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Welcome to the West Midlands Synod Newsletter
December 2020

A Christmas Message from the Revd Steve Faber

A Christmas to remember?

 
My first grandchild was born in September.  Although she only lives 10 minutes away from me, I’ve yet to be able to hold her.  I know a great many of us will have similar stories to tell.  Grandchildren, nephews and nieces, aging parents, lonely and isolated friends: a raft of people with whom we would long to share safe physical contact, whether that’s a huge hug or the reassuring touch on their hand or arm to let them know that they are not alone.  I, at least, am able to know that this will be quite some story to tell my granddaughter when she is older, but for some people at the other end of life we may never get to reminisce with them after this is all over.
It really has been – and I use the term advisedly – one hell of a year for so many.
I hope that by now you are waiting for the, “And yet…”  Well, here is comes!  Throughout this, God has not abandoned us.  Yes, I know many have experienced isolation, desolation even.  But God has been with us, constant and faithful.
How can I be so confident that this is the case, even if God has not been obvious in our life, and in the world as so many millions have been ill and countless families have been plunged into grief because of Covid-19?  It is because at the beginning and the end of it all, we have God’s promises.
Jesus came into the world as, “Immanuel” – God with us.  He ascended to heaven with the promise, “Surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  These are words that merit full acceptance, to borrow from 1 Timothy and the assurance of pardon in our service book.
In a world that has been violently unpredictable during 2020, with everything from wildfire to flood, drought, and an as-yet-unresolved Presidential election (will he finally concede defeat when the College of Electors meet in December?) besides the global pandemic and all that has brought us: surely we will be glad to see the back of it and pray that 2021 brings better news.
But hold fast.  We already have the best news of all: a baby born in Bethlehem, our true Hope, the True Light, the Saviour of the World.  I cannot see that we will have church worship the way we know it and want it for Christmas but there is still so much for which we can thank and praise God.
My prayer for you is that you know the closeness of God in your lives this Christmas and always, and for the help of the Holy Spirit to share Christ’s light in the world.
Steve Faber
Synod Moderator
From Synod Finance Officer - Mervyn Davies

M&M Support
In March of this year when the lock down was announced we wanted to reassure churches that we aware of the financial pressure that some churches are under and would be offering some targeted support. For many churches Synod paid half of the M&M for the months April to September, after which we took the decision to ask churches, some of which had partially reopened to services and room hire, to return to their previous level of monthly M&M.
When the second National lockdown was announced we once again gave consideration to whether we should once again offer support to churches and immediately set to work. We have drawn up a plan which was agreed by the Resources and Compliance Committee on 17 November but it needs to be confirmed by Trust Board which meets on 28 November. It would be inappropriate to prematurely make an announcement of the details. However, we can say that the support will be slightly more focussed and will be in respect of both November and December but with no commitment for future months. The support will be paid directly to churches before the December M&M payment rather than adjusting the Direct Debit as earlier in the year.
Mervyn Davies & Steve Powell
 
Mission Fund
Throughout 2020 the Mission Fund has continued to meet and consider grant applications. The scope of grants has been extended to include assistance with churches operating digitally and 10 grants have been awarded of between £1,000 and £4,250. We are still offering one off grants of up to 100% capped at £1000 for small projects, perhaps for an idea to be tested or to extend the scope of an existing project bigger. For larger projects we currently offer 50% funding and will ask more information. Forms are available from the Synod website or from the Synod Office. But if you would like to just talk about an idea or need advice on how to apply please contact Mervyn Davies (financeofficer@urcwestmidlands.org.uk).
 
Building Grants and Listed Places of Worship Scheme
You should all beware that the Synod offers grants for work on church buildings at a rate of up to 25% and such grants being capped at £30,000. If you wish to apply please do so in good time for meetings that take place in January, June, September and November as we do not award grants retrospectively, although we are able to consider applications for urgent work, which could not have been foreseen, between meetings.
It also seems an appropriate time to remind any of our listed churches that the Listed places of worship Scheme that rebates VAT on certain work comes to an end on 31 March 2021. If you are considering some work it might be worth seeing if any of this work might benefit from the scheme.
If you would like to discuss either of these matters please contact the Synod Office.
   
Mervyn Davies
Risk Assessments
All Elders’ Meetings (and equivalent councils) are asked to regularly revisit the Risk Assessments in general, and specifically in relation to Coronavirus.  The requirements for maintaining a “Covid-Secure” building have not altered, but it is vital that you continue to maintain that status, otherwise you risk invalidating your insurance and breaching Health & Safety Law.  You are reminded that it is not sufficient merely to produce a Risk Assessment document – you MUST also take the steps to lower or mitigate the risks that you identify.  In other words, you must actually put into practice what you have said you will do to make your buildings as safe as you can.
 
