Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas

Quite a marathon of services, but they seem to have gone well. Feeling rather exhausted this evening! I am taking a few days off from tomorrow, but hope to post later in the week. I will try to be back to normal next week.

A special thank you to those who have sent good wishes for Christmas.

A very happy Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

Well, I have just had a bit of a doze after lunch! Was up at 6.30am to get ready for this morning's three services. It was nice to have a completely full church for our Carol Service at 10.00am. Normally we have our traditional style Carol Service in the evening, but, for various local reasons, we were not able to do that this year. It seemd to work, though. In two hours, we have our Chirstingle and Crib Service followed by the midnight Eucharist. The midnight is my favourite service of the year althoughI always feel that my sermon never quite manages to meet the occasion.

Tonight, I am going to begin with Time magazine's choice of me as its Person of the Year. It is the first time I have won this award, and I am, not surprisingly, quite pleased to have won it. I will be telling the congregation all about it, and then I'll tell them why I don't really deserve it.

I hope you are all having a good Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Personal Journey 15: Initial Opposition

I am posting today conscious that I have finished the post rather abruptly, but I wanted to post, and this is as much as I can manage before Christmas. I will do my best to finish it next week! I love Christmas, but it is hectic! Please pray for me as I preach over Christmas. I always feel that what we are celebrating demands more than I am capable of. To any in Banchory who are reading this: thank you for so many memorable Christmases when I was with you. I hope you have an especially happy Christmas and that it is the first of many for your new Rector. May God bless her in the years ahead.

Personal Journey 15: Initial Opposition

It was clear that change within the church was not going to happen overnight so I aimed, in the short term, at doing two things:

1. Making what we did as friendly and as welcoming as possible without actually changing what we did.

2. Getting as involved personally as possible in the local community so that I could establish and build relationships with people.

The second was to prove easier than the first. Let me give you an idea of the problem. I was 37 when I was installed as the Rector. I was the youngest person on the Church Council (known as the Vestry in Scotland), and one of the youngest in the Church. There were about 5 children in the Sunday School. The services themselves were all very traditional, using traditional language and centred on the choir. And this was in a young town full of young couples with very young children.

On a personal level, I had come to believe at LBC that worship should be Eucharistic, that is, that the Eucharist should be at the heart of the Church’s life. On a Sunday at Banchory, there was an 8.00am Eucharist followed by a morning service, which started at 10.00am. I then had to be at Kincardine O’Neil by 11.15am for their morning service. As it was a ten mile drive, it was tight, and it meant that I could not stay behind afterwards for coffee and simply to chat with the congregation. What is more, the main morning service at Banchory was alternately the Eucharist and Mattins.

For the Eucharist, the congregation was used to the priest standing facing the altar with his back to the congregation. This was a practice that even the Catholics had changed with Vatican II. I did not want to do anything too radical, like moving the altar so I could stand behind it, facing the congregation, as had happened in most other Anglican and Catholic churches, so I moved to the side. I think the understanding that some within the church had come to was that the moment I made any change, no matter how small that change was, they would vigorously protest in the hope that they would discourage me from making any further changes.

I had been Rector just a few weeks when a letter complaining about me was written to the Bishop. It was by the same person who had demanded an assurance that I wouldn’t change anything. He complained that I was making unacceptable changes in the church and that I was ruining an otherwise happy church. He gave as examples my not turning my back on the congregation, telling people to sit or kneel for prayer, and saying ‘good morning’ at the start of the service. Fortunately, on paper the complaint sounded ridiculous and, besides, the Bishop realized that I hadn’t had time to make any changes, not significant ones anyway. However, the Bishop was new himself and handled it gently. I did what I could to explain and reassure. I did feel rather vulnerable, though, and unsure how to proceed.

However, the letter had precisely the opposite affect within the congregation. Most were good, kind people with a sense of fairness. And people felt that this was just unfair and that I was not being given a chance. Several older people, who knew the complainant well, told him what they thought of his behaviour and offered public support for what I was trying to do. This was a much needed encouragement.

While I was having mixed success with the first of my aims, things were, however, going better with the second. The most significant was my involvement with local schools. I had thought when I left Bedford that I would be leaving involvement with education behind. How wrong I was! Upon arriving in Banchory, I was asked to join the three other clergy in the town as a Chaplain to the local primary and secondary schools. Involvement in the primary school was to be especially important and a source of much joy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Personal Journey 14: From Evangelical Anglican to Orthodox Christian

I just about managed to post yesterday and today is the same. Absolutely frantic here in the run up to Christmas. It's fun though! I wish I could have expressed today's post better as it is at the heart of my journey. I hope it is not too unclear!

Personal Journey 14: From Evangelical Anglican to Orthodox Christian

If you have been following this somewhat tortuous story, you may remember that when I left Moreton, I still described myself as an evangelical Anglican. While at Bedford, I remained an Anglican by virtue of the fact that I was licensed by the Bishop and paid by the C of E. I had to go light on Anglicanism in my ministry, however, as I was the Ecumenical Chaplain representing all of the churches. When asked to preach, I could as easily find myself in a Methodist Church as in an Anglican one. But what about the ‘evangelical’ part of evangelical Anglican?

In my teaching and ministry at Bedford, I remained fundamentally evangelical in my theological convictions. However, I saw my ministry in an inclusive sense wanting to encourage people to think about Christian faith and to be open to going to church, even if they were reluctant to do so. It was often the old adage, ‘liking Jesus, not liking the Church’, though to be fair, their impression of church was often formed without having had much contact with either the Church in general or a church in particular. It was the image of the church that they were reacting against.

In my work with students, many evangelical attitudes did not seem so much wrong as irrelevant to lives and experience of the people I was working with. Let me relate an incident, which I think helps to explain what I mean. Early on in my time at Bedford, a local evangelical Vicar had come to speak to the Christian Union. The Christian Union was made up mainly of students who had come straight from school and who belonged to evangelical churches in the town. The Vicar speaking about Jesus related how Jesus had mixed freely with sinners, drunk wine, and gone to parties. Of course he told them, we as Christians should do none of these things. In practice what this meant was that he was telling them that, basically, they must cut themselves off from the social life of the College.

I felt this was bad evangelistically as well as a somewhat illogical conclusion to draw from what he had said about Jesus. As one of the ways I personally got to know the students was by going to the college bar, joining their social gatherings and events, and mixing freely with them without passing judgment on them, I obviously felt we had a fundamentally different approach.

It is also true to say that, increasingly, I did not actively seek out evangelical company. I didn’t attend the evangelical clubs and conferences, for example. In retrospect, I think I should have been selective and attended some. Again, I felt that I needed to be able to mix with Christians across the spectrum of what is described as churchmanship. I also valued the space I felt being outside of evangelical culture. Having said that, my sermons would have been perfectly at home within an evangelical environment and, oddly, were well received, when I went to preach at an evangelical church. Now I would probably use the label post-evangelical to describe myself, but that was not very common then!

When I got to Banchory being back in a parish church, I had to make up my mind on what basis I would approach my ministry in a church setting. Leaving England helped! In England, individual parish churches were, and are, very much of a type: some evangelical, some catholic, some liberal, some charismatic, etc. They can get away with this exclusive type of approach because if someone does not happen to like one parish church, but still wants an Anglican church, there is normally one not far away that they will like. In Scotland, that is not the case generally speaking. If you are an Anglican, and it matters to you that you go to an Anglican Church, your local Anglican church is often the only one for quite some distance. In any case, as I have explained, there are fewer Anglican churches in Scotland. Some Rectors (what we call Vicars in Scotland) consciously decided to make their church evangelical. Fewer were evangelical in the first place.

Within the congregation at Banchory were a mixed group of Christians. Some were evangelical in outlook and some were more Catholic with all types in between. I decided at the start that was how I wanted it to stay and that I would seek to be inclusive of all who wanted to worship with us. Having got out of English sectarianism, I came to believe that Anglican worship could allow for a very inclusive approach once you got over certain difficulties!

