What is it like?
For several years now, the Windermere Centre has been supporting Artpeace, a co-operative of artists near Harare in Zimbabwe, by selling their sculptures and jewellery in our shop. The money from these sales goes direct to the artists, and provides them with much-needed income to support their families.
This week we have received some video messages from the artists, over 6000 miles away, offering us their support in response to hearing the news that the United Reformed Church is considering closing the Windermere Centre.
“Life in Zimbabwe is very difficult,” says spokesperson, Mike Masedza: “We are depending on Windermere very much, so it will be a very big blow for us if it closes.”
Watch the video:
Full text of Mike’s speech is reproduced here:
“Hello friends in the UK.
My name is Mike Masedza, I am the founding chair of Artpeace.
It is so sad that Windermere is going to close after so many years of assisting Artpeace and friends and our families. Life in Zimbabwe is so difficult, you know. It is very difficult to sell our stone carvings, so we are depending on Windermere very much, so it will be a very big blow for us if it closes. So we are with you in our prayers, so that you do not close.
It has helped us a lot: Lizeni and Godfrey here – they have been benefitting very much from the sales in the UK, and all these members here, and some members who are not here, to support their families back home. Each member is supporting more than 15 family members, so it will be a very big blow for us, since, as you know, the situation in Zimbabwe is so tough on the artists. They will not survive with the local sales; they depend on sales from UK, from you friends and others in the UK. So we are with you in our prayers that Windermere will not close.
God bless you all. Merry Christmas”
In the second video, some of the individual artists speak about their lives, and how the Centre has helped them. Fortune Masiyiwa, a chairman of Artpeace, described the news that the Windermere Centre might close as ‘very very bad news, especially for those who are sick, and especially for the children who are going to school through the money from Windermere,’ as the artists rely on sales from Windermere ‘to keep our families afloat’. He also expressed sorrow for staff at the Centre who stand to lose their jobs, and said that they were praying for God’s presence in the situation.
View the second video:
John Simpson from St. Andrews’ United Reformed Church in Walton-on-Thames, who liaises with Artpeace daily and co-ordinates the Artpeace sales in the Windermere Centre and other UK venues, states, “Some of the cooperative shown in the video are extremely ill and unable to work but they made the effort to walk many miles to Silveira House to support Windermere. Each artist and their friends support anything from 10 to 20 men women and children through the extended family system. Not all are shown here as some live in rural areas”, and adds, “this was quite an effort for them. You can be assured that they speak from the heart.”
John further tells us that two of the artists, Lizeni and Godfrey, who are mentioned in the first video, have been very ill recently, and he feared that we would lose them, but that income from UK sculpture sales and donations covered the cost of medical care needed to save their lives. Support from Windermere and other locations improves the artists’ morale as well as helping them financially.
The staff team at the Windermere Centre are deeply moved by these messages of support, and sent back their own message of thanks.
View the video:
For more information about the Windermere Centre and the threat to close, visit http://windermereurc.org.uk/our-future/
and to sign a petition in support of the Centre, please visit: https://www.change.org/p/save-the-windermere-centre
To find out more about Artpeace and their work, visit: http://www.standrewsurc.org/artpeace.html
I would be really sorry to see the Windermere Centre close. To me it has been a gem, in its various forms since it first opened. It is a place and community I have visited for refreshment, renewal, support, learning, development and relaxation. It is like a second home. I have got to know the staff there and seen them many of them develop and grow in many ways. I have felt loved, nurtured and very well fed there and know I am not alone. Many members of the church, both young and old, have had their faith-journey deepened and challenged through the courses and holidays that have been offered.
If a considerable amount of money is needed to bring the centre up to modern standards then I see this as an important priority for the church’s mission to its members, ministers and the UK.
As an accountant, I am surprised that the Centre is not self-financing, but if this is not possible, believe that it is worth subsidising through the MOM because of the many benefits the Centre offers to the church.
I do hope that the committee’s recommendation to close the Windermere Centre will be reversed and that the Centre will be developed and its work expanded over the coming years.
Revd Roger Cornish.
I came to know of The Windermere Centre from sitting in Carver Church on Easter Sunday 2011. Holidaying in the area, my fellow travellers and I decided to attend a church service. Climbing the steps of Carver Church, my life was about to change for the better. After being welcomed in, I ended up sat next to Lawrence – the rest is history, as they say.
During that summer, recovering from a lung problem, I attended Carver Church and found a love for the Lake District. I happened to be in Windermere for the 25th Anniversary of the Centre – this is the first time I viewed the Centre.
I found out that the Centre wasn’t all about theological lessons as I had believed, but that they did courses on crafts. Having never been arty or very crafty, knitting was as good as it got. I found myself in April 2012 attending Card Mania ran by very patient ladies. I had never been so well looked after, fed well, made to feel welcome and most importantly not excluded.
I have attended Card Mania every year since and have made some wonderful friends, had great laughs and have come away completely refreshed.
Besides Card Mania I have attended a walking week, and stayed for weekends too numerous to count.
One winter I volunteered for a weekend, cooking for 10 people in the kitchen at the Centre – it was quite an experience. Plus we managed not to poison anyone.
I have been an extra in a music video, for a track for Thursday’s Child – that was a great time.
Having been there for so many weekends I have met lots of URC people, listened to their stories and how they fit in the URC.