As we come out of the second lockdown, a majority of our churches will be in Tier 3, with the rest in Tier 2.  Even under Tier 3, places of worship MAY re-open.  That does not necessarily mean that you SHOULD, and certainly not that you MUST.  The Elders, as “Venue Managers” have to evaluate the local risks, include local infection rates, and the vulnerability of the congregation alongside how effective you believe your risk mitigations are.  If you have used the URC Risk Assessment template and identified any risks after mitigation as being “Unacceptable” or “Catastrophic” (a Risk Score as 9 or higher in the URC template), then you MUST NOT carry that activity out until you have further reduced the risk.  That might mean closing the building altogether, or stopping certain activities.
 
Finally, you are reminded that you MUST send a copy of your completed Risk Assessment to the Synod Office BEFORE you re-open for the FIRST time since March 2020.  If you have previously sent your document in, or if you are just updating your Risk Assessment you do NOT need to send the updated version in – it is only prior to the first time that you re-open that we need evidence that you have given attention to the Risk Assessment process.  You must comply with this, even if your building is held on Trust by another denomination – LEPs should follow the Risk Assessment process for the denomination that holds in trust the buildings, using whatever template they have provided/required.
Steve Faber
Notes from Mission Council
 
Assembly’s Mission Council met online on November 20-21.  Representing the West Midlands were the Moderator, Richard Lockley (Synod Clerk), and Revds Shirley Miller and Elaine Hutchinson.  Assembly Moderators the Revd Clare Downing and Peter Pay took it in turns to chair the business sessions.
After the opening worship an emergency resolution was brought by Steve Faber, seconded by Deputy General Secretary Francis Brienen.
Mission Council is concerned by reports this week that the government is preparing to break its manifesto pledge and abandon Britain’s long-standing commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on international development;
believes that a commitment to the poorest in the world should not be an optional extra but at the heart of our country’s responsibilities, especially in the context of a global pandemic and a climate emergency;
instructs the Moderators of General Assembly to make these concerns known to government in the strongest possible terms and encourages people and local churches to contact their MPs about this important issue.

This was passed unanimously, and the Assembly Moderators have written as instructed.  This report is written a few hours before the Chancellor announces his spending plans, but media reports suggest that our campaign, shared by a great many other church leaders and politicians, will not be followed. 
 
As of Wednesday 25th November, the Chancellor has confirmed that he will go ahead with cutting the rate to 0.5%, but intends this to be a temporary measure.


We took a large number of resolutions “en bloc” – voted upon together and without presentation or discussion.  This does not mean they are any less important.  Of particular note is the Children and Youth Work Committee’s resolution encouraging every church to form a policy to support infant feeding on church premises; a new Green Charter for the way in which the Education and Learning Committee will carry out their business and revised Guidelines on conduct and behaviour that apply to all Ministers of Word and Sacraments, Church Related Community Workers and Elders.  I do encourage you to look at each of these documents and take appropriate action for your local setting.
Mission Council approved the 2021 budget with a planned deficit of almost £380,000.  Clearly that level of shortfall is not sustainable in the long-term, and it does underline how much the church relies on your regular giving and support of the Ministry & Mission Fund.  Recognising the financial challenges we all face this year, and the predicted drop in income to M&M, Ministers and lay staff paid by the M&M Fund will not receive a stipend/salary increase in 2021.
Conversations are underway about the 50th anniversary of the United Reformed Church’s formation in 2022, and we spent some time in small groups discussing some appropriate ways to mark this in appropriate ways.  A Task Group are taking those suggestions forwards.
Work continues to make our churches a safe place for all.  A new Safeguarding Training Framework was discussed at length but in light of a number of constructive comments it was agreed that the Safeguarding team in Church House should make some further revisions.  Nevertheless, Safeguarding training is available and once the revised training framework has been approved it will be mandatory for a wide section of people across the URC – see Appendix 1 of the paper to get an idea of who will be required to undertake training and at what level.  One significant amendment that has already been agreed is that it won’t necessarily be every serving Elder who needs to complete the intermediate and advanced levels, but at least one Elder in every church will have to.  The more who do undertake training, the better the culture of safeguarding will be embedded in our churches and the safer places they will become.  The training is available now and there is no reason not to get on with it.  Please contact our Synod safeguarding Officer Donna Gordon at safeguarding@urcwestmidlands.org.uk or via the Synod Office to find out more.
One final matter of this report.  The United Reformed Church has committed itself to being an actively anti-racist church.  Details are in the paper presented but some small amendments to the resolution were accepted so that the policy is now:
Mission Council resolves:
(i) Acting on behalf of General Assembly, to commit the United Reformed Church to a journey towards being an anti-racist Church, identifying barriers within all parts of its life - including local, synod and Assembly structures, leadership and processes, and initiating strategies to combat racism within its own body and in the wider community/society.
(ii) To instruct the mission committee to explore and develop initiatives to address the barriers within our structures, theology and relationships, and to develop resources to equip and empower the United Reformed Church to begin the process of education and change in all parts of its life.
(iii) To instruct the mission committee to report on progress to the March 2021 meeting of Mission Council, and to future meetings of Mission Council and General Assembly, including any specific objectives identified.

