Thanksgiving service for Windermere Centre: ‘All have played their part’

windmere thanksgiving 2 News images 554x415Carver Uniting Church hosted a thanksgiving service on Saturday 15 July for the life of the Windermere Centre, which has closed after 31 years as a much-loved residential training, retreat and hospitality centre for the United Reformed Church.

The congregation represented people from across the denomination, including former staff, members of the Windermere management committee and its predecessors, members and friends of Carver Uniting Church who had volunteered at the centre and supported its work, as well as people who have run and attended courses over the years.

Commissioned by Mission Council, the service was led and coordinated by the Revd Lis Mullen, a former minister of Carver URC and most recently the Moderator of Northern Synod, together with the Revd Martyn Coe, current minister of Carver Uniting Church and the Revd Kevin Watson, Moderator of General Assembly.

Hymns included those by URC hymn writers the Revd Jan Berry, the Revd Brian Wren and the Revd Alan Gaunt – who was present at the event as a former Windermere minister.

All three past directors of the Centre were in attendance: the Revd Graham Cook, the Revd Peter McIntosh and the most recent former director Lawrence Moore. Also present was the Revd Stephen Thornton, whose vision while minister of Carver URC inspired the creation of the Windermere Centre. During the service, Mr Thornton offered insights and apt readings from Ecclesiastes 3, with its allusions to a ‘time for everything’ and Acts 20, which reminds us that Christians are called to work, like Paul, as ‘a captive to the spirit … not knowing what will happen’.

The former centre directors and the General Assembly moderator stood together to offer four particularly poignant prayers of thanksgiving. First Graham Cook thanked God for Stephen Thornton’s vision of ‘a house which could become a home for your whole church’, then thanks were offered to God for the contribution of each director in turn to the life of the centre.

The Revd Tony Burnham, who was moderator of the URC’s North Western Synod when the Windermere Centre opened, gave the sermon, acknowledging the sorrow caused to many by the closure. He offered thanks for a centre which ‘served the Lord in humility’, saying:

‘It took no party line. It did not impose, but allowed itself to be used, as if it was eager to hear the truth, to share in the experiences of all sorts and conditions of human life, even while the focus was on the Lord of the Church.’

It was, he said, a place in which:

‘Strangers became friends, the sad were cheered, doubters gained faith … new ideas were shared, scripture was opened in vivid ways and fresh hope given to tired and weary disciples.’

Mr Burnham drew parallels between the demise of the Windermere Centre after three decades of dedicated Christian service, and the struggles of individual servants of the faith who, perhaps approaching the ends of their careers or lives, have witnessed a dramatic decline in the body and reach of the Church. It was natural, he said, to ‘wonder if it has all been worthwhile – have we wasted our lives?’

In answer to the question, he returned to Ecclesiastes (3:10), to its indication of ‘a time to plant, and a time to uproot’, its question, ‘What profit have the workers from their labour?’ and its reassurance that:

‘God has made everything to suit its time. God has given us a sense of past and future … but no comprehension of God’s work from beginning to end.’

We must remember, said Mr Burnham, that ‘in our few moments on earth, we have played our part … In God’s purpose, this centre and all its workers have played their part.’

  • Click here for the film of the service (songs and hymns have been excluded tor copyright reasons)
  • The full text of the Revd Tony Burnham’s sermon can be found here.