The trouble with inclusive approaches, however, is that they can take a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach and end up saying nothing. I wanted to be inclusive, but I wanted us to have an identity that as many as possible would respond to and find spiritually satisfying. In practical terms this meant wearing vestments, identical to those worn by Roman Catholics in fact. This had been a big no-no with all the evangelicals I had ever known and I had never worn them myself before Banchory. When I came to Banchory I agreed to do so. At first this was about reaching out to more catholically minded Christians and also not wanting to offend those for whom this was important. It was to come to mean something much more important and more significant. More about this in the future!

Again early on in my time at Banchory, Bishop Bruce asked the churches in the Diocese to each produce a mission statement. What he was trying to do was to get churches to think beyond survival and from looking inwards to growth and looking outwards. Whatever you may think about mission statements, it at least made a point.

The fact is that many churches just left it to the Rector to write and then commented upon it. Banchory was no different. Preparing the statement, however, was a useful exercise for me. In England, churches would have used this to signal if they were evangelical or not. I wanted to say that I wanted the church to believe in the authority of the Bible without committing us to a particular cultural expression of what that meant. The phrase I used in 1993 is one that I am pleased to say many more are adopting. I wrote that we were orthodox Christians who believed in the authority of the Bible and the historic creeds of the Church.

I realized that this was what I did indeed believe and that this was where my journey so far had taken me. I have always believed in the Bible and its authority. I do think it is trustworthy. Of course it has to be interpreted, but that does not mean that you can lose huge sections of it or simply ignore others. This I think is why I could preach without difficulty in an evangelical church without necessarily being comfortable there for other reasons. Nor do I think that there are no limits to interpretation. I believe that the Holy Spirit did truly guide the Church into all truth when the Ecumenical Councils framed the creeds.

This conviction has grown and I am encouraged lately to see other Christians coming to much the same conclusion. I believe that this is a position of integrity that gives us the freedom to express and explore the Christian faith without losing the faith that ‘was once and for all delivered to the saints’. Bishop Bruce’s exercise may not have had all the consequences he may have wished, but it helped me for one define where I was coming from.

In my ministry, I sought to continue to make the Bible the basis of my ministry and teaching, the Creeds the fundamental definition of what I believed the Bible taught, and mission a fundamental priority of church life. I also endeavoured to adopt an open and inclusive approach to church membership.

It was, and I believe is, a good place to start, but how to translate it into practice?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Advent 4: Saved!

Today is the last in the series of meditations for Advent. I'll post again tomorrow!

Advent 4: Saved!

‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been righteoussed by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.’ (Romans 5:8-9)

God is angry with our sin. And if we are honest, we will admit he has every right to be. We all know, don’t we, that we have done things of which we are ashamed? None of us would welcome having our past lives displayed on a screen for all to see. We all know that the world we live in is full of wickedness, cruelty, and injustice. We are angry with our sin. The difference is that we have no power to do anything about it. We are weak and helpless trapped by the very thing that we condemn in others and in our world.

We are not always conscious of this helplessness but it finds a sub-conscious outlet. Our despair expresses itself in our behaviour: in our cravings and addictions; in our longings for power, money, and control; in our desire for sex, for food, for slimness, for meaning, and for pleasure. We know all is not well. Life seems hopeless. We feel helpless. We search for help and for meaning. But to no avail.

‘For while were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.’

And this is the Bible’s message of salvation. The message that we have rejected as irrelevant or have tried to change to meet the needs of the hour.

‘For I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power for God to salvation.’ What is the Gospel? It is the good news concerning Jesus Christ whose birth we are about to celebrate. Yes, God was and is angry with us. Yes, God is the Judge before whom we all must appear. Yes, we must face the consequences of our actions. But God the Judge is also God our Creator. And because he created us, despite what we have done, are doing and will do, he still cares for us.

Any parent must know this feeling. Your son or daughter has done something of which you really disapprove, something which really makes you mad, but even so, you would die for him or her if you had to.

Well, God has.

He is not a detached observer who has no understanding of our plight or condition. He is one who has become one of us and has experienced it all. Did he have to do this? No. Why did he do this? Because even though our behaviour angers him as – let’s face it - it angers ourselves, he still loves us and cares for us.

This Christmas it’s a straight choice: go on as we have been doing, trying to run away and avoiding the consequences of our actions and behaviour, or admit we need help. The help we need lies in a manger.

What do we have to do to receive this the greatest of gifts? How do we find the help we so desperately need? This was the question a prison guard asked St Paul when he had given up all hope. The answer, the same then as it is now, is both simple and profound: Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Personal Journey 13: Arrival in Banchory

Everything is happening at once this weekend so I am hurrying to make this post now. I will tell you all about the weekend on Monday!

Personal Journey 13: Arrival in Banchory

Bishop Bruce kept his promise to write, but he phoned me first and told me that he and both the churches wanted me. He said, however, that he understood that I had doubts and that I should take a couple of weeks to think about it. There was no rush. I was very moved by his understanding and kindness. I had expected him to want an answer there and then and, if so, it would have been no. His sensitivity and obvious desire to do the right thing convinced me that the least I could do in return was to think again. This I promised to do.

Quite why I changed my mind I do not know, but in those two weeks I did. Bishop Bruce’s letter came, and I replied accepting. I was the first person he appointed as Bishop, and he became a much loved and trusted friend. One of the biggest sadnesses I felt when the time came to leave Banchory was knowing that I was losing Bruce as my Bishop. Bruce himself went on to succeed Richard Holloway as Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He is a truly good man!

Banchory wanted me to start at the beginning of the New Year. It was quite a rush, but people at College were very supportive and everything seemed to go smoothly. I arrived in Banchory on a cold, snowy day only to find that all the pipes in the Rectory were frozen. Next, the pipes in the church hall burst flooding the hall just before the service to install me as the Rector. A cold welcome! Not nearly as cold as the welcome that I got from some members of the church. I must stress that many were extremely friendly and helpful. I suppose the colder reaction makes a greater impression.

A group in the church had already decided before I came and before they met me that I would want to change everything and were determined to stop me. They had reached this conclusion not because of anything I had said or done, but because of what they had seen happening in other churches. They knew that their style of worship belonged to a certain era, but were determined to resist any attempts at change it.

After I arrived, I was summoned to the house of a prominent member of the church who asked me for an assurance that I would change nothing during my time there. I replied that change for the sake of change was not my style, that I was not in a hurry to make changes, but that no-one could give those sort of assurances. The irony of this was that this member of the church was a member of Margaret Thatcher’s government which was of the most radical post-war governments Britain has had. It was a government that was changing every aspect of British life.

The culture shock for me was intense. Not in Scotland, in general, which I liked even more now I lived there, nor in Banchory, which was very lively and international. I soon made friends in the town. I loved the people who I found warm and welcoming. But in the church it was like being in a different world. I knew that I had to move slowly and that radical change would be wrong. In any case, I genuinely believed it was not so much my church, but our church, and that change should evolve gradually and by consent. More than that, I disliked confrontational styles of ministry and wanted to take people with me. But I hadn’t grasped quite how intense the opposition to change was going to be.

Evensong was held once a month. The choir loved this service as they got to sing on their own at it. The problem in my mind wasn’t just that, in this form, it was not a service I would have ever chosen, but that there were very few people in the congregation. I commented on this and said we should try to get a few more to come. The reply was, ‘What’s the problem, the choir are here.’ That was the problem.

I was convinced that Banchory was a mission opportunity. Many of the incomers were from England and were naturally sympathetic to Anglicanism. There were four churches in the town. Relationships were friendly between them and we all offered something different. I wanted to reach those who did not go to church, but who were open to the idea. It was clear that interesting times lay ahead.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Personal Journey 12: North to Scotland

The weather is supposed to be about to drop quite a bit here. That means to about 15C. It used to be this in the summer in Banchory - one of the many things I still miss about the place! Today is about my first visit there.