Racist attitudes and actions have no place in life, and most certainly not in a Christian Church.  We will not excuse someone, “just because that’s the way Fred/Freda is and s/he doesn’t mean any harm.”  You will, of course, hear more about this in due course, but it behoves us all to examine ourselves and correct errors we find in ourselves, and not let racism, “casual” or otherwise, go unchallenged in our churches
Steve Faber
Synod Moderator
Modern Day Slavery
Synod Mission Council has appointed a small group to facilitate our response to Modern Day Slavery. This will include drawing up a Synod Policy on the matter.
 
To help with this, we would like to know if any churches/church members have experience with people who have been trafficked or become embroiled in modern day slavery in any way.   Is this an issue in your local area?  Can you offer any experience or guidance?
 
If so please get in touch with evangelist@urcwestmidlands.org.uk or the Synod Office.

 
From the Synod Training and Development Officer
- Stuart Scott

 
This is George Herbert’s poem, “Prayer”:
 
Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
 
Writing in the most recent “Sheldon news”, Andrew Godsall, a member of the community  https://www.sheldon.uk.com/belong/community refers to playing the drums as a description of his personality: he prefers “sitting at the back in the shadows and keeping the rhythm tight to standing out in front and shining under the spotlight”. He takes the analogy further: “At Sheldon” he writes “we might stop to pray at 8 and 5 each day. But all the rest of the time is prayer as well. The rhythm of our day is a busy and sometimes complicated rhythm. There can be profound as well as mundane things to do. But all of it is prayerful. Prayer, like playing the drums, helps us keep the rhythm tight”.
 
In these unusual times, and perhaps particularly in this season of Advent preparation, we need to give time and attention to ensuring that the rhythm of our faith and life is held tight. In our own contexts as individuals and churches, we need to continue to be constant in prayer (Romans 12.12) for ourselves, for our families, friends, neighbours, colleagues, communities, for our churches, for our nation, for our world.
 
Sheldon provides a variety of specialist resources for people in ministry under the strapline “heart and soul for ministry”. As well as the hospitality offered by the community at the centre in Devon https://www.sheldon.uk.com/visit the online Sheldon hub https://www.sheldonhub.org/ is a “safe place for people in ministry  to meet, share and support each other”.
 
Through the lockdown the site has featured a series of interviews with Carla Grosch-Miller, in which she discusses how the Coronavirus has affected those in ministry. Some of this material was shared at the Synod ministers online gathering in June. The first interview is on public access https://www.sheldonhub.org/resources/5089i. Three further videos are available currently, but membership free to all in ministry, is needed to access all of them. The most recent interview was in September.
 
Stuart P. Scott
tdo@urcwestmidlands.org.uk
 
Dates for the diary
In the moment
This online Mindfulness session will be led by Jan Scott from 10.00 to 12.00 on Saturday 5th December. Details are on the flyer that will follow in a separate mailing to ministers. Please book with Jan by 12 noon on 1st December (jan.scott@live.co.uk)

Church Secretaries
The invitation to the Open Forum was recently circulated to Church Secretaries. It takes place on Zoom on Wednesday 9th December from 7.30 pm and will be hosted by Stuart Scott, Synod Training and Development Officer. Steve Faber, Synod Moderator, will be present both to initiate discussion and to respond.
 
Please contact Stuart Scott (tdo@urcwestmidlands.org.uk) before Monday 7th December with matters that you wish to raise for discussion in the Forum. If you wish to attend, please contact Charlotte Butler in the Synod Office (admin@urcwestmidlands.org.uk) as soon as possible and before 12pm on 9th December. The zoom link will be sent out in due course.
 

Elders training
United Reformed Church resources for elders training are currently being revised. When the revised resources are to hand, I will be in touch with details of sessions.
 

Digital Communication
The recent session led by Ali Johnson was recorded. The recording is available here https://www.dropbox.com/s/hyvx4ie2vh2vy1a/GMT20201120-101210_Digital-Co_1618x878.mp4?dl=0
 

Lay Preachers
A reminder of the dates for the Meet and Share sessions – you are welcome
either 19.00 - 20.30 on Monday 7th December
or 10.30 -12.00 on Thursday 10th December.
The zoom link will be sent to all Assembly Accredited and Synod Recognised Lay Preachers but please contact the Synod Office admin@urcwestmidlands.org.uk if you are likely to attend and Stuart Scott tdo@urcwestmidlands.org.uk with issues, concerns or news you would like to share or for further information. Steve Faber, Moderator of the West Midlands Synod, is expecting to be present at both sessions.
 

