URC Daily Devotion 11th May 2019

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.  So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.
As a youngster I explored a vocation to be a Catholic priest.  My bishop said men in his diocese didn’t have a vocation until he said they did!  Even though my sense of call has been somewhat refined over the years I felt the bishop understood something – one’s sense of call is tested and discerned by the Church.  Each denomination does this in various ways – most often through assessment conferences where teams of people look at candidates’ written and verbal submissions, psychological profiles, and the way they work with others.  This enables a decision to be formed about whether candidates have the potential to be trained for lifelong ministry.

In the URC we test and discern through the Councils of the Church for any type of ordered ministry – the Elders’ and Church Meeting will test and discern a sense of Call to be an Elder and those who wish to explore training for the ordered ministry find their call is further tested through the Synod and through the selection process of General Assembly – the final sense of discernment coming with an initial call to serve a congregation.  Sometimes we can criticise ourselves for the length of time our discernment processes take but we have something valuable which is very much embedded in the practice of the early Church.

Paul’s successful missionary work amongst gentiles meant they were becoming Christian without first becoming Jewish – challenging the Church’s self definition; was it a Jewish sect or something more?  Paul, being something of a loose cannon, pushed ahead with his Gentile mission whilst others were more cautious. There was no established decision making process and so it was decided to hold a Council in Jerusalem to iron out the issues – with the result that the Gentile mission continued.

Conciliar government may be a time consuming and cumbersome process but is a rather better way of discerning together than my old bishop doing it by himself.

O God,
you call all people to yourself,
and are heard in myriad ways,
help us to trust in you
as we discern together,
to have confidence
that you speak to us through our Councils,
that we discern and test
so that your mission to our world
is strengthened. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister in the Southside Cluster in Scotland working with Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 10th May 2019

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
In preparing this devotion I refreshed my memory around some of the descriptions in the New Testament about how the early Church was organised.  There is plenty about relationships within the community, and about how the early Christians were expected to behave, but relatively little about how it might be led.  Peter clearly has a leading role in the opening chapter of Acts, but as the Church grew it must have developed new models of leadership with some being called to lead, not just follow.  These verses from 1 Timothy (which probably wasn’t written by Paul) set out some of the qualities that such people should have – though, depressingly, the prominent role of women in the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament seems to have been airbrushed out.

These verses refer to Bishops (or ‘overseers’ in some translations) and Deacons (or ‘servants’). Frustratingly, there are no job descriptions attached for us to check whether the duties the URC Manual assigns to Elders are aligned to either role!  But most of the characteristics seem to work well for us.

Having been a serving Elder for the last 18 years, I am struck by the contrasts with leadership roles in my life as  a civil servant; there is more listening in being an Elder, for example – listening for God, listening to each other, listening to the wider congregation.  Unlike a leadership position at work, being an Elder isn’t a promotion, it is simply another form of service. And unlike any promotion exercise I’ve ever run, potential candidates tend to reflect long and hard before allowing their names to go forward!

Let us pray for those we call to be Elders that they may feel able to accept this call to serve God and their local churches in this ministry.

We give thanks for our Elders;
faithful women and men
who answer the call to serve.
May they be kind
and constructive in challenge;
concerned and supportive in care;
bold and inventive in mission.
We pray that they may know
the value of their service,
feel able to lay their responsibilities down at the right time,
and unlock the gifts and service of others,
so that together we may build the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Today’s Writer

Gordon Woods is an Elder of St. Columba’s URC, Oxford.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 9th May 2019

Supporting the local church

‘Some are called to the Ministry of Word and Sacraments’ and some to ‘the ministry of church related community work’. So says the URC’s Basis of Union (paras 21 and 22). The first of those roles helps the local church to shape its worship, its pastoral life and its outreach. The second role enables congregation and local community to work together for justice and the common good.

Phoebe might have done well in either of those roles. She had a key position in the local church as a ‘deacon’. That word suggests both humble service – someone who’s not afraid to roll their sleeves up – and also a position of trust and respect.

