On Saturday 5 August, the Synod met at St David’s Uniting Church, Pontypridd, and online to give thanks for the work of Revd Simon Walkling in his role as Moderator of the National Synod of Wales and release him from his duties as he moves on to serve Christ Well URC and Swansea region as their minister.
The service was led by members of the Synod Support Team, with contributions from people from across the Synod and a special litany of release, written by Simon and led by the Synod Chaplain, Revd Stephen Best.
Simon chose Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus, as the Bible reading, which was read by Lynda Bell, Secretary of St David’s Uniting Church, and Simon offered the following reflection:
I have summarised my role as minister to the ministers, friend to the churches, offering leadership in mission.
I have been to Abergavenny and Aberystwyth, Pembroke, Penarth and Penmaenmawr, Shotton and Senghenydd. I have been to flower festivals and singing festivals. I have been to church closure services with endings and ordained ministers celebrating a fresh beginning, sometimes in the same month. I have been involved in the funerals of colleagues, the baptism of sisters and the odd wedding. Such a mixture.
I have patiently explained URC processes and worked out how things can be different in ecumenical partnerships. I have facilitated the Northerly Synods collaboration and indirectly ended up at a Queen’s funeral and a King’s Coronation.
We have started work on including disabled people, listening to young people and how to be an anti-racist church. We have valued the ministry of elders and encouraged lay people to take funerals and get involved in leading worship. We have encouraged people to invite friends to church and think about their church life through the lens of discipleship. We have approached church development by looking at what we are good at and thinking about next steps. We have disinvested from fossil fuels and got Eco Church awards. We have built a team of gifted people to work together to support our churches.
There have been complaints and disciplinaries and conversations after church about gravy granules in lasagne. Such a mixture. And we are a mixture of people called and committed to God’s service.
Why have I chosen Zacchaeus for today?
Zacchaeus is part of my faith story.
As a boy I had Arch books: cartoon Bible stories. I had the Good Samaritan and Zacchaeus. I remember the picture of the filthy looks the crowd gave him as he tried to see Jesus.
At another stage on the journey, it was one of the readings when I preached with a view when I moved from Rhyl to Pontypridd.
Then just recently, at General Assembly, Nicola Brady, GS CTBI used Zacchaeus in a Bible study.
She invited us to imagine ourselves as Zacchaeus personally called by Christ. A call to our whole selves rather than being lost in roles that condition how others see us. Whether that is churchgoer or moderator. Imagine being seen by Christ. Really seen.
She asked us to imagine ourselves travelling with Jesus. Who do we need to lift up our gaze to see? Who is out on a limb? Who are we missing in our struggle to keep going?
What do we want to offer to them?
What do we want to ask from them?
Key questions as we respond to God’s call and work out what it means to be church today.
Stories are memorable. We can all remember the story of Zacchaeus, when we may find it more difficult to quote bits of Paul’s letters. We could be telling each other about positive examples of what God is doing in our churches.
Meeting Jesus is transformative. Zac is changed. Sometimes think that I should have spent less time being a patient purveyor of processes and more on encouraging us all to talk about Jesus. We can re-examine our resources and our priorities in the light of following Jesus.
Always relational and about our relations with others. The encounter with Jesus changes Zac’s relationships to others. Synod literally means ‘together on the way’ and that’s what we are, we are the synod together working out how to respond to God’s call today and follow the Jesus Way.
Reflections on Simon’s time as Moderator and the impact he has had on the Synod were offered by Helen Moohan (former PA to the Moderator and Synod Clerk), Christine Roberts (member at Barry Uniting Church and former Synod Lay Preaching Advocate), Revd Martin Spain (Synod Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer) and Revd Branwen Rees (East Wales regional minister).
We took time to recognise Sue Walking’s support of Simon and the Synod, giving her a gift of baskets made from Welsh blankets.
Simon was presented with gifts from the Synod Support Team, including a portrait, painted by Revd Stephen Best, a love spoon incorporating a Celtic cross, carved in Pontypridd, and a bottle of Penderyn Myth, along with a cheque for £2540 – contributions from churches, ministers and members from across the Synod.
Simon and Sue chose favourite hymns for the service and we sang Praise to the Lord the Almighty, Fischy Music’s May You Find Peace, The Church is Wherever (Sue’s choice) and Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah. Revd Paul Robinson, minister of the United Church in Rhyl and North Wales region, provided accompaniment and wonderful music before and after worship.
We followed the service with a buffet served in the church hall where we were looked after by the St David’s Uniting Church congregation, to whom we give our thanks along with everyone who took part in and contributed to the service.
Below is a selection of photos of displays from around the church which represent some of the key themes of Simon’s time as Moderator, and some of the gifts that were presented to Simon and Sue.