The Centre closing means that the friends I have made will probably be lost. As a lone female traveller I have always felt safe staying at the Centre, and there have always been other people there to speak with; I know this will be a loss not just to myself.
Everyone who goes through the door of the Centre comes out feeling a whole lot better. It is my haven from the busy lives we all lead today, and it looks as though we are about to lose this unique place .
Pay What You Can was inspired. The Windermere Centre isn’t just a resource centre for the church – it’s a whole lot more.
I pray that every effort will be made to keep it open for people to enjoy the Windermere Centre Experience.
The recent communication from the Free to Believe Committee surely encapsulates the feelings of every admirer of the Windermere Centre who must have been shocked and frankly horrified to read Mission Council’s carefully worded statement on the likely closure of the Centre.
Windermere is unique within the URC I suggest and one of its few remaining gems. It ‘refreshes the
parts’ that other pale imitations cannot reach. Let me offer one little perhaps unusual example. A few years ago, the then acting Dean of Southwark Cathedral Andrew Nunn, attended a meeting at the Centre and chanced to pick up one of my flyers beside the display of Artpeace (Zimbabwe) stone sculptures on the ground floor. The following day he contacted me with an invitation to organise a stall in Southwark’s sanctuary after the main Sunday service. This proved the start of a tremendous fellowship with the Cathedral and these impoverished artists’ work is now a firm favourite in the Cathedral Shop with healthy sales. I occasionally receive queries from as far away as Chile enquiring about the artists. Indeed, the Dean and his Bishop subsequently made time to visit Artpeace on several trips to Zimbabwe to try and lift morale and often tweet about their problems and art. Also, thanks to their proximity with the Cathedral, CAFOD are now heavily involved courtesy couriers bringing pieces over. This has given me an opportunity from a URC perspective to circulate articles and photos of the artists’ lives to many churches in the UK and abroad.
I could go on but the point is that none of this would have happened without Windermere’s involvement and imagination. Artpeace are moved by the Centre’s support whose sales proceeds help them survive. They were devastated to hear of the its likely demise and whole families are praying daily for a miracle. Small potatoes in the scheme of things some may say, but vital to all these beleaguered men, women and children!
My wife and I have attended Windermere two or three times a year for many years and so enjoy the fellowship in superb relaxing surroundings with other denominations and none. Windermere from our perspective screams Mission with a capital M: its closure would be a retrograde step adding yet another nail to the URC coffin. With proper meaningful support from Tavistock Place, it could prove a huge beacon of light to our failing denomination instead of exacerbating another North/South divide and worse. I strongly urge anyone with a love of our Church to make their feelings known via Rebecca Gudgeon at the Centre.
Johnston Simpson, St Andrew’s URC, Walton on Thames.
The Free to Believe Committee received the news of the probable demise of the Windermere Centre with immense sadness. Members reflected on significant experiences in their personal journeys which had been associated with the Centre and were dismayed at the possibility that such opportunities would be denied to others in the future.
The fact that the Windermere Centre provokes such personal reflections is far from irrelevant. There are now very few opportunities for members of the United Reformed Church to affirm their common identity by meeting outside the confines of mundane week-by-week church life. To spend time removed from the pressures of daily life alongside others, especially when those others bring the experience of another fellowship whose circumstances are very different, is to affirm the nature of the Church as wider than a single fellowship or group pastorate. It is not without significance that Free to Believe itself emerged from a conference at Windermere and would probably never have happened without it.
While we value the contribution of Westminster College to the life of the Church, events at Westminster have a very different feeling to those at Windermere, which tend to be more about encountering other participants than the institution.
Given the need to reverse the serious erosion which has taken place over recent years in the sense of identification by local members with the United Reformed Church nationally, we do not consider an expenditure of £3 per head of membership to be in any way excessive, especially considering the staggering imbalance between the actual number of those who now make up the Church and the cost of providing staff and facilities for its cumbersome administration and governance. That essential reversal, if the Church is to survive, will not be facilitated by adding another employee, no matter how talented and enthusiastic, to central staff nor by any amount on expenditure on renewing the building.
To treat a focus of identity like Windermere as an optional extra, left essentially to promote itself, is a serious error. We urge that there should be no decision to finalise one more retreat along the path to the fading away of the United Reformed Church unless and until the Church nationally has put its weight, for at least three years, behind a concerted campaign to encourage local pastorates to take advantage of the Centre’s facilities, either by organizing their own event or by participating in one of the Centre’s more general offerings. No moderatorial visit or contact with Synod staff, no Synod or training session should be considered complete without an exhortation to make use of the Centre to broaden the local church’s horizons to include new insights and experiences. The Church’s communications staff should be tasked with aiding the Centre in raising its profile. Other central and synod staff should be active in exploring the possibility of delivering training and new experiences through the Centre. Failure to fill the Centre on a regular basis should be viewed not as a failure of the Centre itself but of the national Church – and a failure which will call into question the likelihood of the Church reversing its fortunes.
We urge Mission Council to reject the temptation to retreat, and to commit itself to a bold and committed strategy to use the Windermere Centre as an invaluable tool in the re-invigoration of the life of the Church.
Although I am not a member of the URC community I have had the privilege of visiting The Windermere Centre 2 or 3 times a year since 2011. On every occasion I have been made to feel so welcome & the hospitality of the staff would do any 5 star hotel proud.