She appears to have been the carrier of the Letter to the Romans. So she might have been asked to talk about its message with Christians who received it. ‘What’s Paul getting at? Does he tell other churches about these things? What difference have these ideas made to your life?’ I wonder if Phoebe was an off-the-cuff theologian, who could talk with others about God in unrehearsed yet serious and searching ways. That’s quite a gift, but we continue to need people who can do it well.

She was generous too, as a ‘benefactor’. Phoebe found ways of supporting others, and providing for them, whether with her goods or with her deeds. She may have been one of those early Christians who opened their home for the church to meet, who shared food with those who had too little, who noticed the sick and struggling.

Phoebe could navigate the complex waters of human relationships and leave other people feeling encouraged and helped. She had the confidence of church members at Cenchreae (a port in Greece). She had the nerve to travel and connect with a different set of people in a new place. As she went, she carried a message, to make people think deeply and help them to trust in Jesus. I thank God for Phoebe – and for you, if you do any of these things today.

URC Daily Devotion 8th May 2019

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ And he said, ‘Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.”

The call of Isaiah is a favourite of many of those who recognise that they are called by God to service in any capacity. In the context of wonderful, pivot-shaking worship in the Temple, the Lord himself appears and asks ‘Who will go for us?’. Often we end our reading with Isaiah’s response “Here am I, send me”.

The word “I” appears, meaning Isaiah, eight times in this passage and it is easy to be blinded by this personal account into thinking that any call from God is all about ‘me’. “Here am I. Send me.” It could be all about ‘me’.

But in fact the really amazing parts of this account are all about God – his robe, his seraphs, his glory. Only once God has got the attention of Isaiah is he able to cleanse and commission him. And then the work of ministry begins – to go to the people and tell them the message God is giving them. It’s a rather odd message, that points to the destruction of the land and the punishment of the people. Only after all that will there be a time of hope. Yet however discouraging at first sight, this is God’s message to God’s people voiced by God’s prophet.

A Methodist colleague of mine is very fond of asking the question, ‘For whose benefit is this ministry?’  If when we are considering the purpose of our lives we cannot truly answer ‘For the service of God and the benefit of God’s people’ then perhaps we need to read the sixth chapter of Isaiah again – and get past the part which is all about ‘me’.

Dearest Lord,
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing Your Will.

St Ignatius Loyola

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead is currently serving as South Western Synod Moderator.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 7th May 2019

It’s odd, isn’t it? The Lord didn’t appoint seventy rabbis and send them to synagogues. No, he appointed ‘others’ and sent them to every town and place where he himself intended to go. It’s almost as though he knew that there were people living their lives, getting on with day-to-day things, that needed ministering to. Of course, He didn’t explicitly say DON’T go to the synagogues, and I’m sure that was often their first port of call, but also the workplaces, homes, shops, street corners. He didn’t ask His disciples to limit their ministry to designated places of worship, He asked them to go to where people were.

I wonder how those seventy felt as they got to their town or place? Nervous? Excited? Scared? They weren’t lone operators, they had someone else on their team but, still…sent out into the world. What was their mission? Was it entirely practical – you know: arrange accommodation, maybe put up a few posters? Or was it about beginning ministry, doing the groundwork, sharing the Gospel?

Did He send out complementary teams? A great preacher with a healer? A fantastic teacher working alongside a miracle worker? A wise old head with an energetic young firebrand?

Or did He just pair folk up randomly and ask them to use whatever skills they had to do the best they could in meeting the needs they found in the places they went to?
It’s almost as though Jesus trusted them. Just like He trusts us. To make a positive difference in whatever way they could, in whatever way we can, to people that were there. To people that are here. Wherever that may be. Not just in our churches.

URC Daily Devotion 6th May 2019 Vocations 1

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
For many years, people have argued about the wearing of school uniform, and one of the most potent arguments in favour is the fact that school uniforms cause all children to appear equal.

