Moderator's address: walking the way

Moderator General Assembly Alan Yates

Newly-inducted Moderator of the United Reformed Church Alan Yates began his term of office urging the Church to take up the challenges of a renewed focus on discipleship.

Taking an informal style he offered to Assembly some of his hopes and fears for the United Reformed Church.

Mr Yates said that the next four days would be a journey in which – through Bible study worship, social gatherings and business – we could sharpen our understanding of what it means to be people of the way.

He linked the challenges that the United Reformed Church faces with the personal challenge he took up to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats. Mr Yates emphasised the importance of overcoming fear and lack of confidence when travelling into the unknown, of taking each day as it comes, preparing well, and enlisting the support of others.

Preparing for the journey

He committed to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats, covering about 1,000 miles in 12 days, despite never having cycled as much as 100 miles in a single day before. ‘I really did not have the confidence I could do it,' he said. 'I am a risk-averse person – if I think I might fail, I often won't start.'

Long distance cycling is a challenge for the mind as much as the body, he said: 'You have to deal with the Gremlin on the shoulder that says "too old, too cold, too wet... Give up before you hurt yourself." He managed the journey by taking each day as it came, concentrating on the next footstep, the next pedal stroke.'

Turning to the challenges facing the United Reformed Church he invited the Assembly to take up the recently-renewed focus on discipleship wholeheartedly. 'We have started on a new course,' he said, 'a new direction to our journey.'

Mr Yates noted that the URC's membership is about 40% smaller today than it was a decade ago and could easily be another 40 to 50% smaller in another decade.

'That's not to say that there are no good things happening. In my time as Moderator-elect I have met wonderful people and seen wonderful things. I see what we are doing and some of it brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.'

Walking the way

He introduced the URC's focus on missional discipleship, Walking the Way, as a new course that will drive the church to something different.

Mr Yates said that the URC will need to accept that it is travelling into the unknown: we need to be clear, not panicking, taking each day as it comes, praying and preparing, and supporting one another,' he said.

He concluded: 'Walking the way is our call to arms. We need to set off with courage and determination, even though we don't know exactly where and how and when we will get there, taking one step, one pedal stroke, at a time.'