I was a bit worried when the Pay What You Can was introduced as I wasn’t sure it would work. But looking at the Events page on the website I needn’t have worried as there seems to be so much taking place.
And I have been so impressed by the Hannah Fund that I have made contributions when I can so that people less fortunate than myself can visit the Centre without worrying about the cost.
I hope that the Mission Council take everyone’s views on board & there is a positive outcome as apart from anything else I cannot bear to see the Centre’s staff made redundant.
Memories of the Windermere Centre:
Assembly Committee meetings when thinking was helped by quick walks to clear the head. Church Weekends with the opportunity to really get to know each other and grow in faith together.
Meeting with friends from far and wide who were involved with the Presbyterian Fellowship of Youth in our teens; most of us are now in our eighties! The place rejuvenates us: fresh air, slow walks, bus pass journeys, car sharing to endless interesting places, near by railway station etc. The list goes on but high up there is being looked after by lovely, cheerful, accomplished staff.
Many years ago two of us treated each other to a retirement celebration break for a course on Quakers. The talks were excellent and interesting visits made this unforgettable. We would do it again if you would walk at our new slower pace.
I remember days of music with John Bell.
There was Christmas with friends and strangers who soon became friends too. The staff were fantastic: lovely decorations, beautiful food, worship at Carver, gifts outside our doors on Christmas Morning. It was delightful, and our family didn’t have to decide who was having us at their homes.
A quote from our seven year old great grandson sums up our family feeling for the Windermere Centre, “I love this place.” He should know as he has been there for two eightieth birthdays and a Diamond Wedding celebration. We are a large family and filled the old house. The staff made us feel that it was home without the work. We have had days spent together yet with space to do as one pleased, To be on one’s own occasionally is a great healer. There is time to relax and listen when someone else plans the menu and does the cooking.
Try it. Your family will love this place too.
If it wasn’t for the Centre I would probably be in a far different place than I am now. The Windermere Centre has been my respite for many years. It’s been a place I call home and given me time to relax and refresh in my hectic and stressful life. I also have caring responsibilities which has been overwhelming but the Centre has provided respite. The friendliest staff and good food have recharged my batteries on several occasions. This year alone I have been up four times and have already booked four visits next year. If the Centre was to close I will lose a very valued piece of my life.
This piece has been contributed by Revd. Stephen Thornton, the founder of the Windermere Centre, in response to the recent Mission Council announcement about the future of the Centre.
A major part of our understanding in the United Reformed Church is the ‘Priesthood of all Believers,’ and ‘the Ministry of Everyone.’ In the 1960s we had eight colleges to train Ministers of Word and Sacraments, and none for the rest of the church, although there are more members than Ministers of Word and Sacraments.
In response to this, the idea of the Windermere Centre was born – a place where the whole church could come and be equipped for ministry and mission. It took some time for the concept of equipping members to be understood, but eventually the church responded and the Centre came into being – financed, not by any major donor, but by the sacrificial giving of our membership.
Courses were planned on every aspect of Church life – worship, prayer, Bible Study, Theology, pastoral care, Eldership, hymnody, mission, evangelism, to name but a few, and people came. Yet throughout it has needed the Director and others to visit the Churches constantly, outlining what the Centre offers, and encouraging our membership to take part. A host of our people are deeply grateful to the Centre for all that it has given them in their discipleship.
As we look to the future, with Assembly’s emphasis on discipleship, the Centre is needed more than ever, to equip all of us for the work to which we are called. From a Church Membership which was reluctant to talk theology; to explore scripture; to hone gifts and to share ideas, we are called to develop a membership resourced for the great tasks ahead.
1. One of our titles for Ministers of Word and Sacraments, is ‘The Teaching Elder.’ Such ministers can do so much, but our people need to build on that.
2. Why Windermere? For centuries the Lake District has been a major place of inspiration to theologians, poets, artists, philosophers, and social workers, because of its unique nature. It is also central to our Church which spans from John o’Groats to Lands End.
3. It is good for our people to meet a wide cross section of our membership from all over the country, to learn and grow together.
4. We have many distinctive aspects in our church, like Reform; our hymnody and the Centre. Are we to let them all go?
5. The Windermere Centre was never seen as a business but a resource to enable our work.
Sabbaticals are dangerous things – or maybe it’s having time to pray, reflect and explore “What’s next?” that’s the danger. Either way, I have returned from my sabbatical and submitted my resignation as Director of the Windermere Centre, with effect from 4 September. After 14 years in post, I am on my way.
So what is next for me? Two convictions have prompted the resignation: the first is to explore ordination to non-stipendiary ministry, and the second is to offer myself within the URC and more widely on a freelance basis as a resource and enabler to encourage members and churches in missional discipleship.
Those of you who have followed developments here at the Windermere Centre will immediately recognise the extent to which this is a direct outflow of the focus on “What’s the point of church?” I don’t think there’s a more important question to ask if we are going to invest the resources of time, energy, personnel, money and organisation that being a church demands.
Neither do I think that the answer is as obvious as it might initially seem: it is very easy to frame our anxieties about the future of the church in the face of decline and apathy in terms of mission, when what is actually driving us is how to maintain as much of our current setup as possible for as long as possible.
There is only one good reason for the existence of the church, and that is to make a Jesus-shaped difference to the life of the world – and when I talk about “Jesus-shaped”, I mean “Easter-shaped”. Jesus is defined by the Way of the Cross – dying and rising.
