party started and as the service goes on, more food and drink will be added to our tables as we remember the people who have contributed to our story over the years.
The first person we give thanks for, who tells us something of our story, was celebrating with us last year – that person is Enyd Davies.
Most of us, of course, will remember Enyd but some will not because just as we say goodbye to pilgrim sisters and brothers along the way, we welcome new ones. In such a way our church family constantly changes. Enyd was a wonderful woman who was always there when cups needed washing or chairs needed moving, who offered quiet encouragement to others and gave so generously from her own pocket, always asking it to go without mention. Enyd was not a woman of many words – she didn’t rock the boat or hog the limelight but she was a gentle saint of the church who lived out the gospel, who incarnated the words of our own Saint David who is said to have told his followers to do the little things in God’s presence with conscientiousness and devotion.
Well, Enyd most certainly did that. As did many others of our fellow pilgrims who were a part of this community, or of our parent churches who are no longer with us. I could have picked a number of loved ones from this church who have departed but whose influence still lives on in this community today – whose faith and love still echo around this building. This anniversary Sunday we give thanks for their lives, for their gifts, for their love for without them, we would have no church to celebrate today. But how do we celebrate this in food form? Well, one of Enyd’s many jobs was working in a sweet factory…which seems a perfect excuse to me for us to tuck into some sweets! Coming to each table then is a bowl of sweets that you’re welcome to tuck into and that we’re going to pray with so once the bowls have been round to everyone, I invite you to pick out a sweet – or two…and when we’re all ready, to pop it into your mouth as we come before God in prayer…
The next person who tells us something of our story is this lady.
And as you ponder who this might be, I’ve asked one of the elders to read to us few lines from Paul’s letter to the Galatians…[with interruptions!]
26 All of you are God’s children because of your faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. 28 Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. 29 So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham’s family, and you will be given what God has promised. (Galatians 3:26-29)
So we are all children of God; we are all equally, extravagantly loved. It’s an encouraging, amazing statement, isn’t it? But not one that the church has always lived out. I wonder what you thought of my interruptions just now. Some of you laughed…perhaps because you thought what I was saying was just silly?! Yeah? Well in our traditions today, the idea that a woman couldn’t be a minister because she isn’t emotionally capable or because her voice just doesn’t carry can be laughed at…but these are just some of the things that were said in opposition to this woman being ordained.
This is Constance Coltman. And if Enyd represented the quiet saints who have played a part in our story, Constance represents the more noisey ones! Constance was an incredible woman. Brought up in the Presbyterian Church, she believed that God had called her to be a minister at a time when most Christians believed that women could not be ministers. Her own church, one of our foremothers, told her she couldn’t train for ministry but Constance believed that God, not the church, had final say so she petitioned another of our foremothers, the Congregational Union, in her quest to be ordained. She had to counter all the arguments against ordaining women and had to fight harder than any of her male contemporaries but, with the strength and grace of God, in 1917, Constance was ordained a minister of Mayfair Congregational Church, London. So as we celebrate our church anniversary, this year we also celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the first woman to be ordained into a Trinitarian church in the UK. “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other,” Paul said in the first century, “whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” It took us a few years to catch up!
So what might Constance’s ordination have to say to us on this anniversary Sunday? Well, firstly, the church does not always have it right! Just as many within the church were against and aghast at the ordination of women back in 1917, the church has, does and will continue to make mistakes – to preach when we should listen, give definite answers when we might offer insightful questions, protect human made traditions when we might seek divine guidance – for we are a human institution and must remember such. Just as we look back on the accepted Christian thinking that saw…and too often today still sees…women as ineligible for ordained ministry as misguided, our successors may well look at how we act and what we believe today with similar incredulity. I wonder what issues they might be…
And as we reflect on that and remain open to fresh promptings of the spirit, we might take inspiration from the ordination of Constance as a reminder that the church has – and must continue to be – a prophet for justice, equality and peace in the world. Remember, Constance was ordained – was respected and welcomed as a leader of the church – a leader over men – a year before some women got the vote…and eleven years before all women got the same voting rights as men in this country. Constance and the church into which she was ordained – were pioneers. And Constance’s fight for kingdom values didn’t end there. Throughout her life she worked with the poor, fought for equality and campaigned for peace. As we celebrate the anniversary of this church and the anniversary of the first female minister in the UK, we must remember our call for all of us to be preachers of good news to the poor, workers for the kingdom of justice and joy, prophets for equality, compassion and peace. Just like Constance Coltman and Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry and the countless examples of other Christian women and men throughout the years, we are called to be heroes of the gospel today. And so the next contribution to our tables is – quite rightly – a bowl of Heroes! Constance herself was said to be a big fan of chocolate; Cadburys were a company who demonstrated Christian values in their business; and heroes are what both you and I might be. So as the bowls are brought round, I encourage you to pick one out, unwrap it, put it in your mouth as we pause and pray…
Odd one out game – but first – What is the link?
Revd Stanley Kirk Burrell , Avenger Thor,
Timmy Mallett Martin Luther
Answer – HAMMER
More commonly known as MC Hammer used a hammer as a prop!
used a hammer as a prop! Hammered and essay on a door
The odd one out is Martin Luther.