Personal Journey 12: North to Scotland

As I approached the end of my third contract, though, I felt that the time had come to move on from Bedford. Bedford again wanted me to stay, but I did feel that not having served as a Vicar of a parish was probably a deficiency in my experience and what is more I felt that coming up for 9 years was enough in the College. It had not been a bad experience for me to have had the chance to minister outside the normal structures of the Church, but I did not want to stay outside them for ever.

Let me say this though. The people I worked with in Bedford lived complicated, messy, and difficult lives. Often they were lives of pain, sacrifice, and hardship. Many had suffered abuse and were very alone in life, doing their best in challenging circumstances. But they showed to me kindness, compassion, understanding, support, and laughter that is rare in most churches. Before we consign non-Christians to hell, we need to see, as our Lord saw, that many are just lost sheep without a shepherd to whom we should more than anything else feel love. And we need to feel it, not love of the sentimental watered down type, admittedly, but love all the same. Some time later, I felt that Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons in their writings captured something of the spirit of the culture I worked in at the time.

I am a priest in the Church of God and have felt called to serve him in it, as I have tried to explain, for many years. I was, however, heartily fed up with the way I felt the Church of England went about doing things. I had promised myself that I would try only to go for jobs that were publicly advertised and in which there was an open approach to selection. One week, in the Church Times, I saw a post advertised in the north-east of Scotland for someone to serve as Rector of two churches within the Scottish Episcopal Church. I loved Scotland as a place and this post sounded interesting. I decided to apply.

Perhaps I should explain for those not familiar with the workings of Anglicanism and the Church in the UK, that while the Church of England is the main church in England, and is established as the Church of the land, it is different in Scotland. In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the national church, and is normally known simply as the Church of Scotland. The Anglican or Episcopal Church of Scotland is a small minority church. It maintains strong connections, however, with its bigger sister church in England.

I drove up to Banchory from Bedford, a long journey necessitating an overnight stop on the way if I was to be in time for my interview the next day. Most of the journey was one I was familiar with having done it many times to go on holiday. I was not, however, prepared for Banchory itself. I had expected a quiet village in the north-east of Scotland. What I found was a lively, thriving, cosmopolitan small town.

As a result of the discovery of North Sea oil, Aberdeen had become the centre of the oil industry, not only in the UK, but also in Europe. Banchory, some 20 miles from Aberdeen on Deeside, was a popular place for people who had moved up to Abereeen to live. It was a lovely town, and it was no wonder that it was so popular. People from London used to have to be dragged up screaming to Aberdeen, thinking they were leaving life behind. Once there, you couldn’t get them to leave. The population wasn’t just incomers, though, many locals in Banchory had grown up and lived there all their lives. They remembered when it was, indeed, a small village in the north-east of Scotland. But while the locals would tease and banter with the English, most did not resent their presence. In fact, the incomers had brought a big boost to the local economy. Many locals had become relatively well-off on the money of the incoming oil workers.

The other church was in a village called Kincardine O’Neil. This was much smaller and further down the Dee Valley to Banchory. It was still mainly agricultural in character. The church attracted people who had English connections although they had come from local families. They were mainly estate owners. ‘Estate, that is, as in hunting, shooting, and fishing estate!’

The main church was St Ternan’s in Banchory. Christ Church in Kincardine O’Neil had a small congregation of around 15. There was one service on Sunday. At interview most of the attention was centred on Banchory. I spent a couple of days there staying with one of the congregation overnight. Everyone was very kind and it was clear that they loved their church. What was also clear, however, was that many did not want any change at all. The church existed in a time warp. It was like going back to an English village church in the 1950s. The services were all conducted in prayer book language; Mattins was still one of the main services. The social life revolved around jumble sales and coffee mornings, and there was no impression being made on the significant numbers of people who had moved into the town, most of whom were young couples with families. The church was almost a child free zone, which was incredible given the number of children in the town itself.

Now all this need not necessarily have been a problem if the church had wanted to change and reach out to the local community. There was no sign, however, that anyone did. Quite the reverse. One of the main worries seemed to be that any rector would want to do precisely that. The contrast with the work I was doing was stark and it was unlike any church I had been involved with before. I left Banchory feeling that it was not for me. However, the Bishop had asked that I would visit him on the way home.

Bishop Bruce had just been appointed Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney. He had been consecrated Bishop, but had not yet moved to Aberdeen from Perth where he had been the Rector of the Church. I was to visit him in Perth.

Perth had always had a special affection for me. Whenever I went on holiday I would visit Perth not least because it was the gateway to the places I liked to go to in Scotland. It was impossible not to like Bruce. He was a person of obvious integrity, warmth, and sincerity. He was honest, open, and willing to listen. I expressed my doubts about going to Banchory and my fears of what the problems would be. I also stressed that for me mission would have to be paramount and that I could not see the Church liking that. As it happens Bishop Bruce was thoroughly committed to mission himself, and shared the same concerns as I had. But I did not know that at the time.

Bishop Bruce promised to be in touch after consulting with the two churches. I left thinking that it was academic anyway as I would not accept the appointment even if they offered it. I remember sitting in a lay-by just outside of Perth eating a Marks and Spencer roast beef sandwich and drinking a glass of claret thinking how sad it was that I wouldn’t be coming to Scotland after all.

Funny, isn’t it, how things turn out!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Advent: 3. The Wrath of God

Monday Morning

The beginning of a busy week. It has been a long time since I have been able to take a break. I am hoping to take the Sunday off after Christmas, but it is proving very difficult to find anyone to cover for me. It is one of the biggest pressures here: feeling that everything depends on me and that there is no-one able or willing to help. Let’s hope that by the end of the week I will have found someone! I hope so.

On a happier note, our congregation here is growing, numerically at least, and everyone is getting very excited now Christmas is drawing near. Yesterday was Pledge Sunday when we ask the congregation to pledge themselves and their resources to God for the year ahead. It met with a most encouraging response.

Today, I post the third in the series for advent. This one is about a little discussed topic nowadays. Back to the Personal Journey series tomorrow.

Have a good week!

The Wrath of God

The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is because we are trapped in sin that we need saving. Salvation, in traditional Christian terms, is from sin and its consequences. One of the consequences of sin is that it incurs the wrath of God. To put it another way: it makes God angry and receives his response.

It is very easy to dismiss this idea as simply being a throwback to the middle ages: to a time that we have now, thankfully, left behind. And this is what just about most of us Christian and non-Christian alike are doing. You won’t hear many sermons in Church about the wrath of God. This is in part because of what was an unhealthy emphasis on it in some sections of the Church, in times past; in part because we prefer to talk about the love of God; and in part because we just don’t believe in it. A God who gets angry seems far too primitive for our advanced taste.

As far as we are concerned: if God exists (and it’s a big if) he had better be grateful to me for believing in him at all, and be nice to me if he wants me to take any notice of him. Like the genii in the lamp, he is there to grant my wishes, and if he wants my continued attention, then he had better give me more than three. So we have a god for all seasons. A god who is always there. A god who never has a bad word to say about us, who not only accepts me for what I am, but who also would never dream of trying to change me. A 21st century god without any of the nasty bits. A god you aren’t ashamed to be seen out with.

If this is our god, or anything like it, then I have to say that this god does not exist – no matter how much we may like him to. The God of the Bible is not at our beck and call. He is the Creator of all, who calls us all to account, and who holds us all accountable for our behaviour and actions. He is a God who gets angry at sin and who expresses that anger. And one day, the Bible tells us, we all will have to appear before this God for judgement.

We may find this goes against all our prejudices and preconceptions, but the alternative god is a god who does not get angry with sin, who does not judge it, and who does not respond to it. Such a god is one who does not care about the inequality, injustice, exploitation, and downright wickedness of our world. For if we humans care and get angry at racism, or child abuse, or political corruption, then a god who does not is either irrelevant or heartless. But we cannot have a god who is selectively angry at sin. If social and political sin call for a response - and it does - so, too, does our own sin. We are prepared to condemn social and political sins, but we have to guard against seeing the speck in society’s eye and not seeing the beam that is in our own.