I am convinced that what we need to discover most urgently as individuals, local churches and a denomination is what needs to die in order to for us to be resurrected to the New Life that God has for us in Jesus through the Spirit. We need to find ways collectively of discerning what the key choices are that we need to make, and the risks that we need to take. That is how we will become faithful and effective – which may or may not prove to be the same thing as having a long-term future. But it is the same thing as discovering Life and being part of the Good News we proclaim.
Moving on from here is thus the next step for me on the road I’ve been traveling here at the Windermere Centre. Geographically, it means moving away; in terms of priorities and direction, it is about being on the same journey as the Centre. I hope the Windermere Centre will continue to call on me as part of its own mission of “resourcing the church through hospitality and theological adventure”. I will certainly be bringing people to the Centre – and, vitally, operating Pay What You Can as the means of being paid for my future work for the church.
There’s a very big “Gulp!” involved. Leaving the Centre and staff and Carver Church after 14 years is going to be a huge wrench – it will be like leaving home and family. I will miss the interactions with people and churches that I’ve built up over that time. And then there’s the fear and apprehension (as well as the excitement) of changing radically the pattern of daily life, and of all the unknowns of where this stretch of the road will take me.
What will sustain me is the conviction that this is what God is calling me to, just as that same conviction has sustained me through all the wonderful and appalling times of the past 14 years. On a daily basis, though, it is the nourishment I have derived from sharing your own journeys of discipleship, and being allowed into your lives that has held and encouraged me. That has been an immense privilege. “Companion” literally means “bread-sharer”: thank you for your companionship and friendship of the past years.
May the God who has brought us all to the place where we are be with us and bless us as we navigate the next bend in the road – wherever that may lead.
These are the recollections of John Durell, one of the participants in this year’s Northern Synod Pilgrimage, which took place in the Lake District. The story, and all of the associated images, are taken (with permission) from the Synod Blog, available at: http://urc-northernsynod.org/category/blog/
Monday May 16
It’s that time of year again – time for a Synod pilgrimage. This time the pilgrim’s sense of adventure has led us beyond the bounds of Synod geography, and we’re in Cumbria, staying in the comfort of the Windermere Centre, and ready for day walks around the Lake District.
The fact that Windermere is home to Lis, our Synod Moderator, could just be a factor in all of this, and that her husband John has had a whole career of leading people out into these hills, and also the fact that Dave Herbert has liked to work a near namesake of his into his moments of reflection on previous pilgrimages: all of which could explain why we’re here, far from the usual haunts of Cuthbert and Aidan, discovering new things about Celtic spirituality, and walking in the footsteps of some of the Celtic saints.
Monday, however, was just a warm-up. Most of us arrived in time for an afternoon walk in and around Windermere itself – starting with the steady climb up to Orrest Head. Already some wise words from Lis were helping us to focus on what pilgrimage was all about. Stopping at the station, and outside the Lakeland shop, we reflected on journeys with beginnings and ends and new beginnings, and wondered at the ways of finding God, maybe even in our shopping expeditions.
Standing on Orrest Head and agreeing that the climb up had been more than worth the effort, we recognised something of the splendour and majesty of God in the scene that spread before us, and then we came to the lake, and listened to Lis’s reflection on water, while the less than reflective swans stood threateningly all around us. Our final stop was just a few hundred yards away, in the cemetery overlooking the lake. Thoughts about final destinations… And then a walk back to the Centre for our evening meal, and a few hours relaxation to set us up for the real pilgrimage walks ahead.
Tuesday May 17
Everyone is properly in pilgrimage mode now – but of course, walking between earth and heaven means that there are all sorts of practicalities to address before the journey proper begins. Breakfast at the Windermere Centre was followed by prayers led by Mary. Then we piled into the bus to drive the few hundred yards to the supermarket, so that we could all buy lunch to take on the way. Somehow, once we’d been driven to Grasmere, it seemed to be coffee time… And then of course it was impossible to pass through Grasmere without a visit to the gingerbread shop.
Finally we were on our way! Calling in at the church we renewed our acquaintanceship with its patron saint, Oswald, King of Northumbria. Quite what he was doing over this side of the country, founding a church at Grasmere (as Bede assures us he did) we’re not quite clear about. Maybe there’s a bit more research to be done once the pilgrimage is over.
The first half of the journey took us along the old coffin way, high above the valley, before descending to Rydal Hall. There were moments for reflection offered by Dave – such as at the first coffin stone (a resting place for tired bearers), and at the mysterious money tree, where passing pilgrims (and others surely) have been moved to hammer the odd coin or two into the decaying wood. And we should record that at this point we bumped into Darlington Methodist Chair Ruth Gee and some colleagues of hers, who were staying at Rydal Hall.
As we progressed, a good number of these moments seemed to focus on death and money – but living waters stream in many directions, and there was also a section of the journey where we deliberately remained quiet – lost in our own thought and prayers, while perhaps not wanting to appear unfriendly to the many people we met along the way.
As the day progressed the weather brightened, and the walk back along the far shore of Rydal Water and then Grasmere was glorious. Stopping at a swing hanging over the open water we reflected on taking risks – a challenge in our risk assessing culture; and a little later we saw a set of stepping stones (risk-free now the waters have subsided) which led to our thinking about the people whom we have relied on, on our own life journeys. And have we now ways of our own of offering security and safety to others as they travel? Back at Grasmere, we were thankful for all that we had seen and heard and reflected on in the course of the day.
