Part of URC Reading Group with Grange and Tilehurst United Reformed Churches


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Monthly Letter - July 18





Next month Robert will be back with the three churches, glowing and refreshed (we hope) after his sabbatical. Meanwhile, I think and plan towards my own, due next year. A bit early, you may feel, but it’s a project I have been working on for some time.


As I write, rocked by the gentle swell of a calm sea, land is nowhere in sight. The satnav tells me Torquay lies twelve miles to the west. All being well, we’ll get there about 7.00pm. We left the hazards of Portland Bill and its notorious tidal race thirty miles behind us to the east. The sun’s disk never quite burns through the cloud and haze. Even so, its rays are intense.


Aboard Emma, our twenty-six foot sailing boat, we have an engine to drive us onward through the present flat calm, a satnav to guide us, and an autopilot to take the tedium out of steering a straight line for ten hours. Such modern gizmos leave Clare free to doze, and me to write—while keeping a good lookout for hazards, of course.


Not so for the ancient mariners who plied these waters. With no compass but the sun they made epic journeys. Without the MetOffice to give warning of impending storms, they set out with hope in their hearts by sail and by oar. Through salt sea and salt sweat they manoeuvred their fragile craft.


A few navigated the seas around our coasts with a special purpose in mind. They came to island Britain, where the name of Christ was unknown, or intermittently neglected. Their plan—to bring light in place of darkness. To establish beacons of hope in as many places as possible, no matter how remote. To make the God of Love believable.


They were far from the first migrants to make their way to Britain. But they were migrants. People with foreign-sounding names. Roman, some of them, others Celtic or Germanic. The marks of their boats, drawn up on sand or shingle, were washed away long ago. The marks of their faith remain imprinted in our culture. So much of what made and shaped Britain came to us through those venturesome souls. We owe them an incalculable debt.


Their example inspires me. I want to make some of their journeys. To connect afresh with the Spirit who inspired them. To visit places with special associations with the seafaring saints, as well as present-day Christian outposts. I hope to discover ways of re-telling the Jesus story that make sense to bonkers Brexit Britain.


They say that all you need to be able to circumnavigate Britain is a suitable boat and three months to spare. The first, I have. The second is in sight. Land ahoy!