One of the first-year modules here is on “Mission”, and a key part of this is a ‘faith-sharing weekend’ in early March. This label is not very helpful: it essentially means that teams from Cranmer spend a long weekend serving local churches in outreach. Unexpectedly, I have been asked to lead one of the teams. One thing at the outset is very clear: we have a great bunch on our team!
The churches to which my team is going are in three rural parishes west of Bishop Auckland, centred on Cockfield: former pit villages which are still struggling economically. On Thursday we met Jane (the vicar) and Emma (the curate), who came over to Cranmer to meet us; I took the opportunity today of a free Sunday to go to visit the area myself, along with Jenny Gant who happened to be free as well, in order to learn about the places we will serve.
All three congregations are elderly (70+), and have about 15-25 to each service. Jane and Emma are a dynamic and imaginative team, with a vision for future growth and development. Our challenge will be to do something that not only excites and inspires, but also enables the current congregation as it is to see how they themselves can be an active part of the growth of their churches.
I made a quick dash back to Durham, to have lunch with Catherine and Mark Venning, in the only privately-owned house on the Bailey. Catherine is on the MA course at Cranmer, and Mark was until recently the Managing Director of Harrison & Harrison, the organ builders: this is the first time I have had dinner with an organ! Not being subsumed by the University means that the house still retains its essential, rich history and character: they have title deeds going back to the 18th century but the oldest parts are probably earlier. Catherine gave me a tour round, showing me the original two buildings, the two narrow streets that used to run through and the external walls, which are all now on the interior of the one house. Each room has its own unique shape, and only one has walls that are at right-angles to each other! It was really great to be able to spend time with Catherine and Mark: and they have even persuaded me to experience Cathedral evensong again…