Andrew Wood, one of our walkers from North West Synod, has added the following reflections:
I’ve walked in the Lake District for many years and have always been impressed by its grandeur and long lasting rocky structures. This week is different. To have had time to be still and be guided to find spiritual ideas in the things nearby has been a rich blessing. Shops and railways, stepping stones and wide vistas, damaged trees rebursting with life, all have messages for us.
Wednesday May 18
Any lessons learned from yesterday? Prayers were before breakfast this morning, which meant that we were driving over the Kirkstone Pass and looking down over Brothers Water before any pilgrims started thinking about coffee shops, and it just so happened that there aren’t any in Hartsop. A solid morning’s walking lay ahead of us. We stopped to sing in sight of the waterfall that lies below Angle Tarn – rather to the amazement of the hard-hatted group of youngsters and their leaders who were about to scramble up the hillside in that direction. Our way was more sedate – though only just. The steady incline meant that we were climbing more than 200 metres in the space of an hour or so, looking back towards Kirkstone and over the valley floor – a view that Dave, in one of his moments of reflection, compared with Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. Fewer grapes, but the same rugged scenery.
Perhaps the most moving reflection of the day came at the head of the track, as we gathered around the stones that are marked on the map as “Chapel in the Hause”. More of the stones seem to have been recycled in the ruined sheepfold a couple hundred yards away, but those that remain are tantalising. Just what was this building? Maybe a Celtic chapel? (it seemed possible to trace a credible floor plan). And might the first worshippers who gathered here have had memories of their own of that elusive Patrick – the Celtic saint whom we were trying to trace today?
Unanswered questions allowed us a fairly rapid descent to Side Farm.
The afternoon walking was just a little gentler, as we followed a path above the southern extremity of Ullswater as far as Silver Bay, and then took the coastal path back to our starting point. On the way we passed disused quarries and mines providing moments for reflection, and descended a rocky path among the prolific juniper bushes in deliberate silence – both as a spiritual discipline and a precaution against any missed footing.
Back at the Farm, Peter was ready to drive us on to St Patrick’s Church in Patterdale. Yes, the dale bears his name, even though we had found few traces of him. The church looks a little sad at present, having suffered grievously in the past winter’s floods. We were reminded by the poster in the porch that this is Christian Aid Week, which features Morsheda’s story. What she and her family experience on their silt island in Bangladesh maybe of a different order – but they and the good folk of St Patrick’s both know plenty about the power of water. But we had still to find Patrick’s Well. What we passed on the main road looked like a piece of Victorian municipal grandeur. But just a few feet behind and above it, we discovered something that seemed more authentic – whether or not Patrick ever really was here. Put your ear to the head of the well, as Dave did, and you can hear the water flowing. A welcome sound for pilgrims – and promise of the water of Life that springs up for eternity.
Thursday May 19th
Once again the day started just right with Mary’s prayers – today’s being a sensitive mix of reflective material and our own contributions on the theme of peace. And a peace dove from the Holy Land with oil in its lamp, ignited for the first time, kindled a flame of hope for the day ahead. After breakfast, we were on our way towards Keswick. Only a couple of weeks ago this would have been an impossible journey, as the main road had been swept away following the winter floods. But happily the re-opening has taken place ahead of the promised time, making a visit to Derwentwater a possibility once again. We drove through Keswick and into Borrowdale, stopping finally at Rosthwaite. Following our usual custom, we began the day’s journey, outside the village hall, with a couple of verses of a hymn. We weren’t to know that inside the hall, a drama company was engaged in a live recording – and after their complaints, we didn’t like to ask whether our voices had been recorded for posterity, and who might now own the copyright.
The first two miles walking to Grange took us through a variety of woodland scenery. There were fewer reflective stops than the past days, as we knew there were more miles to cover – but the sight of a yurt and a smoking chimney, together with Dave’s recollection of comfortable camping experiences, led us to express our gratitude for the variety of influences across the world that make our lives so rich today. And then in Grange itself we stopped for a few moments in the parish church – a real jewel in its simplicity.
The forecast had been grim. So far so good, but the rain threatened at lunchtime, and we were soon well waterproofed for the next stage of the walk. More miles through woodland, meeting up with Peter who had parked the bus at the end of the journey and had come back to meet us. Fewer stops, though one of the most memorable was at the carved hands which mark the spot (in an area of mixed woodland) where the National Trust had its physical beginning. Are the hands receiving or giving? – the Trust surely has been a channel for both, for so many people over the hundred plus years of its existence.
Finally we dropped down to the shore of Derwentwater at Nichol End – where there was tea and coffee to be purchased, as well as the largest scones known to humankind. And the boats were ready to transport us across to St Herbert’s Island – and the boatmen were more than ready to share their views about the stories of the saint, and their feelings about the spirituality of the island and their own love of the lake.
Once we were ashore we made our way to the centre of the island, and the ruins which could just mark the site of the hermit’s cell – or which may just be the remains of some 18th century folly. Who knows? But Dave reminded us of the life of St Herbert as recorded by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History, and of his strong friendship with Cuthbert – a friendship which lasted up to their deaths, on the selfsame day.
