The seven United Reformed Churches in Minshull, Haslington and Crewe, Over, Northwich, Nantwich, Congleton, Middlewich and Alsager, form the South Cheshire group. Basic details of the churches . The churches have been loosely connected for many years. Indeed, Minshull has been linked to most of them in its two hundred years.
With the reduction in ministers it has become necessary to work out how to minister to all the churches satisfactorily. It took a long time and many discussions until we eventually agreed to the following resolution.
Formal Resolution agreed on 15/2/12
The Church Meeting agrees to the formation of a South Cheshire Group of churches to include Alsager, Congleton, Crewe and Haslington, Middlewich, Minshull Vernon, Northwich and Over Winsford. A ministerial team of two full-time Stipendiary Ministers and two part-time/Non Stipendiary Ministers will initially serve the South Cheshire Group. Whilst being part of a ministerial team, each of the ministers will have pastoral charge of specific churches:
• Revd Bill Farquhar will have pastoral charge of Crewe and Haslington.
• The incoming Stipendiary Minister will have pastoral charge of Congleton and Al sager
• Revd Chris Tolley (or his successor) will have pastoral charge of Northwich, Over Winsford and Minshull Vernon.
• Revd David Spence will have pastoral charge of Middlewich, and also become the URC Link Minister for Nantwich.
It is envisaged that the two Stipendiary Ministers will devote approximately 15% of their time to churches outside those in their pastoral charge, which will include leading approximately 8 services per year. The part time/Non Stipendiary Ministers will also work in other South Cheshire churches, especially in the leading of worship.
Chris Tolley did leave and the new minister for Congleton and Alsager is now Rev. Murray George. We are now looking for a minister at Minshull, Northwich and Over. Meanwhile David Spence is minister at Middlewich and Interim Moderator at Over, Northwich and Minshull. Please say a prayer for him and his wife, Joyce, as you read this. Thank God for the retired ministers in this area, Bill and Philip, who can help him.
The churches have started working together to encourage each other and because they still have friends from past connections. We planned a special service in June 2014 and an outing, also in 2014.
For the first time since the formation of the South Cheshire Pastorate we gathered at Middlewich for a Celebration. This was on 4th June and led by Rev. Howard Sharp. This was a wonderful event and a chance for people to meet new friends as well as meet old ones. As part of our celebrations we began with an act of Worship. This was a service for all ages and there were resources available for really young ones. During the service we there was a period of prayer during which there was a chance to reflect on and give thanks for the life of each church in the group. There were photos of the Churches and that reflected its life, worship, mission and ministry. After all that there was a social event. Many people worked hard to prepare all this for us.
The churches, ministers and secretaries keep in touch by email. They share prayer requests, newsletters, promotions for events and encouragement. Northwich URC have become a Community Church with the Methodists which is a loss to us but better for them.
In February 2015 we had not heard of any prospective ministers. In May we received a profile and the vacancy committee began the procedure of exploring compatibility and calling. In June a prospective minister agreed to attend a social and lead worship at Over URC during August. The representatives and members of the churches and Pastorate did not call him. We are very much aware of the burden that was not lifted from David Spence; please ask God to help him.
Philip Kennerley has had to step down from helping David at Over, owing to ill-health. We thank him and Betty for all they have done and for being such lovely people. May God restore them to enjoy life and witnessing.
The pastorate are planning a united service at Nantwich on 15th May 2016, Pentecost Sunday. We have no details yet. If it’s like our first one last year, it will be a resounding success. It wasn’t like the previous united service, completely different. Our church was well represented. Garry Wareham led the uplifting service with some lovely worship songs, and David Spence gave the sermon. Instead of a lavish tea we had plenty of opportunity to mingle and enjoy chatting to friends from the other churches.
On 19th March 2017 we learned that the group no longer qualifies for another full-time minister. This is a blow to David who has cared for four churches for four years in retirement. Garry Wareham, now at Nantwich, has offered to help oversee Winsford or Middlewich and Murray George, now at Congleton and Alsager, has offered to be minister for us at Minshull. We are pleased for David’s sake and a little apprehensive about change even though it may be for the better. At our special church meeting we agreed to call Murray who will start in September, after his Sabbatical.
Murray started at Minshull on 17th September. Garry and David will each give 25% of their time to Over (focussing on worship and pastoral matters respectively) from 22nd October. David also gives 50% of his time to Middlewich while Garry continues to minister at Nantwich for 75%. David will also be the ‘link’ at Northwich which is overseen by the Methodist ministers. This could be a long-term temporary arrangement necessitated by the shortage of ministers and the dwindling congregations.
Murray led the service for all the churches in the Pastorate when we gathered at Alsager on 3rd June 2018. There were marked differences which enhanced the service, and traditional items which gave security. Stuart Radcliffe spoke about Jeremiah 29 and Mark 5 teaching us to settle down where we are for that is where God has placed us, and yet take our differences into the community and families that have rejected our faith. We were grateful to Ian for his music on the piano, Christine for her prayers, and Elizabeth and Lisa for reading the scriptures.
The tea was excellent, of course, with plenty of chat.