Affectionate farewells to long-serving Church House staff

david tatem News images 554x415Colleagues and staff, past and present, gathered to say farewell to two United Reformed Church ‘stalwarts’ in July. Wendy Cooper, Administrator for Church and Society (Mission), and the Revd David Tatem, Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, both retired after collectively serving 74 years with the URC.

Wendy, the longest serving member of staff at Church House, retired on 31 July after 36 years’ service with the URC. David was honoured for his 38 years of ministry with the Church.

Wendy’s faithfulness and professionalism in her work spanning more than three decades was at the heart of the tributes during her farewell lunch. Opening the proceedings, Francis Brienen – Deputy General Secretary (Mission) – praised Wendy for having ‘survived’ at least six Church and Society Secretaries and 32 General Assemblies.

Speaking of the wider social justice issues that Wendy had seen down the years and how they had developed in that time, Francis said: ‘You started work at the height of the Cold War and the nuclear arms’ race and who could have thought that now we are talking about a Nuclear Ban Treaty?’

Praising Wendy’s adaptability and flexibility, she added: ‘Through all these many changes, you have never lost your human touch. For 36 years you have been a stalwart for the URC and we will miss you very much. We want to say thank you for all you have done; you have been a good and faithful servant and we know you will continue to be so in retirement.’

Former Church and Society Secretaries also spoke of their esteem for Wendy.  The Revd John Reardon (1972 to 1990) said: ‘I had the privilege of being the first Church and Society Secretary to welcome Wendy to this building and for nine years she was my secretary and general factotum in the Church and Society office. She has been a wonderful person in this place.’

Professor Andrew Bradstock (2000 to 2005 and 2013 to 2015), praising Wendy for being ‘on top of the job and ruthlessly efficient in time management, added: ‘Wendy is, and was, a “search engine” for the URC before the phrase was invented – but she was much better than Google when it came to giving you the context and the “trail” which lay behind key decisions and discussions. Wendy is the nearest thing the URC has to an institutional memory. I have never met anyone who so humbly and consistently lived by the fruits of the Spirit.’

Wendy has been a member of the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) for the past ten years. JPIT brings together the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland to work together on issues of justice and inequality.

The Revd Phil Jump, of the Baptist Union, represented JPIT at the farewell. ‘JPIT is a pretty intense place and I soon realised that everyone needs a Wendy because to have four different Church communities working together, with very different availabilities, is a difficult thing to manage. But Wendy cares deeply about the issues we talk about and she also cares deeply that we are working together on those issues. On behalf of the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland – as well as the URC – thank you Wendy.’

The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, underlined Wendy’s care and commitment to the role: ‘We have trusted you because you believe in what you are doing. The person who draws up the memos and minutes about seeking peace cares about peace; Wendy is someone who puts her heart as well as her pen into what she writes – not “just a job” but an expression of who she is. We value and appreciate all you have given here and we thank you warmly for all you have given to us and with us.’

John also announced: ‘Our esteem for Wendy is measured by the fact that we have asked her to be the one to cut the ribbon at the end of September to officially open Church House.’

John Steele read a poem he’d composed for the occasion in which he likened Wendy to the heroine of the same name in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Wendy responded by thanking all of her colleagues for the celebration. ‘I have got so many good memories of all the times we have worked together. I remember when I started that John (Reardon) told me, “If there is a crisis, just improvise.” I thought that this is going to be an interesting job!

‘Yes, the ways of working have changed dramatically, I remember having only four computers in the whole building, but it’s always about people and the major achievement of the last 10 years has been working with the JPIT team.’

Wendy received several gifts, including a large canvas artwork called ‘Home for the Night’ depicting a beautiful shoreline at sunset; a memories book in which members of staff had provided stories and photos to reflect Wendy’s working life; and a URC decorative ‘thank you’ sign.

Those attending the farewell for David Tatem on 27 July marked his retirement from the role of URC Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations role and honoured his URC ministry spanning 38 years. The event united representatives from the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army as well as URC figures across the denomination, who all thanked him for the various ways in which he has served the Church. When all the speeches were concluded, David was presented with a variety of gifts – including a fishing rod! He described his time working for the URC as ‘incredibly rewarding’ and gave heartfelt thanks to his colleagues.

Several speeches were given to thank David and affirm his URC ministry. The Revd Dr Hugh Osgood, Moderator of the Free Churches Group, opened the speech-giving by expressing his thanks for David’s work, noting that he had ‘represented the URC with grace’.

Representing the faith and order committee, the Revd Elizabeth Welch said that Mr Tatem had been a ‘great joy’ to work with. She said: ‘It was really helpful to have someone of David’s ecumenical and theological background participate in the theological discussions,’ and cited his previous experience as a surveyor as being particularly helpful when the committee examined the theology of buildings. Ms Welch ended by expressing her ‘heartfelt gratitude’ for David’s work and ‘the way [he] helped [the committee] develop and move forward’.

The Revd Bernie Collins, convenor of the URC mission committee, expressed his gratitude for David’s leadership in ecumenical and interfaith work and for the way he resourced ecumenical intermediate bodies and synods. He also thanked David for organising the URC delegation to the 36th German Protestant Church Assembly, known as Kirchentag, in May. Mr Whittle described Kirchentag as a finale of Mr Tatem’s role: ‘A big celebration, not only of 500 years of Luther but of eight years of you.’

The Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of the URC’s Wessex Synod, then gave special thanks for David’s development of interfaith work, after which the Revd John Proctor, the URC’s General Secretary, gave a short speech that made special mention of Mr Tatem’s 38 years of active ministry, across seven posts. Mr Proctor highlighted David’s skill at developing relationships, saying that in meetings, he had made it ‘a little bit easier for people to work together, to work together well, to enjoy each other’s company; he does it gently and quietly, just naturally by being himself, by sharing honestly about the things that matter to him, and by helping others to get the best out of what they’re doing together.’ Mr Proctor thanked David on behalf of the URC for his ministry, ‘warmth, faithfulness in duty, attention to detail, interest in people, sensitivity to what others in the room are thinking and [his] ability to craft good conversation around complicated business’.

Presenting David with fishing equipment as a retirement gift, Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission) gave an affectionate, thanks-filled speech filled with fishing-themed puns. She began: ‘David, as ecumenical secretary you have helped us to cast our net wide, so that we would not be narrowly focussed on our own concerns. You have guided our local churches, synods and individuals in dealing with ecumenical cans of worms, built strong relationships and dealt with everyone equally – be they small or big fish in our ecumenical pond.’ Ms Brienen concluded by saying: ‘You are now going to be the one who got away. Much deserved as it is, it is now time to do some fishing for reel! We wish you every blessing.’

After the speeches had been given, David gave a lengthy farewell of his own, thanking the URC, its staff and ecumenical colleagues. He commended the URC’s quality of care, and concluded his speech by encouraging faith in ecumenism: ‘It’s often said that the ecumenical scene is dead,’ said Mr Tatem. ‘Don’t believe it! Ecumenism is very much alive, but it’s alive in ways that ecumenists 30 years ago just never imagined.’ In retirement, he intends to write a book, ‘largely due to the stimulation that I’ve had in the role over the last eight years’.