Lis then reminded us of the centrality of our own friendship with one another and with the one who calls us on our own life pilgrimages, through a silent communion, and through the sharing of this special “picnic” of bread and wine.
There was just time for us to walk to the far shore of the island, and to look south across the expanse of the lake to the Jaws of Borrowdale and Castle Crag looming through the mist. How blessed we felt that the day had not been rained off as we had feared – and how welcome the friendliness of the boatmen, who took us for an extra trip around the island before bringing us back safe to the jetty.
A long day – a good walk. And somehow we had the energy once we were back at the Centre to walk to the local Italian restaurant and home again – and in our final prayers together to say “thank you, Lord” for so many good things that this final day of our pilgrimage had afforded.
Don’t forget to visit the Northern Synod blog for the full story.Northern Synod Pilgrimage: Walking with the Saints
Diane has come to work at the Windermere Centre, as Operations Manager, on a temporary secondment from her role as Deputy Manager at the Christian Guild hotel, Abbot Hall, in Grange-over-Sands, where she has worked for twenty-five years in various roles. Diane has been with us since the beginning of April, and works full-time here at the Windermere Centre (though she occasionally pops back to Abbot Hall to help out when needed).
Diane was born in St. Helens, and moved to the Lake District aged eight. She lives with her partner John, and dog Zak. Zak is a black labrador and rottweiler cross, and is a rescue dog: Diane took him in when he was just one year old, his having previously been a stray in Ireland. He has gone on to great things, having claimed the title, at the Storth Gardening Show, of ‘Fastest Sausage-Eating Dog’! She has one son who is married and has a child of his own.
When not at work, Diane goes running every Saturday, “without fail, whatever the weather”, and also enjoys windsurfing and kayaking on the lakes in the area. She’s a big fan of motorcycle racing, following the Isle of Man TT religiously, and has even met Guy Martin.
When we asked her what she missed most about Abbot Hall, she responded, “It’s the people: friends, colleagues, and regular guests”. She also misses the swimming pool at the hotel, where she has taught aquacise classes, as she is a qualified aqua-aerobics instructor. In 2012, she tackled the Great North Swim, along with her boss, raising £2000 for Macmillan.
She’s enjoying meeting new people at the Windemere Centre, and relishes the opportunity to be in a different environment. “There’s lots I’m learning about the Centre, the team and guests, and the United Reformed Church”, says Diane, adding, “I hope that we are able together to identify which changes can be made to help sustain the life and future of the Windermere Centre”.Diane Palmer
Between the 16th and the 19th November we had a truly inspiring workshop co-hosted by the Mission Committee and the Windermere Centre. We had 36 people there from nearly all the Synods of the United Reformed Church, sharing stories of engagement in mission with their communities. They talked about things that were large and small, short-term and long-term, but all made a real impact on the life of the church and the community. What the projects had in common was that they did not require large amounts of money, great expertise or knowledge or big numbers of volunteers. They were manageable, creative and they worked.
The time we had together to share all these stories was inspiring and encouraging, and people who already do amazing things went away with ideas for even more things.
The purpose of the workshop was not only to share these stories with each other but to create a website to share these stories widely with local churches, so that they too can be inspired and add to their ideas. The website is organised according to the Vision2020 statements, so that people can easily find ideas relating to a particular statement or theme. The website can be found at http://thingsthatwork.urc.org.uk
Take a look – this film was made for us by Revd. Jamie Kissack during the event:
Trees need roots, and the Latin word meaning “of or having roots” is radicalis from the Latin radix or root. In botany the word for root is radicle. In speaking it sounds exactly the same as the word for getting to the deepest most fundamental part of something, going to the origin, essential: radical.
So real change has to be deeply rooted, not ephemeral or superficial.
People are rooted in their land. It has always been that way, particularly when most people were still responsible for growing everything they needed to eat. Exiles yearn for the land that they came from, and there is more than one migrant who has brought with them a little jar of earth from the homeland that they may never see again. It was like that for the people of Jerusalem taken captive by the Babylonians and whisked away to exile in two waves. How were the first set of exiles to live in this strange place? They wrote home to their prophet Jeremiah: “What should we do?”. The reply eventually came in Jeremiah 29.1-7 as a message about buying land and growing food as a sign of being prepared to settle in a new homeland. The first wave of exiles were to settle down and seek the good of their adopted city. But back in Jerusalem things were not going well for the next generation. There had been a rebellion by the people of Jerusalem and once again a Babylonian king laid siege to the city. Jeremiah was still a prophet but he’d upset the royal court by telling a few home truths. He could see that a second wave of exile was on its way, and that the people would lose hope. So he dared to buy a patch of land (Jeremiah 32. 1-15) as a sign of hope. The land would become worthless land if the people were going to be taken away, but Jeremiah’s action told them that whatever happened the exile would not be for ever – God’s people will come home.