It is not enough, however, for God to get angry: that anger must be expressed, otherwise God is either impotent or useless. When the Bible talks about the wrath of God, it means more than just God being angry. It means that God does something about the things that make him angry. He judges them, condemns them, and punishes those who perpetrate them: both now in this life and, more finally and completely, in the life to come.

Sixty years ago, the allies in Europe conducted the Nuremberg trials in which those who were suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity were put on trial. No matter how imperfect, most think this was not only justified, but necessary, and that not to have done so would itself have been a crime. Why, then, do we find it so strange that God should put those who are guilty of crimes before him on trial?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Personal Journey 11: A Setback on the Way

Most people in the UK will know of the BBC programme, the Office. It is being shown out here at the moment on BBC Entertainment. Tim in the very last episode says, ‘Life is not about endings, is it? It’s a series of moments.’ True enough.

Personal Journey 11: A Setback on the Way

I was appointed to Bedford College of Higher Education on a three year contract renewable by mutual agreement. There had been no question in my mind that I should seek renewal after the first three years, and I am pleased to say no question in anyone else’s mind that it should be renewed. However, as I came to the end of my second contract, I started to think about whether I should be staying or moving on. I found my teaching very fulfilling and liked the students and my pastoral ministry to them, but my ultimate goal was to be involved in theological training. It was around this time that Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where I had trained for ministry in the C of E, advertised a joint appointment as Chaplain of one of the local university colleges and as a Tutor at Wycliffe.

Those who have been following this journey will know that I had had mixed feelings about my time at Wycliffe. However, I had kept in touch, not least because my brother Charlie had spent some years there himself training for the ministry. Bedford was not far from Oxford, and I had often been up there to see him as he had been to Bedford to see me. While there were aspects of the system there that I did not feel comfortable with, I felt that there was a lot that was good and what is more that things were moving in a positive direction within the College.

In 1989, R T France had been appointed Principal. I thought this was wonderful news. France was a well-known and much respected evangelical, New Testament scholar. I basically bought anything he published. I still consult his commentary on Mark regularly. What is more France had been Vice-Principal of London Bible College from 1981. You will know from previous posts that my feelings about London Bible College were entirely positive, and I felt sure that anyone coming from the staff of LBC could only be for the good of any college they went to.

This seemed the perfect position for me. I had served my curacy in a large, busy parish. I had worked in a secular college as a Chaplain. I had teaching and lecturing experience. I was committed to theological training. I had even spent time in Oxford. I seemed to meet all they were looking for on both sides of the job. What more could I have done? I decided to apply.

I was offered an interview, which I enthusiastically accepted. This did not mean I assumed I would be offered the post. I am only too aware of how many good people there are out there, but I at least felt I had a chance. I enjoyed the day there and felt that I had something to offer. I also met the other two candidates for the post. You inevitably, at times like this, try to weigh up your chances. One of the other people being interviewed was from Durham, and I immediately liked and respected him. I could see him doing the job and thought he would do it well. I felt that if he were offered it, I would be sad for myself, but understand.

The interview went as interviews do on these occasions. Then towards the end one of the interviewers, a member of staff, voiced something that I had thought myself about Wycliffe when I was there, namely that most of the staff lacked practical, ministerial experience. They were academics. Nothing wrong in that, we need academics in the Church. Whether specialist academics are the best people to train people for the ministry is another matter. This particular interviewer himself had only been ordained in 1984 and joined the staff of Wycliffe immediately without the burden of having to serve a curacy as such. He continued to explain that the problem for them in appointing me was that they wanted someone with more parish experience to make up for their own deficiency in this area. My heart sank. I felt I had had quite a lot of experience in ministry, but I certainly had not been a Vicar of a parish, and could see that this was something that they might want.

Dick France phoned me at home to tell me that I had not been appointed. Not unnaturally I asked who had been, he would not comment. I thought something strange was going on then. I later learnt that they appointed someone who had not originally applied for the job, who had not been part of the selection process, and who was only half way through his curacy. So much for needing someone with parish experience!

It is, however, more with sorrow than anger that I look back on this episode. I think it could have been fun and that there was something I could have contributed both to Wycliffe and to the Oxford College. Anyway, Bedford wanted me to stay and there is always something reassuring, especially after disappointment, in people wanting you.

I renewed my contract for a third period.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It’s Friday!

Another week passes by! I have the Guides and Brownies Christmas service to take today. The first of many such services!

I am reading Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time, at the moment. It has recently been reissued. I have always liked Muggeridge’s writing, especially the way he pricks the balloons of pretension. Hopefully, I will manage another post tomorrow. Here is a quote from Muggeridge to think about ahead of the weekend. He is writing about meeting his future wife Kitty, but it perhaps has more far-reaching theological implications.

‘The things that really happen to one, I have found, have all happened already; the other happenings – like wars, and seductions, and prizes, and going to the moon – are theatre merely…. It is this sense, in all the true – as distinct from the theatrical - drama of our lives, that it is pre-ordained, that it not only has been and will be, but is, that makes us know we are immortal …. All our true living has already happened, and will go on happening for ever; all our true relationships already exist when we make them, and can never be broken. So, you take someone’s hand, and use a name, perhaps embrace, before a hand has even been offered, or a name been given, before you have even looked in one another’s faces, because that hand, that name, that embrace are part of both; part, as Donne puts it, of the atomies of which we grow – souls whom no change can invade.’ (page 88-89)

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Personal Journey 10: Theological Teaching at Bedford

The Chaplain’s post did not necessarily carry any teaching responsibilities, but the Chaplain was a member of the academic staff of the College. This meant that the Chaplain could teach, if invited to do so, without there being any objections from other members of staff or any contractual complications. Early on, I was invited to teach religious studies as part of the four year degree students were taking to become primary school teachers. This teaching load grew until I was soon taking the equivalent of a half a timetable. It was not long before I was responsible for all the academic religious studies teaching for the degree. A mildly ridiculous position, but it was an arrangement that suited the College.

It suited me, too. I felt that, from a Chaplaincy point of view, it was a good way to get to know students. Not having a chapel to act as a base, getting to know students was not easy. Once you ‘get in’ with some students, it then becomes easier to get in with more, and word gets around about whether you are worth bothering with or not! I was clear, in my own mind at least, that my responsibility as the Chaplain was to those who did not have churches to go to. I saw my role there as what is described now as missional. I did not separate my role into academic and pastoral, but saw the two as different parts of the whole.

From a student point of view, they were getting someone who at least had an interest in them personally, as well as in the subject, and who was committed to teaching. From my personal point of view, I was doing what I most wanted to do: teaching theology as part of my ministry. Most of my students were not church-goers, and had very little previous contact with the Church. Many were older students returning to education, often because personal circumstances required it. A significant number, for example, were unmarried mothers looking for ways to support their family and who felt that a career in teaching might be it. It required great commitment for them to do it.

In the situation I inherited, religious studies was a part of the humanities department, which was made up of three subject areas: history, geography, and religious studies. The way the course was structured meant, in practice, that students only had to study two. This normally meant that they ignored religious studies, not seeing it as a subject worth bothering with unless they had to. I am not quite sure why the College had included it. They certainly were not taking it very seriously. I think the probable explanation was that it was leftover from the past and had been included in humanities for convenience until it eventually died off.

The challenge for me was to make it interesting so that the students would want to study it. They weren’t going to waste time on anything that seemed irrelevant. I also had to assume no prior knowledge, not even of what the Bible was. It meant avoiding the church language and the theological shorthand that you get used to using in church circles.

I was helped in that I was given a completely free hand to devise a syllabus on my own. Religious Studies in secular colleges in the UK is often truly awful. I was also aware that these were people who were going to be teaching children. I wanted to give them as good a knowledge of what Christianity was as possible in the hope that they would teach something reasonable in their schools.