Zoom
If you are interested in finding out more about how to use Zoom, please indicate your interest by emailing tdo@urcwestmidlands.org.uk as soon as possible. Two independent sessions are envisaged – a basic introduction “Zoom for non-Zoomers” and a session for those who want to go further in exploring the options the platform offers for those hosting meetings on Zoom.
  

Enquirers Events 2021
Opportunities to explore vocation and forms of ministry and service in the United Reformed Church, these will take place online on Saturday 27th February and Saturday 2nd October with an invitation to visit a college afterwards for more information, if desired.
  

Ministers, CRCWs and Elders in Local Leadership
EM3 Funding and Annual Leave
I hope by the time you read this you will have received the good news of increased EM3 funding and an extra week’s leave next year. If you would like to discuss how you might use the extra EM3 funding, contact me.
 

Open Forum
“All I want for Christmas is…” an opportunity for ministers, CRCWs and Elders in Local Leadership to share and discuss, support and encourage one another. This will take place online from 10am to 12pm on Monday 7th December
An opportunity to reflect on the experience of the pandemic with the Tragedy and Congregations team https://tragedyandcongregations.org.uk/ is also being explored.
 

Faith and Science for the Local Church
8th-9th January 2021 with the Faraday Institute https://www.faraday.cam.ac.uk/ Details are in the flyer that will follow. Financial assistance is available – contact me for the form.
 

Quiet Day
This has been rescheduled to take place at Woodbrooke, Selly Oak on
Wednesday 3rd March 2021
 

Summer School 2021
The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick is being booked for next year’s Summer School from 14th-17th June and a booking form will follow. Please book as soon as you are able.
The overall theme will be “Creation and creativity” and a number of contributors have been invited to help us explore the theme. At this point, in the light of the continuing unknowns in relation to restrictions arsing from the Coronavirus pandemic, the programme is in outline. There will be more details to follow in due course, and it also intended to include some flexibility, opportunity for rest and renewal, and an opportunity to share and reflect on the experience of the pandemic.
 

Resources
Stepwise
https://youtu.be/UGMoByaiMUs is the link to the new video, promoting the courses
 

Go Chatter
Launched in October 2016, Go Chatter is a hub website https://gochattervideos.com/ that contains catalogued and searchable Christian videos. The site gives a short description for each video and many have accompanying discussion questions. 
 
From the Synod Evangelist - Nick Stanyon
We have just completed the first synod organised online Alpha course on line with participants from Rugby, Coventry, Lichfield, and Ashton-under-Lyne. 
The good news is that Nick is willing to lead another one in the New Year – probably beginning in February.  If you are interested, please contact evangelist@urcwestmidlands.org.uk
The Wellbeing Journey is a new series to help churches and communities address the challenges of our times. Following the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, local churches are in a unique place to lead communities on this holistic journey to physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. 

HOPE Together and KingsGate Church, Peterborough, are working to develop a video journey drawing on Kingsgate’s Wellbeing sermon series and a new book by their lead pastor Dr Dave Smith, published by Waverley Abbey. The videos will be presented by Simon Thomas (ex Sky Sports/ Blue Peter) and Joanna Abeyinka (CBeebies), with contributions from leading experts in different fields.  https://wellbeingjourney.org

A Christ-mess Story
Bible Society have published an excellent resource, by Dai Wooldridge. It comes as a book you can give away, a free Spoken Truth video and a sermon guide.   https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/explore-the-bible/spoken-truth/mess/
 
Carols on your Doorstep
3 ways to do the same thing:

Doorstep carols in conjunction with BBC Radio Shropshire.  
Wednesday, December 16th, 6pm    https://www.doorstepcarols.co.uk/


Carols on the doorstep in conjunction with Premier Radio. 
Sunday, December 20th, 5.30pm (15mins)  http://www.newcastlemethodistdistrict.org/carols-on-the-doorstep/
 
Doorstep Carols  with downloadable music
Monday, December 21st, 8pm.   Churches Together in North Birmingham  https://www.doorstepcarols.com/
Carol sheets and posters etc are downloadable from the various websites.
Richard Knott - CYDO
To access Richard's newsletter please click here:
Pastoral News 
It is with sadness that we announce the death of retired minister Ruth Hendry.  Ruth served in the Birmingham District.  She died on 19th November 2020.
Contacting the Synod Office
Owing to the current government recommendation to avoid office working where possible, the West Midlands Synod Office is presently closed. All members of staff continue to work from home: please email them in the usual way. The office number 0121 783 1177 is monitored from Monday to Thursday, 9.00am-5.00pm and calls will be forwarded as necessary.
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United Reformed Church (West Midlands) Trust Ltd · Synod Office, Digbeth-in-the-Field URC · Moat Lane, Yardley · Birmingham, West Midlands B26 1TW · United Kingdom

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