In 2005 in a small town called Cedar Grove in North Carolina a shopkeeper was killed. The local Methodist Church held a prayer vigil for healing and peace at the site of the murder. At the vigil the visions of two women came together – Scenobia Taylor, an African-American woman had a vision to donate 5 acres of her family’s land to the church for the healing of the community. Rev Grace Hackney, the minister of the predominantly white church was exploring ways that the community could reconcile with the land by growing food sustainably. One thing led to another, there was a mobilisation of voluntary effort and it grew into the Anathoth Community Garden, named after the place where Jeremiah bought a field as a sign of hope, and his message to the Israelites in exile to make peace by planting gardens. The understanding of the Anathoth Community Gardeners is that in the beginning, humans ate, and in the beginning Christianity was about eating. In order to eat it makes sense to grow the food together, and the working and the eating becomes sacramental – signs of God’s grace. And they take seriously what God said about having dominion over creation, remembering that in Genesis human beings were called to name the animals and serve and keep the soil. So the context in which they exercise dominion is the garden. As they say – “not Eden from which we came, not the New Jerusalem toward which we are bound, but the earthly garden of creation, in which daily we not only live and move, but from which we derive our sustenance.”
Working together, growing food together, people of very different backgrounds learn to respect one another as they respect creation. It’s a little bit of paradise gardening, because we’re not yet back in the Garden of Eden but we get glimpses of it in being radically rooted to the earth.
Gardening gives freedom. Back in 1989 a group of feminist theologians from around the world got together and wrote a book called “In search of our mother’s gardens”. They remembered how their mothers had subverted traditional structures and planted their own visions of beauty and freedom. The garden can be a place of confinement for women and they recognised that too. The act of refusing to inherit their mother’s garden in some cases was liberating, especially where that inheritance included memories of slavery. Land can mean different things to different people in different generations. It can be a reason for staying put or a means of drawing you back to a homeland you have only heard about in stories. Guerrilla gardening transforms wasted ground and even redundant vehicles into a fruitful and beautiful plot.
Gardens can be places of challenge. In the spring of 2014 congregations around the URC were encourage to plant poppy seeds so that they would bloom in August, 100 years on from the declaration on the First World War. Not just red poppies for remembrance but white poppies for peace too. Some of them came up – maybe others will lie dormant and come up in future years.
Gardening can be a spiritual practice. A beautiful garden is a work of Heart and you don’t always have to have a sign next to the door to know that it is a prayer garden. How many of us have sent up a few words to God about the blessed dandelions or bindweed? Research shows that gardening can reduce stress, and promote wellbeing, whether or not the gardener feels moved to pray as they potter about the beds or turn the soil. Gardening requires attention and keeps us in touch with the changing seasons. Our gardens can be as diverse as our spiritualities but there is always something about being earthed – whether we’re trying to recreate Manet’s water gardens or providing potatoes, carrots and beans for the family’s dinner.
Gardening can be about bringing people together. That huge pumpkin and the other vegetables on the table at a harvest festival came from the local community allotment. Some of the church members are part of the garden group, and rhubarb harvested from there is waiting in a local freezer to be made into pudding for an upcoming community event.
And finally, gardening is surprising so that we stumble into pockets of paradise when we least expect it. That bench next to the greenhouse is in a community garden off a busy road in London – a place of regeneration, beauty and delight in the middle of a built up area. Fiona Thomas
The “God in the Garden” course is 10-12 June 2016 (you can find out more about the course here: God in the Garden). The course leaders are Fiona Thomas and Michael Jagessar.
Brought up on a dairy farm in the Yorkshire Pennines, Fiona Thomas draws on her experience from community development in India and ministerial training in London when tending her own untidy plot in South London. She works for the United Reformed Church as the Secretary for Education & Learning.
From rural rice and cane farming Guyana, Michael Jagessar, a wandering Carib-bean, will draw on his experience as minister, community facilitator, farm hand and manse gardener (across the Caribbean and UK) to reflect on the symbiotic relationship of theology, spirituality, soil, compost, mother earth etc. Michael is responsible for intercultural ministry in the United Reformed Church.
As one of the organisers (all two of us) I’m not sure I’m the right one to be writing about our experience as I could be slightly biased. However here goes.
Bury South Pastorate include Bury URC, Besses o’th Barn URC and Blackford Bridge URC. Having had weekends away in the past at commercial hotels, we decided that a visit to the Windermere Centre was in order.
Bill and I sent out indication of dates and venue to the three churches and we received affirmatives of 25 members wishing to be included. So the planning started. As we are presently without a minister, the Saturday Morning study session was a bit of a headache as we didn’t feel confident in preparing this so we approached the team at the Centre and they were very happy to help. Several emails and a bit of telephone contact later, we had a programme prepared and were ready for the weekend.
So with bags packed, and passengers picked up, I headed for the Lake District on a very fine sunny day. We were the first car to arrive and were met by our host, Barry. I think he was getting worried because no-one had arrived and it was nearing three in the afternoon. After signing in, I showed my passengers to their rooms. Then everyone else started arriving – so I left Barry to register the visitors and I escorted them to their rooms, carrying bags etc. and generally being available to help out including getting the chair lift fixed.
Afternoon tea and coffee was provided, and the weekend began in earnest. The programme of events was on the wall, and our first activity (beetle) was waylaid as someone had forgotten to bring the dice (not me). However people were enjoying just chatting and catching up, so it was lovely to leave them to it. After evening meal we settled down to watch a film. A bit of a technical hitch was overcome, and the film was a hit including the choccies we had brought with us.
After breakfast on Saturday, Rebecca, one of the Windermere Centre team, facilitated our study morning. We looked at our favourite Bible passages, discussed why we had chosen these particular ones, and were surprised to realise that most of our favourite readings were connected in some way. Rebecca was exceptional in leading this. She had warmth and humour, and set it just at the right pitch for us.