Furthermore, I wanted to produce something that the students would enjoy doing. I wanted to devise a programme of study that they would find interesting and which would raise questions that they found important. I don’t believe that there is anything more interesting or more important than theology. What is more, I don’t think you have to be a Christian, or even religious, to see that the questions theology is dealing with are important ones. They are the most important questions of human existence to be precise. It a tragic indictment of us as theological teachers that even members of our churches think theology is, frankly, boring. How can it be?

Anyway, I devised a course that covered amongst other things the life and teaching of Jesus, ethics, the philosophy of religion, and the history of women in the church. This latter was very popular as feminism had a high profile in the College. I did not feel able to teach about other religions, but I included a major project on another religion for which I offered support. The idea was not to preach in classes and seminars, which would have been abusive of my position, but to get them thinking about the Christian faith and to see that Christianity was intellectually worth bothering with.

I was responsible not only for writing the course, but delivering and assessing it as well and that with very few resources. I used the Chaplaincy library, a modest affair, to get books to support the course. It seemed to go well and the students themselves seemed to take to it. This was much to the surprise of fellow members of staff who were used to students wanting nothing to do with religious studies. I have to say, though, most were generous in the support they gave me, and did not resent losing students from their own courses. This sort of generosity towards a colleague is not always the case in academic circles and it rarely is in churches! Courses at the College were all externally evaluated, and I think the external examiners too were a bit surprised at what we had managed to do and the popularity of the subject. As a result of all this, I found myself being invited to become more and more part of the life of the College.

I wanted to serve the wider church too, if I could, and undertook distance tutoring for a theological college as well as teaching evening classes for local Christians and helping with training for local Methodist lay preachers.

It wasn’t always easy, but I thought that I was doing was important in and of itself. I also hoped that the skills and experience I was obtaining were just the sort of skills and experience I could use in the future in a theological college. I think they were. I was writing courses, teaching and assessing them, and working with adults on a degree that was vocational in character to prepare them to be teachers. In addition to this I was exercising a pastoral ministry that had a significant counselling commitment. I thought I was heading in the right direction.

However, as I will explain next, I was in for not a little disappointment.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Campaign for Real Christmas Cards

Is anyone else out there as irritated as I am by the trend, which seems to be gathering momentum this year, to send cards that don’t mention Christmas? The shops seem to be pushing the ‘Happy Holidays’ card and the ‘Season’s Greetings’ message. Whatever we as Christians may feel about non-Christians sending these kind of cards, surely we ought to be using the opportunity. If we are going to send cards at this time of year, let’s make sure that they say something about Christmas and the birth of our Lord. And let’s stop buying pictures of reindeers, snowy scenes, and the like and use the occasion to stress a Christian message.

Send real Christmas cards this Christmas!
Personal Journey 9: South to Bedford

In 1984, I had completed three years as a curate, the standard length for a first curacy. It was common in those days to do a second. Now there are fewer clergy to round so it is less common. However, I felt more and more strongly that my ultimate goal was to be involved in theological training for the ministry and I wanted to keep up my academic work. I thought it might be worth exploring the possibility of working as a Chaplain in a university or college.

Many of the posts advertised were at Oxford and Cambridge colleges. This is becuase of the historic ties between Oxbridge and the C of E. In many ways one of these would have been ideal for me. They were posts that combined ministry with the opportunity to continue personal research and even had the possibility of doing some minor tutoring. I applied for several posts but was not selected for interview for any. Now it probably is going to sound like sour grapes, but I was annoyed by this then and am still today.

I am older now and have been responsible for selecting and interviewing people for many different posts in and out of the Church. Looking back, I think I was at least theoretically qualified for these posts and met the criteria they claimed to be using. This does not mean that I think they should have employed me or that I was right for the post, but it would have taken an interview to establish that. And that’s my point, I qualified for an interview and I think I should have been given one. Why do I think I wasn’t? Because of the tendency in the Church of England, accentuated at Oxford and Cambridge, to base appointments on connection. Simply put, I had not been to the right school and did not know the right people. Am I being unduly bitter and cynical? Well, it is strange that the people they did appoint all seemed to come from a certain background.

Well enough of a rant – for now – at least. That I wasn’t entirely unsuited for such an appointment was confirmed by the fact that other colleges were interested in me. I was offered and accepted a post as Ecumenical Chaplain at Bedford College of Higher Education. This college was in fact three colleges in one. It had been formed by a merger of three very different colleges: a further education college offering vocational courses to people who were 16 and above; a physical education college offering sports and dance degrees or courses for those wanting to teach physical education or dance; and a teacher training college that had expanded also to offer general degrees.

Ironically and unintentionally, on my part at least, this was as different a college posting from the Oxford and Cambridge colleges as it was possible to get. One of the biggest differences, and in this Bedford was very different to many other universities and colleges, was that there was no chapel and no services on campus. The College was thoroughly secular. That there was a Chaplain at all was because of the personal faith and commitment of the then Principal who wanted a formal Christian presence on the staff and within the College.

The post was ecumenical, the Chaplaincy funded half by the College and half by the local churches. In fairness, the main funding on the churches side came from the C of E, and I was licensed and paid as a priest in the St Alban’s Diocese. It did mean, though, that I was expected to represent all the churches including the Roman Catholic and serve all the students regardless of religious affiliation. This undoubtedly gave a certain freedom and many opportunities.

The Chaplain functioned on a day to day basis as a member of the Student Services team. This was made up of health, careers, and counselling. The Chaplain’s role within this team was more as a counsellor than anything else. The people I worked with were great fun to work with and became good friends. At the end of the working day, we would gather for coffee and a chat to talk about how the day had gone. This was a great source of informal support for each other. It was an education in itself working in this area as a Christian minister. Pastorally, it could be very challenging. Let’s just say that people’s lifestyles and the corresponding messes that they got into could be very extreme and leave it at that!

As there were no services within the College, it meant that on a Sunday the Chaplain was free to attend a local church. Upon my appointment the Bishop suggested that I be attached, as had my predecessor, to Christ Church, Bedford, an evangelical Anglican Church. It was very near to where I was to live and I had no problem with this. It was understood that my responsibility was to the College. I was not on the staff of Christ Church, Bedford. Nevertheless, I enjoyed helping out with services and, in particular to being able to preach from time to time. My preaching seemed to be reasonably well-received, and I started making friends within the church.

However, in 1985, a change in Vicar brought about a crisis. The new Vicar wanted me to be more involved in Christ Church and gave me an ultimatum. Either I got more involved or he wouldn’t invite me to preach. I wish I could afford to reject clergy help so easily. I didn’t have any intention of diluting what I saw as my main role in the College to be more involved in a church, which already had plenty of ordained, and indeed lay, help. Indeed, no longer being committed to Christ Church on a Sunday meant that I had the freedom to visit other churches to which there were no shortage of invitations. I felt that being able to broaden my church experience was no bad thing.

In many ways nor was it. Christ Church was not always a popular church amongst other churches in Bedford so not being seen as part of the staff there certainly made me more acceptable to some who did not share its ethos. And it was quite nice to be free of the restraint. The Bishop and my support group, responsible for overseeing the Chaplaincy, were not bothered either. In retrospect, however, I think it was a mistake to lose the base that being attached to one church provided and that being a spiritual nomad was not good for me personally. Being honest, I think I lacked the maturity to know how to deal with a Vicar who was inflexible in his approach, and I am sure he did not shed any tears at losing me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Advent: 2. Sin

This post follows on from the one last Monday. It is the second in a series for Advent on salvation. I will pick up the personal journey series tomorrow!

Advent: 2. Sin

Salvation is not something we feel the need to seek nowadays, largely, of course, because we do not think we need saving in the first place. We are very proud of ourselves and of our achievements; the old Christian stress on getting and being saved is, frankly, embarrassing. It suggests that we need help and, worse, that help must come from outside ourselves.

‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (John 1:8), said St John in a verse that is often read before confession in Church services. If true, we are thoroughly deceived. We have absolved ourselves from any need to talk about sin. It is not exactly that we won’t admit to things being wrong. There is far too much evidence that there are things that are wrong for that: wrong on a personal and individual level and wrong on a social and political level. But the language of sin seems to imply blame and responsibility, and it is this that we don’t like the sound of.

We do like the idea of forgiveness. But forgiveness has been subtly redefined. Forgiveness once meant that we first admitted we had done wrong, took responsibility for it, and accepted the blame. In other words that we confessed our sins and confessed that they were ours. Now forgiveness is a term which means more like saying something doesn’t matter, couldn’t be helped, and wasn’t our fault. It is more like overlooking or ignoring what is wrong.

But the Bible is quite clear that as far as God is concerned, we stand indicted as sinners. To put it bluntly: we do things that we should not do and that we know we should not do. Things which are no-one’s doing, but our own. We are personally liable and to blame.

St John continues, ‘but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’. Confessing to sin means more than simply saying sorry. It means taking responsibility. It is saying, ‘Yes, I know what I have done was wrong. I did it. It was my fault. Mine and no-one else’s.’ It is this that society is less comfortable with. We talk instead about mitigating factors. How we couldn’t help it. We look for excuses in our past, in society, or in our lifestyle. We talk of pressure and stresses and factors beyond our control. We justify our sin. And so because we will not confess our sins, they remain unforgiven, and we live with the burden of guilt and shame, which, whether we like it or not, are the inevitable consequences of sin, thus missing the forgiveness that could be ours if we only let go of our self-deception.

God offers not only to forgive us our sins, but also to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that human beings suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, that is, the truth about themselves and the truth about God. He writes that what can be known about God is plain. We like to find excuses for our unbelief and lack of faith. We take refuge in atheism and agnosticism claiming that we cannot know if there is a God or not. But God himself will have none of it telling us straight that the evidence of his existence is there for all to see. But to admit to it is to admit to the possibility that this God may hold us accountable for our behaviour, and it is this that we want to avoid at all costs. But we cannot avoid it. We are, again as St Paul puts it, ‘without excuse’.

We all stand condemned by the evidence of our own lives and the evidence of creation, evidence which ought to have driven us to seek forgiveness from our Creator: forgiveness for the damage we have done to ourselves, forgiveness for the damage done to each other, and forgiveness for the damage done to God’s creation. What is to be done? How are we to find help?

We need to learn again the language and meaning of salvation.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Happy Advent

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday. I always tell people in my sermons for Advent Sunday that it is about preparing for our Lord's second coming, but tomorrow I am going to be preaching on preparing for Christmas, and encouraging everyone to go and see film, The Nativity, which has just been released in many countries and which will be released here next week. This is a great opportunity to encourage people who do not normally go to Church to go to see a film that will, hopefully, prepare them for Christmas. People I respect who have seen it are full of praise for it. If you would like to read a review of it, this is a good one:

Speak to you on Monday!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Personal Journey 8: Curacy on the Wirral

A long post today on top of yesterday's so I will give you the weekend to read them! A busy season now here in Hong Kong: School Speech Days, Christmas Events, Special Services, Charity Events, School Council Meetings and special events for our Archbishop's retirement. The list goes on. It's a question of pacing yourself!

Yesterday I discovered I had nothing to wear for the Archbishop's retirement service! I got the details of the service and found that the cathedral wants us to wear a form of dress that I don't normally bother with or need. Anyway, thanks to Wippell's in London, hopefully the required garment is on its way even now. It's more complicated than it seems being a Vicar.

Have a good weekend!

Personal Journey 8: Curacy on the Wirral

The process of getting ordained in the Church of England was and is complicated. It begins with a recommendation to the Bishop by your Vicar or Rector, followed by a recommendation by the Bishop to a selection conference, which lasts a few days, and then a recommendation to the Bishop from the selectors. And there are many more interviews along the way. If all goes well, you then have to find a college (or course nowadays for training). At the end of this, you are made deacon and then, normally after a year, ordained priest. A curacy is served after completing college. The curacy is meant to be part of the training process. For my curacy, I decided that ideally I would like to go back to the Chester diocese.

I wrote to the Bishop telling him of my desire to return to the Diocese. I heard nothing. Then I had a routine interview with him during which he expressed regret that I had decided not to return to the Diocese! I said I had wanted to and that was why I had written. When he looked again at my letter, he realized he had misread it. He moved quickly though, and arranged for me to meet Ray Smith who had just been appointed Rector of Christ Church, Moreton. Moreton was just down the road both from St Andrew’s and from my parents. I liked the idea very much. Ray had not moved to Moreton so I went for an interview with him at Normanton where he was the Vicar. I liked Ray too and felt very comfortable about accepting when he asked me to be one of his curates. He was to have two curates and had already appointed one; I was to be the second. This was going to be a completely new clergy team.

I was made deacon at Chester Cathedral, in 1981, and then a year later was ordained priest, again at Chester. For the first year at Moreton I completed my MTh largely focusing on writing my dissertation. I had chosen to write on 1 Corinthians for obvious reasons. 1 Corinthians raises precisely the sort of church issues that had preoccupied me for my Christian life to date. My thesis was entitled, ‘Social and Religious Pressures Facing Believers in First Century Corinth: A Study of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians’. The circumstances under which it was written did not allow much time for reflection. Ideally, I would have gone on to do more post graduate research and develop it, but I did not feel able to do that and learn how to be a priest at the same time.

I was successful in obtaining my masters, but it did not resolve the issues that still bothered me. That is, how to do Church especially in the context of a secular society. A book that impressed me and had a major impact on me at the time was R J Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community. When I mentioned the book to James Dunn, my supervisor, I rather expected him to think that it was written at too ‘popular’ a level. In fact, he liked it and was very complimentary about it. Banks has since revised and reissued it. I don’t understand why it isn’t referred to more in discussions about the Church, especially in emerging circles. But I digress! The difference between the Church in the New Testament, as Banks describes it, and the Church into which I was being ordained raises an issue that I have been wrestling with for the past 25 years and, indeed, before that. I will return to it later in this series.

Moreton was a very large parish, the largest in the Diocese. It had large private housing estates and some council housing. The church then had a church school, but no church hall. The size of the parish meant that there were lots and lots of baptisms, weddings and funerals. This was again a great training and experience. If I have been able to minister at all through these services, it is because of what I learnt in the three years at Moreton. It was also while at Moreton that I began an involvement with education that has been a feature of my ministry ever since.

I was not very involved in the local church school. But I was asked whether I would be prepared to serve as a governor at another local primary school, Eastway Primary School. The church school was very middle class. Eastway was far more mixed. The church, not unnaturally, was very focused on its own school, so I was largely left to do what I wanted at Eastway. The headmistress was very kind and treated me with a respect that she certainly did not have to show to a relatively young curate. The School was happy for me to be involved in the life of the School as well as serving as governor. I was not quite sure where to begin. The headmistress helped me to learn how to talk with children individually, and through her I began to learn about primary schools. Having hated school from the moment I stepped into one as a child, this involvement was a bit of a surprise. I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed it, but I certainly saw it its importance.

Overall, my three years at Moreton were happy ones. I enjoyed being back on the Wirral and near my family and some old friends. I felt I was learning how to be a priest in the Church of England and I was continuing my theological study. It wasn’t without some tensions, however.

On a personal level, I liked Ray and I think he liked me. It is fair to say, though, that I would not have been his first choice as a curate. I later discovered that he had already had someone else lined up for my post when I went for an interview with him at Normanton, but had taken me instead, basically because the Bishop said it was me or no-one! Garrie Griffiths, the other curate, had already completed one curacy, and so not unreasonably saw himself as the senior curate. Ray had a more natural affinity with Garrie. I think they may have preferred it if I had not been there. Who can say now? The church had a lot of young families in it and Garrie himself had a young family. I didn’t, and maybe that accounts for part of it. Whatever, the dynamic between us just did not work.