In 1517, 500 years ago this year, the Church looked very different in all sorts of ways. Women weren’t allowed to be ministers, couldn’t read the Bible in your own language, you be killed for believing the wrong thing!
The Church believed in heaven and hell and a place in the middle called purgatory – for those going to heaven but who had to face up to the things that we’ve done wrong but you could buy out your sins by paying money to the priest. If you bought what was called an ‘indulgence’, the priest could forgive and wipe away some of your sins so that you got through purgatory more quickly. Well, Martin Luther wasn’t a big fan of this system – he didn’t see any evidence for it in the life of Jesus or The Bible at large so one day he went to his local church and nailed into the door 95 arguments against this system. And that’s where the Reformation – a time of big changes for the worldwide Church – began. Though the Reformation led to the further splitting of the Church, which is a very sad thing, many of the changes that came from it were good – such as the Bible being made more readily available and in different languages, and a greater emphasis on the grace of God – that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more; nothing we can do to make God love us less. Over the years the Church became more and more diverse and that’s where denominations like the Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and, in 1972, the United Reformed Church, came from.
So as we celebrate St David’s Uniting Church’s 15th anniversary, the 100th anniversary of the ordination of first female; we also celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the reformation which led to the founding of our parent churches. Perhaps this reminds us that our story isn’t just of one isolated church in South Wales, or the story of how 3 came together but that we’re part of the global church with sisters and brothers all over the world. Without a man hammering an essay onto a church door in Germany we might not be here today.
At the same time, it might remind us that God hasn’t – thank God – finished with the church yet. The church has been and will continue to be – constantly evolving for God is still speaking. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells his friends, “I have so much more to teach you but its more than you can bear right now.” God has more to reveal to us, the spirit will continue to shake us. Church today won’t be the same in 100, 50, even 15 years’ time…but that’s okay because God is with us. We might change how or where we worship, we might lose old customs or gain new ones, we might even see the closure of churches or denominations but…as those from the Porth and Glyncoch churches might testify…God is with us throughout. Church buildings might well shut but the community of God’s people will continue – sustained, enlivened, guided by the Spirit. We remind ourselves of that now as we sing a hymn that was sung at the very first service of St David’s Uniting Church…
How shall we celebrate the story of Luther then at our anniversary feast? Through pretzels, of course!
Martin Luther was a monk and it’s believed that monks invented pretzels over a thousand years ago. In some parts of Luther’s homeland, Germany, pretzels are still decorated and handed out on Easter day for their Christian symbolism – some believing the three holes represent the three members of the Trinity whilst others believe that it represents the way monks used to pray. Well, today, we’re going to use the pretzel as part of our prayers for our community and all of God’s creation. So I invite you to take a pretzel when they come round and to chew out as we pray…
Today we have remembered the people, the stories, the journeys which have led to the people of God worshipping in this place at St David’s Uniting Church. We have gone back a year and remembered Enyd, the quiet saint; we have celebrated the 100th year anniversary of the ordination of the first woman in the UK; we have gone back 500 years to mark the Spirit blowing through the Church during the Reformation and now we go back almost two thousand years to remember the cornerstone of the whole church – the man who taught us a new way of living; the God who revealed a scandalous love –Jesus the Christ.
As we celebrate the anniversary of this church, we remember that we are one branch of the true vine; that this community is a continuation of that first rag-tag group of tax collectors, outcast women and fishermen who were friends with the one who revealed God’s love for the whole cosmos. We remember that Jesus stilled storms and stirred up trouble; that he healed the sick and forgave sinners; that he lived a life of justice and grace and called us to do so too. We remember how he died on a cross, rose in a garden and spoke words of peace to his scared friends in a locked room. We remember that when he left them he promised that he would be with them – with us – until the end of the age. Christ is the head of this church and Christ is with us today – in the face of the stranger and the cwtch of a friend; in the laughter of family and the cry of those in need; in spirit, in bread and wine…and so we come to the last pieces of our anniversary feast as we hand out the bread and wine of God’s banquet.
Our tables – now full of party rings and sweets, pretzels, bread and wine might remind us that Jesus loved to eat and drink with all sorts of people and that for Jesus, the important thing isn’t what you are eating but who you are eating with. Today we eat and drink with one another – this weird and wonderful, broken but beautiful brood of prodigal sons and daughters that we call St David’s Uniting Church. We have become family here. So we give thanks that we are family – we celebrate that God delights in all of us as beloved children as we sing our Communion song…
Remembering Jesus’ meals – in houses with the forgotten; on plains with thousands; in an upper room with friends…
Celebration of Holy Communion
Today we have laughed and joked; we have eaten and drunk; we have celebrated and worshipped. God has blessed us abundantly over the last fifteen years. Where will we be in the next fifteen? Who knows! But wherever we are – as individuals and as a community – we will be with the God who comforts and challenges us, who guides, forgives and delights in us every step of the way…
God who sets us on a journey to discover, dream and grow,
lead us as you led your people in the desert long ago;
journey inward, journey outward,
stir the spirit, stretch the mind,
love for God and self and neighbour
marks the way that Christ defined.
We sing our final hymn of praise…