A Christmas message from the Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, United Reformed Church General Assembly Moderator 2023-2024:
As we prepare for Christmas and end of year celebrations, I take this opportunity to wish you and your families a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.
As the year draws to a close, I take this time to share a few moments from the first part of my moderatorial year – July to December 2023.
This has been an interesting time full of opportunities to share worship, learn new things and meet new people in the context of the URC – at home and internationally.
It has been a year of highlights which have given me many instances to make an impact on both the denomination and the wider world, in small ways.
Some of the many special moments of 2023 include:
- A wonderful visit to St Andrew’s Brockley, a congregation that is dear to my heart on many levels. It was good to see familiar faces and meet new people. I particularly enjoyed the after-service lunch get-together and felt such a warm camaraderie with those who attended and a sense of belonging in that congregation.
- The induction of the Revd Kim Plumpton, Moderator of Northern Synod. This was my first opportunity to induct a moderator and I was pleased to welcome Kim who has been a stalwart in the URC and well-deserving of this position. The event was well attended, and I was able to meet and chat with people from across two Synods as neighbouring Synods were also represented. I am always appreciative of those wonderful moments to connect with others across the URC and share updates.
- A visit to Northallerton URC – what a greeting of welcome and community that was extended to me! After the service, I was taken out to explore the congregation’s impressive secret garden, which is an outstanding and very successful community project that is well-used and greatly appreciated by members of the community. It is such a wonderful initiative and I encouraged them to let the URC Communications Team know about it and how much it has impacted the community. I was then whisked off to the home of one of the Elders for a beautiful lunch which was graciously put on for me by the Elders. It was a special occasion for us to make lasting memories.
- Trip to Germany to attend the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe Assembly of Synods. This was an informative, community-building, information-sharing gathering of leaders from across the Reformed churches in Europe. A mix of serious and social, this trip served to open us up to speak on challenging and aspirational issues, break bread together, and enjoy each other’s company.
- An ecumenical study tour to Poland with senior Christian leaders. This stimulating trip was important on many levels – social, theological, pastoral and personal – to commune with others from a variety of Christian denominations in the UK and Polish facilitators of Jewish and other faiths. On the trip we visited cultural sites to set about developing meaningful ways to work out our understandings of the devastation of Krakow, Warsaw and Auschwitz mindful that this must never happen again. I am still reflecting deeply on the contents of this tour.
- Remembrance Day Sunday Service – a poignant event to remember all those who fought and died for peace and freedom. It was also a personal moment for me to reflect on those men and women from my own country – and other Commonwealth countries – who were part of the armed forces during First World War and the ultimate sacrifice they made. I also grieved for those living through conflicts around the world that have caused untold loss of life and prayed that peace would prevail.
- My ongoing academic work, even in this time, still affords me opportunities to preach, teach and interact with ordinands, faculty and staff at Westminster College. This also keeps me on a continuum of learning and growing that I bring to the many positions I inhabit.
The above is in addition to my ongoing pastorate work with my congregations. At this point, I must say a hearty thank you to my pastorate – Trinity Walthamstow URC, Wanstead URC, Gants Hill URC and Grade Park URC – which has, so far, been extremely patient with me as I journey through this fast-moving schedule in my role and responsibilities to make this an impactful year.
During this Christmas season, and as we approach the New Year, I thank the United Reformed Church for the opportunities that have been afforded me to share with others the spirit of grace and welcome and to remind ourselves of our humanity as we have been called to do.
Most of all, I give thanks to the Triune God who makes the work of my vocation possible.