Churches Together in North Shields has organised a varied series of 4 lectures by senior regional church figures during the season of Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday (17 February) to Holy Saturday (3 April).
The first lecture, on 23 February, was held at North Shields Methodist Church in Hawkeys Lane. The speaker, Revd Elaine Lindridge, Evangelism Coordinator for the Newcastle Methodist District, gave an engaging presentation on practical evangelism. With use of personal stories and PowerPoint slides, Mrs Lindridge emphasised that the heart of evangelism was love for our neighbours. In some ways, 21st century Britain may be regarded as a post-Christian society, and it was up to the church to see that people did not miss out because they had not heard about Jesus Christ.
The second lecture, on 2 March, was held at St Augustin’s Church of England in Jackson Street. The speaker, Revd Rowena Francis, Moderator of the Northern Synod of the United Reformed Church, gave a thoughtful talk on the image of the shattered cross. Drawing on poetry, songs, theological thinking and her own experiences, Ms Francis spoke powerfully of three aspects of this picture. Firstly, our broken world reflects the shattered cross, and longs to be made whole. Secondly, by his victory over death, Jesus Christ has broken the power of the cross as an instrument of execution. Thirdly, by our continued disunity, the churches reflect the brokenness of the world. She encouraged churches to work together, as they do more and more, and to aim ultimately for organic reunification.
The third lecture, on 10 March, was held at North Shields Baptist Church in Howard Street. The speaker was the Rt Revd Professor Stephen Sykes, Anglican Honorary Assistant Bishop of Durham. Mr Sykes spoke on some of his experiences of ecumenical encounters during his lifetime.
The fourth lecture, on 17 March, was held at St Cuthbert’s Roman Catholic Church in Albion Road. The speaker was the Rt Revd Seamus Cunningham, Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle. His subject was awareness of the presence of God in the ordinariness of life, and in crises. He reflected on his own personal experiences, from the simple daily devotions of his childhood in Galway, to times in his priesthood when he faced difficult and uncomfortable challenges. Fr Cunningham spoke of times on guided retreats when he had felt heavenly assurance through praying over Bible passages. At various points in his life, particular conversations had left a lasting impression, including one with a hitchhiker in need whom he picked up during a journey across Ireland, and who later wrote to thank him for the support that he gave on that trip. Mr Cunningham had lived through a time of great change in the church, but had learned to look at what tradition could say to the present and the future as well as the past, and he had also learned some hard lessons in obedience to God’s plan for his ministry.
All four lectures gave a good deal of food for thought to those from various churches in the town that came to listen to some or all of them. We all appreciated the opportunity to share in learning and in talking together afterwards over tea and coffee.