Michael Hopkins inducted as Wessex Synod Moderator

Michael Hopkins, Wessex Synod Moderator, and Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of the URC General Assembly

On Saturday 23 March, 2024, the Revd Dr Michael Hopkins was inducted as Moderator of the URC Wessex Synod during an act of worship at London Street United Reformed Church in Basingstoke.

Michael was appointed following the move by the Revd Clare Downing to be Moderator of the North Western Synod.

Introduced by the Revd Josh Thomas, acting Minister at the church, himself the grandson of the late George Thomas, who served Wessex Synod as Clerk for many years, the service was led by the Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of the URC General Assembly 2023-2024.

The packed church listened to the choir, which came together especially for the service, led by the Revd Michael Hodgson, which began with the South African traditional hymn Mayenziwe ‘ntando yakho, transcribed by John Bell.

Hymns and anthems included O for a thousand tongues to sing, Not far beyond the sea, nor high; Brother, Sister, Let me serve you; Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart; Take this moment, sign and space; finishing with And can it be that I should gain.  

Ecumenical and international guests included the Revd Andrew de Ville, Chair of the Methodist Southampton District, the Revd David Barrett, Deputy Chaplain General of the Army, Bishop Lordwell Siame from the Lusaka Presbytery of the United Church of Zambia and Pasteur Charles Klagba of the region Nord-Normandie of the Eglise protestant unie de France.

In his sermon, the Revd Dr John P Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, used Jeremiah 29 as the principal text.

“The words … mark out the words of our text today as being the words of a true prophet – not the words of the false prophets whose message is being contrasted with the words of the true prophet. There is often a choice of voices to heed, so how does one discern which voices might be the voices of wisdom, and which the voices that might lead one astray?

“Many were listening to those whose message they liked, those who they wanted to believe. What were these voices saying? ‘it will soon be over’, and ‘vengeance will be yours’, and ‘resist your enemy – destroy them from within’. How we like to pay heed to the voices that say the things we want to hear. To follow the people on X, formerly Twitter, and Tik-Tok who chime with the way we see the world. To vote for those who promise us the earth because we want it to be true.

“Such voices are false prophets. They lie. To be a true prophet is to be realistic.

So when your new Moderator tells you that of course every congregation can have its own minister, that of course every new minister he inducts will restore the Sunday School to many scores or hundreds of children, will visit everyone in need every day, and magic an army of Elders, Secretaries, Treasurers and people for the tea-rota out of nowhere….well…you might be just a little sceptical.

“Part of the prophetic ministry of the Moderator is precisely to help congregations face reality as it is. And much of our reality is currently extremely challenging. Pretending otherwise and that there are easy solutions gets us nowhere. We are required to face reality squarely, name it, and engage with it. That is the task of the truly prophetic Moderator.

“A Moderator who is a true prophet will help you spot the seeds that you can plant today, that might never feed you – but stand the possibility of feeding those who come after you. A prophetic Moderator will be hopeful – not naively optimistic, or living in fantasy land, but a prophet who will help you see something in a different light, and spot the possibility within it.

“Even as churches reach the end of their mission and close, as realistically we know many will in the next few years – they can do so in a way that plants a seed for something new to emerge. As Christians, we are called to die hopefully. “For unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In his personal statement to the congregation, Michael Hopkins described a Moderator as “a Minister to Ministers and a friend of churches.” He also discovered that there was Wessex Gin and Wessex black pudding, so his appointment “was meant to be.”

“The challenge is to see where God is at work in Wessex, and to join in with that.”

After the affirmations, presentations were given by Linda Jackson, Church Secretary of Twyford URC, where Michael was ordained; the Revd Wilbert Sayimani, Minister of Richmond Hill St Andrew’s URC, Bournemouth; the Revd Hayley Young, Regional Minister of the Southern Counties Baptist Association and the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Guildford.

After welcomes from ecumenical and URC guests, prayers were led by the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, the Bishop of Reading.

Photos by Andy Jackson, URC Head of Commnications, and Tony Brett, Convenor of the NW Pastoral Committee of the Wessex Synod.