Editorial: A journey of discovery
As we put the finishing touches to this month’s Reform, we are also finishing work on my new book, That That All May Be One: The story of the United Reformed Church. I mention that partly out of self-promotion and partly because it’s hard to think about anything else for the moment.
I was invited to write this book to mark the 50th anniversary of the URC, and it turned into a bit more of an experience than I expected. My initial plan was to interview half a dozen of the heavyweight historians in the URC, write down what they told me and – I’m aware that this doesn’t read well – pass their work off as my own. The problem was that as I talked to them – I’m afraid you might be ahead of me here – I became aware that they had different interpretations of the story they were telling me, and that their different perspectives and personal memories were more interesting than any Official History of the United Reformed Church.
So I spread my net wider and talked to a broader range of people who had been part of the story in one way or another. 2,500 minutes of interview later, I desperately needed to stop but had plenty of gaps to fill and facts to check, so I belatedly started leafing through the 50 years of Reform on my shelf. It was only then it occurred to me what a treasure trove my predecessors had left behind. Yes, helpful reports on debates and controversies and projects, but more than that, decades of arguments, insights, outbursts, laments, wisecracks and rejoicings from people all across the church, preserved on its pages. I even ended up doing proper research in the annals of the General Assembly.
So what this book has ended up being, I think, is a kind of panoramic mosaic made from bits of those different perspectives and stories and perceptions – from interviews and other conversations, from Reform and other publications, and sometimes, at a push, from the official record.
It has been a fascinating journey of discovery and the story has gripped me. I hope I’m not the only one. I have ended up finding out far more about the URC than I meant to – the hopes and disappointments, the turmoil and breakthroughs, the initiatives and more initiatives. It’s daunting to set myself up as someone who has the right to tell this story that I have pieced together to people who lived it, so the last few weeks have involved lots of panicked pleas to knowledgeable people to read bits of it for me.
But now, after a couple of months of deadline-induced mayhem it’s done, just in time for next month’s jubilee. Phew.
This article was published in the September 2022 edition of Reform