Paul begins this chapter of his letter by rebuking the Galatian church, but ends, as so often happens, with some good news – we are now one in Christ Jesus.  One of the major causes of this is Baptism, something which hopefully links us all. Even a denomination such as ours, with strands coming from various traditions, contains a dispersed leadership often with confusing titles, but we are all one. We all believe the same thing, and we all are one in Christ.  The Sacrament of Baptism has given us a uniform, which despite our differences in background, upbringing, and race, make us equal, not only sharing the joy of that equality, but making us as one with the persecuted Church.

I remember many years ago having access to a dressing up box at school. I found a jumper I liked, and wore it constantly for a few weeks. The fact that it was far too large for me and I kept tripping over didn’t matter.

The miracle of our baptism is that Jesus gives us a uniform that is neither too big nor too small. His intention is not to trip us up, nor indeed, to restrict our movement. It is something we should wear with pride, not only among our Christian friends, but among those who aren’t yet believers.

Father God, help us to wear our uniform with pride. You have made it to fit each and all of us, and as we go about our daily business, teach us to use what we’ve been given through Baptism for the benefit of our church, and indeed, all people with who we come into contact. Amen.

Today’s Writer

David Reynolds is a serving Elder at Cores End URC in Buckinghamshire.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved


Dear <<First Name>>

In the URC we observe Vocations Sunday on the 4th Sunday of Easter – this year that falls on next Sunday, 12th May.  In order to help us reflect on this we have prepared 7 devotions on the broad theme of vocations – recognising we are all called.

One of our new writers, David Reynolds who serves as an Elder at Corrs End in Buckinghamshire, reflects on baptism as the starting point for all Christians.  Leo Roberts, the Children and Youth Development Officer for our North Western Synod reflects on our call to serve in the world whilst the Moderator of the South Western Synod, Ruth Whitehead, reflects on servanthood – as our basic approach in the world.  Some are called to specific tasks of leadership and John Proctor, our General Secretary, reflects on this whilst Gordon Woods, an Elder at St Columba’s in Oxford, reflects on Eldership, I reflect on the conciliar decision making process that is used, particularly, in the calling of ministers and CRCWs.  Susan Durber, Minister of Taunton URC and Convenor of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Committee, helps us reflect on the sense that we all have multiple vocations. Finally, John Ellis, an Elder and former Moderator of General Assembly, reflects on the universal theme that time, and roles, come to an end.  
We hope that these reflections help you focus on your calling – maybe you are exploring a call to join a church, become an Elder or candidate for ministry; maybe you are already in a role and wonder about about how it may develop or if it’s time to let it go – and we hope that you pray that all of us discern and follow the callings we have.  

with every good wish


Andy Braunston
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project


URC Daily Devotion 4th May 2019

They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’  And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them. ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’  Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.  So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.  Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly,  like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’ Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called.  And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Passages like this make us uncomfortable with this emphasis on signs of the end of time.  The types of Christians who focus on passages like this also make us uncomfortable with an emphasis on redemption coming after suffering.  We might just cope with readings like these in Advent when we try and think about the Second Coming but it is a topic we like to push out of our heads.

The Early Church didn’t have that luxury.  They lived with persecution in a hostile culture.  The peace of Rome was really military oppression – as the Jewish people found out when Jerusalem (was) surrounded by armies and then they knew that its desolation had come near.    In this, the Early Church looked to Jesus for their hope, believing he’d come again and set all things right.

We still live with wars – not rumours of them as our 24/7 news cycle mean we don’t rely on rumours but on striking images of devastation from around the world.  We still live with persecution – not in the West where the worse that happens to the Church is a pernicious indifference – but in Asia one in three Christians experience persecution.  

I hope those who are persecuted now find hope in Jesus’ promise to be with them, to help them witness and the promise they will not perish but gain their souls.  I hope passages like this make us work harder for political change in our world where no one is persecuted for what they believe, how they live, or who they love.