The other complication was that Garrie and Ray were both alike in that they were committed to a form of charismatic renewal within the traditional church. This continued to be an issue for me and, as I will eventually get around to explaining in a few weeks time, it still is. I find it hard to express this without being unfairly critical of others. But there is a form of charismatic renewal that is about singing a certain sort of song and praying a certain sort of way. It sees worship primarily in terms of enjoyment. It is how you feel that counts the most. I have always believed that if charismatic renewal is to be of any use it must move minds as well as hearts. I remember David Pawson, himself a charismatic, once saying that worship was not about giving ourselves a good time, but rather about giving God a good time. My own conviction remains that too much talk about worship is human and not God centred. But I am digressing again.

There were some in the parish who very much enjoyed charismatic style worship. They were suspicious of me and, ironically, saw me as preferring more formal liturgy and traditional hymns. I felt that in a parish in which many people were still formal and traditional in outlook that you had to find a form of worship that included them as well. You couldn’t just reject them. I took the attitude that you should just join the House Churches if you wanted to do that! Mind you, I think I did probably prefer traditional hymns to some of the mindless choruses that were and are so popular. Now I am being polemical.

The way it was decided to cater for the diversity in the congregation was by having a menu of services: a mixture of traditional and more informal services with a charismatic style prayer meeting thrown in. People were left under no illusion, which were the real worship services and who the spiritual people. Perhaps I should simply say I was not comfortable. I have no doubt that I was part of the problem.

Where I was very fortunate was in having people who appreciated my preaching and who wanted to discuss some of the things I said in my sermons. Preaching and teaching were what I most felt called to so and I found this side of parish life very fulfilling. I made some good friends here both amongst those who were charismatic and those who were not. What I did discover was that I really did not like a confrontational approach to ministry. I was still thoroughly evangelical, and even charismatic, in my theology. But I was uncomfortable with rejecting those within the same church who did not conform to a particular idea of what being spiritual entailed.

And I was beginning to find evangelical and charismatic culture a bit hard to stomach.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Personal Journey 7: Training for the Church of England

I hope that you are still with me and that you do not feel that the journey is going too slowly! Today the journey goes from London to Liverpool and then to Oxford. Meanwhile here in Hong Kong the weather is at last getting a bit cooler. Hopefully it will stay that way for the weekend!

Personal Journey 7: Training for the Church of England

Selling televisions was an education in and of itself! Let’s just say that most of those I was working with were not from an academic background. One or two resented having a college graduate working with them. The company I was employed by did not normally employ graduates for this type of work and, in any case, there weren’t so many around 30 years ago. However, most of those I worked with were very kind and willing to help someone who was, to put it mildly, a bit green. Those my company specialised in selling to were really not very well off and part of my job was debt collection. All in all, it was an unexpecetd and useful addition to my ministerial training.

Both before and during London Bible College, I had believed in the importance of evangelism; of witnessing to those who do not know Christ. At London Bible College, we had all been given ministry placements. I was given a placement that spent one evening a week visiting the halls of residents of students at nearby Brunel University. We went in order to talk to the students about Christ. Surprising as it may seem, most were very willing to talk and argue and some even to listen. During the summers, we were sent on evangelistic missions. For my first, a team of us were sent to conduct a mission at a church on a housing estate in Nottingham. Derek Tidball was responsible for organizing these and asked me to be the team leader. This was a challenge and an honour, not least because I was the youngest member of the team by a long way. Again, these placements gave us opportunities to talk to people about Christ.

But while I had experience of talking to people about Christ, when I left LBC I was not used simply to talking to people who were not Christians. I quickly realised that if I was going to be effective in ministering to people, I had to learn how to talk to anyone about anything. My time selling televisions helped and roughened me up a little!

Max Turner, who lectured in New Testament at LBC, had also taken a part-time post as pastor of a local Baptist Church. He regularly invited me to preach. This was a very good experience for me and gave me the opportunity to exercise a ministry of sorts. I had felt called to the ministry now for all my adolescence, and it always seemed a long way off! The chance to preach from time to time was a great encouragement.

Changes in my personal circumstances and in the company led me to decide to move back to the Wirral. I got a job as a charity fundraiser in Liverpool, and went back home to live with my parents. I was now in a position to pursue ordination having done the requisite time in the world! I was also back permanently at St Andrew’s and had the support and encouragement of my Rector, Bill Persson. The process of getting recommended for training was a process that took over a year, so I worked while I waited, and got more involved in the life of the Church, even joining the choir. I was no longer a ‘youth’ and so the days of the Youth Fellowship had come to an end! Some of us from the Youth Fellowship, who were still around continued to meet together as part of an older fellowship, but it was very different.

I started to think about where I should go for ordination training. Having already obtained a degree in theology, I did not want simply to repeat what I had already done. I began to explore if there was anyway I could do postgraduate study as part of my C of E training. To cut a log story short: it seemed I could if I paid for it myself. Again, I didn’t quite see how I was going to pull this off. The solution I came up with I was, and am still, quite pleased with.

Nottingham University had a part-time route to a Master of Theology degree. This is quite common now, but not many places did at the time. I managed to get accepted by Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, which had a hands-off approach to theological training. I was thus able to combine training for the C of E with a part-time postgraduate degree at Nottingham. It was not exactly what I wanted, but it at least enabled me to do some research in the area of New Testament.

The unbelievable good fortune was that my supervisor was James Dunn. He had written a lot at the time about the Holy Spirit. I wanted to work through some of the charismatic issues, which I felt I still had not resolved, and this was a golden opportunity to do so. I went to the C of E selection conference and was recommended.

Accordingly, in 1979, I went to Wycliffe. In the first year, I did what needed to be done to satisfy the academic requirements for ordination. I was able to do it in a year because I had the maximum number of exemptions, thanks to what I had already done at LBC. In the second, I combined what was required in practical training with studying for my MTh. I was fortunate being in Oxford in that I was surrounded by the academic resources I needed. It was bit weird going up to Nottingham for supervision, but not only was it an option I could just afford, I also had exactly the right person as my supervisor.

I should have been very happy, but I wasn't. It wasn't that I was unhappy, after all Oxford is a wonderful place to live. I used to love strolling around the parks and visiting Blackwell’s Bookshop. I had some good friends and a nice room in the College. However, I found the place rather pretentious and the Church of England’s way of doing things not to my taste. Ironically, given that we were in Oxford, I felt the theological study lacked academic rigour and that the practical training lacked the cutting edge of LBC. But given my background, I needed to gain a broader Church perspective and, even though Wycliffe was itself moderately evangelical, it gave me that.

It was now 1981. It had already been quite a journey from the classroom in Liverpool. I was an evangelical Anglican, who felt called to preach and teach and who had a commitment to theological study.

The next challenge was to find a parish for my curacy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Personal Journey 6: Committing to the Church of England

If what I wrote about in my last post in this series seemed very theoretical, let me assure you that for me it most certainly was not. It resulted in a major change of direction. One small change was that I felt able to enjoy things that previously I would have regarded as worldly and wrong. More significantly, I found myself moving away from the House Church movement. I came to regard the traditional churches in a more positive light, or should I say that I came to see that no church is perfect and that God can work anywhere. I still very much regarded myself as an evangelical, but was far more comfortable in an evangelical Anglican Church than I had been.

This paved the way for me to think more seriously about ordination in the Church of England. As I have said, infant baptism was a big stumbling block because whatever else priests in the Church of England may have to do, they have to baptize babies. Indeed, quite a few clergy left the C of E because they could not, in all conscience, continue to baptize babies.

