Interview: In it together
Kevin Watson and Alan Yates talk to Charissa King and Stephen Tomkins
Local churches have stories to tell, and they are not always the ones we are used to hearing. They are stories of unassuming people having an impact on their communities out of all proportion to their size. Two people who have been hearing many such stories are the Revd Kevin Watson and Mr Alan Yates. As Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, they have spent the past two years travelling around local congregations and seeing what they’re up to, as well as chairing Assembly and other meetings. There can be few better ways to get to know a national Church. As they approach the end of their term, Reform asked them to share their insights.
You’re in the last stretch of the job now. Were the last two years what you expected?
Alan Yates: Yes.
Kevin Watson: Absolutely. I hoped that we would visit churches in our three nations and get to know what’s going on. And, patronisingly, to encourage them – but actually they’ve encouraged me, if I’m being honest, because to discover what folk are doing in their communities is just amazing.
AY: My fear was that Kevin and I would be the moderators that presided over a split in the United Reformed Church. Not because of who we are – just because of timing, with the same-sex marriage debate. I’m really thrilled that we did not.
KW: Important as that decision was, I would say even more important was the message that the URC gave to the Church and the world about how we live with diversity. We did not squash one particular view as being wrong, but we’ve embraced many views. That is a good example of how we live with diversity.
How was that achieved?
AY: By grace. I mean that in two ways: it was very clear the grace of God was there – in the way meetings were handled, the way that people debated. I particularly remember a minister whose own feelings didn’t align with same-sex marriage and yet felt he was called to stay, to show we are one in Christ. We saw grace, secondly, in individuals who helped our Church embrace diversity in a much more positive way than it might have done.
KW: A number of people whom I respect – passionate about what they believed, passionate to push for more inclusion or to restrict inclusion to a particular biblical theology – were saying not: ‘We want to win our case’ but ‘We want to be heard.’ Our Church gave them that opportunity.
The dialogue goes on. What do we do when somebody asks for marriage in a church which hasn’t agreed to it? Churches are developing the trust to work together. The URC has a message to the world about how it does governance: you have local, contextual church meeting, you have regional synodical strategy, and then you have national Church embracing the whole lot. It’s all for mission, whether on issues facing the whole world, or issues just facing that little community in Blogsville. When we respect each of these things and work together, it’s brilliant.
Did it surprise you that that your fear of a split wasn’t realised?
AY: In some ways no, because throughout it all I have felt supported, both by an unseen Spirit and by a seen spirit – many seen spirits, Kevin being one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever been out of my comfort zone so often as I have in the last 18 months. To survive that is not a personal tribute, it’s a tribute to the support both of the unseen Spirit and the seen spirit…
This is an extract from an article that was published in the May 2018 edition of Reform