O God,
whose words do not pass away,
but give life and endurance,
free us from the traps of life,
help us to see what passes in our society
and give us the grace to change the world,
through Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a Minister in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster serving Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 3rd May 2019

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury;  he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;  for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,  ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
Almost as a tag on line to this intriguing story, Jesus mentions the unimaginable; one day, the Temple – the permanent and literal house of God will be no more. The beautiful work of artisans, the innumerable sacrifices and dedications to God, the holy atmosphere, the historical community focal point, God’s presence, all gone. It’s an unthinkable situation.
What would the destruction of the Temple have meant to the woman who gave all that she had to the collection box? Deep sorrow and loss? Bitterness? Relief? Freedom?
We don’t know why the woman put in all that she had. Was it because: she loved God;  she loved the Temple; she was able to place her well being in God’s hands; or because, whilst being watched by those with plenty, she felt ashamed not to?
Can you imagine a time when your church is no more? For many out there this will already be a painful reality, or one close enough to touch. What does church mean for you? Is God’s presence limited to those 4 walls, the beauty in the building, that group of people, the rituals you share together, the weekly meetings and activities, the history of prayers made in that space?
In this story we see the frailty of our need for religious security. Whatever reason the woman gave all that she had to the Temple, the resulting vulnerability surely meant that her very life was in God’s hands; perhaps, in her poverty, she already knew strength in that reality. Perhaps the destruction of the Temple would be easier for her to comprehend than for those who measured their very worth by their relation to it.
The Temple was eventually destroyed, but around about the same time, word of God’s love in Jesus was spreading to the ends of the earth. God goes before us, each day, into every place. Go out and seek God, seek resurrection in the darkest of places – and maybe even in the Church.
Omnipotent God,
was the woman in this story,
brave, or foolish, or faithful
when she gave all that she had
to the Temple?
God can you make me all three for you?
Brave enough
to let go of those physical things I cling to,
foolish enough
to trust your strength in my vulnerability
faithful enough
to work out your love in all that I do,

Today’s Writer

Liz Kam, Church Related Community Worker, Levenshulme Inspire.

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 2nd May 2019

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;  then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask him another question. Then he said to them, ‘How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son?  For David himself says in the book of Psalms, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
Set alongside the challenges from the Chief Priests and Scribes in the text comes this discourse with some Sadducees.

According to Josephus they were a small but influential group many being placed in prominent positions within the Temple structure. Their existence was dependent on Temple life and no trace can be found of them following its destruction when Jerusalem was conquered.

One of the Sadducees’ defining strands was that they only considered the Torah to be scripture and this led to their doctrinal view that there could be no resurrection as they found no such reference within the Books of the Law.

This group asked Jesus a loaded question based on the Leverite Law which was intended to protect inheritance and property.

Jesus dismisses the conundrum simply by refocussing the need for marriage in God’s realm then quoting from the Torah offers the Sadducees new insights  – God the God of the living Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question of resurrection asked and answered.

I come back frequently to the vehicle for the teaching.  Like a terrier I can’t let go of the widow’s experience in this story, however hypothetical, the notion of multiple bereavements, the loss of seven husbands, whatever the basis of those relationships, and the cumulative nature of grief overwhelms me.

Whilst seven life partners may be unusual the experience of multiple bereavements is not. This is the experience of older people and indeed many congregations made up of predominantly older members.  It is the experience where people share a life limiting illness or indeed are experiencing some form of disaster or war.

We also know that there is a risk with suicide that it may appear in clusters including within familial groups. A fact that calls for evermore sensitive postvention.

Whilst we have become increasingly more sensitive to the needs of people experiencing grief I feel we have much to learn in order to offer support to those whose experiences of loss are cumulative.

Loving God there is simply nothing that we can do which allows us to step outside that circle of love you have for us.

Be with us today, whatever our experience, whatever our expectations for the day

Bring us integrity and growth
through learning
Bring us solace and healing when we struggle with loss and despair
God of life bring us hope.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Helen M Mee, Synod of Scotland

Bible Version


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved