Tonight I believe a small village in Northamptonshire has provided a demonstration of unity that the wider Church could do well to learn from.
In Ringstead there has been a Shared Church of Baptists and Methodists for over 12 years with a formal sharing agreement, for many years before that there was a great deal of informal sharing.
Tonight we have taken the next step, it has taken 18 months of prayerful discussion and searching to get to this point. This step is complicated, in fact it consists of seven separate elements. The net result though is interesting, unique (we believe) and exciting for the future.
What we now have is a single church with an integrated membership. Legally it is Ringstead Baptist Church who are issuing a Declaration of Ecumenical Welcome. The Nene Valley Circuit are welcoming this and are supporting the Church in it’s ministry. In return the Church is providing financial support to the Circuit.
The net result is that as of tonight the Methodist Church in Ringstead has voted to close and Ringstead Baptist Church has welcomed 10 new members (all with dual membership).
For all our work in the Village we will continue to be known as Ringstead Shared Church (which accurately reflects who we are and how we work). As the Methodist Minister for this section of the circuit I will continue to be part of the ministry at Ringstead Shared Church including preaching, administering sacraments, pastoral care and involvement in the rest of the mission of the Church. I will also be an ex-officio member of the Church Meeting (as is the Circuit Superintendent).
This process has only happened because after so many years of sharing the Baptists and Methodists in Ringstead were united in wanting to move to being a single Church. We explored many ways this could happen and together created a solution that fits our situation. We believe that this structure is unique and yet hope and pray that others may find our journey and solution helpful to them.
We confidently expect that our "Declaration of Ecumenical Welcome" will be ratified by the Shire and Soak regional body of Churches Together in England at their meeting tomorrow. Ringstead will be the first "Declaration of Ecumenical Welcome" in this region and hope that others will soon follow.
For nearly 20 months I have been privileged to work with the congregation in Ringstead and with Rosemary, the Baptist Pastor, I am delighted that we will be able to continue working for the gospel together.
The Shared Church in Ringstead is a growing Church that is highly committed to reaching out in mission, these changes will free us to be more effective in our mission.
I have written before that unity is a costly but essential part of what it is to be Church. Ringstead is a superb example of the how unity can be developed and of the immense positive impact that unity has on the mission of the Church.
Through years of working together this Church has found that unity is costly. However, both Churches have learned to accept and rejoice in each others traditions, to move beyond past hurts through grace leading to reconciliation and to love and support each other.
During the meeting (although it was officially a business meeting it actually was for much of the time more like worship with prayer and testimony) we shared some of the stories of the past, of those who have brought us to this point. That included over 150 years of Methodism in Ringstead. So much to give thanks for.
Yet also so much to look forward to as we also spent time reviewing the events planned for the summer. Looks like it will be a good one.