It’s just after 9.00 am on the first Sunday of July and I’m standing in the car park of St Andrew’s Church. My destination however is the partner church in the linkage, Meadowside St Paul’s, for the 10.00 am service which I’m conducting. In the ten minutes it takes to walk from one to the other, I see scarcely another soul; even the buses look empty and there is virtually no other traffic. The peace and quiet is appealing and conducive to a bit of prayer and reflection: after all, this is my first Sunday as Interim Moderator and I’d like to make a good impression on both these congregations, all the more so as they will have had to turn up at a different time to worship: 10.00 am at Meadowside St Paul’s and 11.15 am at St Andrew’s.
This change from 11.00 am, for both partners, may be the first of a series, though God alone knows what the future holds. I see my position as an important one – holding these congregations in trust for the person who is called to lead them on a more lasting basis – while at the same time I’m of the school of thought which doesn’t like the term “vacancy” because it implies that when the minister leaves, the doors are closed and everything stops.
Anyone who knows anything about churches knows that this is rarely the case. I am looking forward to learning about all the things that happen in these congregations and parishes, some of them in an organised and official way, others unobtrusively as folk quietly carry out Jesus’ command to pray and to help those in need without a fanfare of trumpets.
These are early days for my ministry here, of course, and also for the linkage (formally recognised in a Presbytery service last September). Such arrangements are rarely reached quickly – and perhaps they shouldn’t be – but now that they are in place, there is room to look forward, to discover what is distinctive in each congregation and parish, what can be shared, what can be learned from each other and, last but not least, what might be achieved because we are stronger as two?
Some of my friends were unsure of the location of these two churches to which I’m now committed, and I have found myself saying, “Meadowside St Paul’s is opposite the Overgate and St Andrew’s is next to the Wellgate.” In other words, each is close to one of the city’s two shopping malls.
When I leave Meadowside St Paul’s to retrace my steps to St Andrew’s for their service, the shoppers have indeed arrived. There are people waiting at bus stops, sitting in cafes, going in and out of the shops, or simply enjoying this unseasonably warm summer. The gushing water of the fountain in City Square is no longer audible above the hubbub of passers-by.
I look forward to hearing it again next Sunday morning, and to all that, together, these congregations and I might achieve as we wait in hope – but not idly – for a new minister to discover her or his calling to this city centre charge.