As always when you organise something like this, you are worried that all will be well for everyone, but as the weekend went on everyone gelled together. Saturday evening was filled with quizzes, individuals either singing, reading Lancashire dialect poetry, playing the keyboard, or more quizzing including logic to test the mind. Sunday saw the group enjoying a harvest festival service at Carver Uniting Church next door, where we were made to feel truly welcome.
Everyone commented on the Windermere Centre as to its friendliness. Good food and great staff. So much so that they want to come up again. But someone else will have to organise that one!Pam Rowley
Here are some pictures from the weekend
Sunday 13th September
Sunday found me making my way to the Windermere Centre to meet with other people who wanted to do some walking in the beautiful Lake District.
From 3pm we gathered and met our hosts and leaders for the week. After a hearty Sunday meal, we all introduced ourselves to each other and we got to find out the plans for the week. There was to be a high level walk and a low level walk. I opted for the low level walks!
Monday 14th September
The mini bus arrived at 9.30am with the lovely Barbara on board, who was to be our driver for the next three days. We all climbed aboard laden up with walking regalia and picnic lunches. Our first walk was from Skelwith Bridge to the New Dungeon Ghyll via Elterwater, Bays Brown Farm and Oak Howe. The weather was perfect for walking. The leader of the group I joined found himself accompanied by all females. This caused a group of male walkers to stop and ask him what was his secret! However they lost interest when we pointed out his wife keeping the group together at the back. The walk took us up a high path through the Langdales, passing Elterwater. On arrival at our destination, a few of us walked an extra couple of miles to the Olde Dungeon Ghyll and back. Refreshments were had by all before boarding the bus back.
On Monday evening we were entertained by a talk, from a non-stipendiary minister who lives locally, about her earlier life in Belfast.
Tuesday 15th September
Today the destination was to be Easedale Tarn via Sour Milk Ghyll. Our transport today was the open top bus to Grasmere. The journey not without its complications, we finally got there a little later than anticipated. We set off over a pretty little bridge, passing cows and sheep over a stony road. Then we started the ascent up Sour Milk Ghyll, some 1000m of rocky terrain, which was very different from the day before. It was busy on the climb up, with dogs and walkers all out enjoying the sun. This was my favourite walk. It was hard work the climb , but the reward at the top was the view looking back over Easedale, Sour Milk Ghyll from the top, and lunch!
After lunch we crossed over the Ghyll and descended on the other side, over very boggy ground. Two hours later we arrived back in Grasmere, where we had the option of exploring the village if we wished, or of getting straight onto the bus back to the Windermere Centre.
On Tuesday evening, we watched a DVD on the life of Scafell.
Wednesday 16th September
Coniston was our destination today. Of course we didn’t go straight there – there’s no fun in that! We started off at Glen Mary Bridge and walked up through the woods at the side of Tom Ghyll. The weather was beautiful on this day, and the woods looked magical as we meandered our way to Tarn Hows. After doing a full circuit of the tarn, lunch was taken at the side of the water , feeding the ducks as we went along. We had great views of Coniston Old Man and other fells as the weather made visibility so good. After leaving Tarn Hows, we followed the path in the direction of Hawkshead. It took us past lots of different species of trees, a walled garden, and a splendid gazebo. Passing through Monk Coniston, the group arrived at the Bluebird Cafe at Coniston, which was our final stop.
Wednesday evening’s entertainment was two of our walk leaders giving a presentation about walking St Cuthbert’s Way.
Thursday 17th September
The walk today was to be around Grasmere passing round Rydal Water and some of the Coffin Route. I couldn’t take part in the last day as I ended up with blisters from the previous three days’ walking.
These few days have been well run, there has been lots of talking, meeting new people, enjoying new views. The hospitality at the Windermere Centre, from all the staff, has been second to none as ever.
A wonderful time had by all (I think)!
Four years ago my work colleague, Pam Rowley, invited me to attend a four-day residential course in card making. I must admit that on the first session I felt totally out of my depth, but Pam and the course leader, Barbara Aspinall, eased me through my self-doubt, and I survived my first Windermere Centre experience. I now attend at least one course a year, and cannot recommend it enough. Barbara and Pam are so supportive & inspirational that even a nervous newcomer would feel at home within a few hours. But the best part of this course are: meeting people who share your papercraft passion; the laughter; help when all seems lost; and the full support of the Windermere Centre including the good food. I have already booked for 2016.Barbara Cansell
Below, you can see a gallery of some photos taken during September’s Card Mania course:
A group of us from Adlington United Reformed and Methodist Church have just returned home from a wonderful weekend at the Windermere Centre.
We have enjoyed a weekend stay at the Centre every year for the past 21 years. So this year was a special 21st anniversary celebration visit and celebrate we did – in some style!
We have always found our visits enjoyable and enriching. The sessions exploring Bible themes and questions of faith are always thought provoking and everyone’s comments are valued – but it is much more than study sessions. We allow time to see something of this beautiful part of Cumbria, to spend some leisure time together, to pray, celebrate, share Communion together, and to have fun!
The Centre is really “our home in the Lakes”, and as for the food! This year we celebrated our 21 years in style with a wonderful party.
Fellowship, food and fun sums up for us a weekend at the Windermere Centre.
See you all again next year.Marjorie Prescott and Mavis Abel
Here are some pictures from the weekend: