Towards our Third Century

Our Vision for the Parish Church of St James in the decades ahead

Our Parish Priest, Rev’d Diana, talks about the Vision Artwork in this extract from its launch on 23rd July 2023

Click on the video above to hear about our vision picture, or scroll down for an extract from the talk by Rev’d Diana, given when we introduced the picture to our congregation in church on 23rd July, at the feast of St James.

Click the link: we featured in the Church Times in October 2023.

“As you know, we published a closely reasoned and beautifully researched vision document this last year, called ‘Towards our Third Century’. It is the result of at least three years of dedicated thought, work and debate. I was grappling with where we should take that excellent work next. It’s excellent in its content  – that’s solid gold – yet maybe a little dull in its necessary wordiness. It does not quicken the pulse. It’s inspired. It’s not gripping.

So I was mulling over how we could describe our Church of St James; how we should point to our vision for the future; how most easily we could see what actions we could take; and how best to show what we are at present – when a conversation with a Riding Mill artist, the lovely Hannah Thorpe, gave us both inspiration. Hannah was showing me some artwork she had produced for commercial firms to illustrate their values. One was Greggs, the sandwich makers of the Northeast.

She takes up the story: “I showed Riding Mill’s St James Church’s Priest in Charge my Greggs ‘pasty map’ at a village event. Happily it led to St James Church’s ‘vision’: to five rough drafts, a religious iconography study, some interesting theology chat and plenty of craic. And there’s less pastry…”

Hannah’s brief was to represent the church’s vision ‘Towards our Third Century’ in a mainly pictorial, joyful, accessible, and not stuffy way: with a nod to our local context as well as wider theology. She remarked that “It’s definitely bonkers, but hopefully in a good way.”  You can be the judge.

The overall image describes St James’ in its place: Riding Mill in the Tyne valley. The artist has used what she refers to as “OS map geekery” to describe the river, roads, hills, fields and wild country around us. The depth of symbolism, especially within the circle that represents the Church, is remarkable. Look, for example, at air/fire/earth references – including some that point to this being holy ground. It refers to the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, though Hannah has set fire to the heather on the hillside as that is a much more Northumbrian way than a simple burning bush. Moses’ sandals and bare footprints are still there, though, pointing us to God’s holy places.

She has given us multiple focus points, too: not least pointing to the two great commandments of Jesus:

Love God 

Love your neighbour as yourself 

Our friends in the Methodist congregation and the Passionists from Minsteracres are in there: Churches Together working together like a jigsaw;

as is the wonderful Broomhaugh First School.

And the work of our congregation is celebrated – look closely yourselves to see all the things a lively and committed parish gets up to, as well as…

…visual clues about our desire to be truly inclusive…

…about the sociable quality of our coffee…

…about our commitment to the environment…

…and about the beauty of our buildings.

The picture will hang in the Church Cottage and be used on digital screens in church, printed on notelets and cards. High quality half- and full-size giclée prints can be ordered through the church at cost plus a donation to church funds. We may even make a banner, who knows? Already, people have said how useful the image will be to focus prayer, to inspire action, to celebrate what we are already, to affirm what people do, to see where we might one day be, and to remind us all why we need our lovely church in Riding Mill.

In our Communion services, when we share bread and wine, I say that the bread is a remembrance of the ‘Body of Christ’, which was given for us. The congregation of a church can also be thought of as Christ’s body here on earth. So the resemblance of the circle of church, held by God’s hands, to the Communion wafer is no idle coincidence!

I pray and hope that Hannah’s icon-like painting, with its depth of imagery, will serve to remind us where we are going here in Riding Mill, as we head towards our third century.

And what of the Priest – for you’ll see there is no minister visible in the image? That is deliberate, for we should not be a clergy-centred parish: rather we are a congregation that needs and values everyone and stands tall with every person in the parish.  In the scheme of things, priests come, stay as long as they are needed, and go. You remain.

So I have pitched my tent on the hillside – it’s a Terra Nova Voyager, faithfully drawn in Hannah’s picture – and from it I can pray, teach, bless, worship, observe, support, encourage, lead, baptise, marry, and commend to God for as long as you’ll have me. In time, not too soon I trust, in a jolly long time I hope, but one day – I will strike camp and move on. For it is your parish, the parish of St James, Riding Mill. And Hannah’s picture is a Riding Mill view, of what is, after all, yours to have, to hold, and to enjoy.”

The Reverend Diana says,

“I commend it to you.