This is even more of an issue than it might seem because very often in Anglican Churches people come to have their babies baptized having no prior involvement in the Church and without any evidence of a Christian commitment. The rules do not allow you to refuse to baptize. Some clergy have tried to delay it, or create hoops for people to jump through. This, however, has only served to annoy and hurt those who come for baptism. The problem is that the Church for centuries has said that everyone has a right to have their child baptized by virtue of the fact they live in the parish. Refusing baptism or putting obstacles in the way can sound as if the Church is rejecting people and, more seriously, rejecting the baby. This affects people at a very fundamental level and theological arguments just don’t work!

Anyway, this was to be an issue for the future, the issue now was infant baptism, in principle. Again it was the study of the subject with Tony Lane that led me to conclude that infant baptism could be justified. Tony himself would take a different point of view, but I was persuaded by the arguments and, not least, by the fact that the vast majority of Christians believed in it. Majorities are not always right, but you have to be careful to guard against arrogance here, that is, not to be too quick to think that you are right and everyone else is wrong! I felt that at the very least that it was a valid option for Christians and that as a clergyman I would be representing the Church and not simply my own opinion.

Having overcome this major stumbling-block, I was confirmed as an Anglican on March 20, 1977 at St Andrew’s. I left LBC having decided that my commitment was now not only to individual Anglican churches, like St Andrew’s, but also to the broader Anglican Church. This did not mean I was happy with everything that I saw in the Church of England, far from it. Nevertheless, I felt that it was within this church that I ought to seek ordination and exercise my ministry. That was going to have to wait, though, because in those days the C of E was encouraging people not to go straight from college or university into the ministry, but to get secular work experience first. So after I completed my degree at LBC, I decided to stay on in London working and living near LBC.

It was at this time that I made a commitment to theological study and began thinking seriously about how I could pursue postgraduate study. My theological study so far had been so important to me, and I was absolutely convinced of its importance, not only for myself, but also for the wider Church. I was just not ready to stop studying. I had done reasonably well in my degree and there certainly was no academic reason why I shouldn’t continue. There was, of course, a financial one. I just couldn’t afford a full-time postgraduate course. Looking back, I dearly wish that I had been able to continue full-time theological study, then or after a short break. With what I know now, I think that maybe ways could have been found.

Instead, I went to work for a company selling televisions.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Well. the weekend did not go exactly as hoped, but it turned out OK in the end. The weather was not suitable for us to have our church celebration in the Vicarage garden so we went to the church school next door which has a covered playground. Everyone seemd to enjoy themselves. We also had a very large congregation for the service. I have to confess I was somewhat exhausted after it all, but today is a new day! I have to have a root canal done at lunch-time. Help!

I thought that today I would begin a series of four meditations for Advent. I will post them each Monday between now and Christmas. I will also post the next in my Personal Journey series tomorrow.

Have a good week!

Advent: 1. Salvation

We are about to enter the season of Advent: the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent, traditionally, has been about the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. I say traditionally because you do not hear very much about these things now. Advent has become a period of preparation for Christmas, not a time for reflection on our eternal destiny. This is significant for it reflects a more fundamental change in the nature and character of Christianity itself. Let me try to explain what I mean.

St Paul writes in his great letter to the Roman Christians that he is looking forward to coming to see them because he wants to share the message of the Gospel with them. He has already explained that the Gospel is the good news concerning Jesus Christ. In a very famous statement he writes:

'For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous by faith will live.’ (Romans 1:16-17)

This is where we normally end the quote, but it is not where Paul ends. Why, after all, do we need salvation? St Paul tells us if we continue the quote, ‘For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’

Christianity began, and has been understood for most of its existence, as a message about salvation, or to put it another way, about saving people. Generally speaking, we do not use this language nowadays in our sermons, Bible Studies, and general conversation in Church. We can’t exactly escape it because if you look at any hymn book, it is all there, clear for all to see! When we do find ourselves forced into using it, we focus on what it is we are saved for. The emphasis is on life: how we find peace and fulfilment in Christ, how we can learn to be whole people who know meaning and purpose in our lives.

But you can’t be saved for something unless you have been saved from something. That is what the word saved means. It is the 'from' that we do not wish to discuss, either because we don’t believe it, or think we will be unpopular, or because we simply don’t like it. The problem is that without the from, we do not have the Gospel of which St Paul was so proud to be a messenger and, consequently, we do not have the power of God either. All we have left is a human message, no different in character to any other philosophy or belief.

Christianity is in danger of becoming just another new age movement preaching a message that is not much more than a spiritualized version of the self-help books you can find in any bookshop. You know the ones: those Bridgette Jones was so addicted to which tell you how you can live a full and happy life if you do this that and the other.

Of course, it is perfectly understandable that we should want the positive side of the message, but the Christian good news is only good news because of the bad news. If you go to the doctor because you have symptoms you do not understand, he can only tell you how you can get better once he has understood and explained what’s wrong. It is only once we have understood the illness that we can find the right treatment.

The Gospel can make us better, but only once we have heard what God has to say about what is wrong with us in the first place. Now, like a patient who refuses to listen to the doctor or to take the prescribed treatment, we can do the same with God: that is the freedom that God gives us. But it is a freedom to stay ill, trying all sorts of dubious cures, many of which only serve to make us worse not better. The traditional message of Advent may not be one we want to hear, but it will start us on the road to recovery.

Or, as we used to say, to salvation.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Personal Journey 5

The weeks pass very quickly don't they? This Sunday, we have a major event in the life of my Church. In the liturgical calendar, this Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. It is our patronal festival when we celebrate the founding of Christ Church, Kowloon Tong in 1933. Our Bishop will be coming and we will have a confirmation service. Afterwards, everyone is invited back here to the Vicarage for lunch. It is a bit of an invasion, but great fun. One little worry is that it is meant to be the dry season now, but this week we have been having heavy rain. We are hoping it stays off now, not only so it is dry on Sunday, but so the ground can dry out. We use the garden so we can accommodate everyone! Think of us, and I will let you know how it all went on Monday. Today's post continues where the last one left off.

Personal Journey 5

For my first year at LBC, it was all about settling in and my Christian life continued much as before. The combination of academic study and training for ministry was everything I wanted it to be. For church on Sundays, in the morning I used to go to a local evangelical Anglican Church, Emmanuel, whose Vicar was Richard Bewes and then in the evening to a charismatic Baptist Church called Gold Hill, whose Pastor was Jim Graham. During the holidays, I went home and continued to be part of the Youth Fellowship and St Andrew’s. It was in so many ways perfect. During the second year, however, the implication of what I was studying and learning began to press itself on me. It was to have massive implications for my future.

Study of the Bible was central to life at LBC. For someone from an evangelical background, where the meaning of the Bible is primarily about what it means for ‘me now’, studying what it originally meant ‘for them then’ can be harder than it might at first seem. While it should be obvious that the meaning of the Bible today is in some way connected to the meaning it had when it was first written, it was not so obvious to many evangelical Christians at the time and it still isn’t today. Even here in my own church, which is not especially evangelical, whenever I take time to try to explain what a Bible passage originally meant, people say: ‘never mind all that theology, tell us what it means now’.

It was at first hard and, indeed, shocking for me to be brought face to face with what was the real nature of the Bible. It needed a complete reorientation in the way I looked at the Bible and approached it, but I was willing to try. Having learnt that I needed to listen to the Bible on its own terms, I was, at first, shocked to hear what it seemed to be saying.

It was while looking at the background to the New Testament and to the Gospels, in particular, that I had the biggest shock. To put it in simplistic terms, we were encouraged to see the difference between a Greek way of looking at the Bible and a Hebrew way. As G E Ladd put it in a standard textbook at the time, to see the difference between a cosmological dualism and an eschatological dualism. Cosmological dualism distinguishes between the material and the spiritual. It sees the spritual as good and the material world as fundamentally bad. The physical is either evil or unimportant. Consequently, to be spiritual means to reject the things of this world. Eschatological dualism does not see the material and physical as evil, but it does recognize that material things may need to be sacrificed for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Cosmological dualism is unbiblical, eschatological dualism is not.

I wrote in a previous post that this dualism was the achilles heal of all that I believed after becoming a Christian. And so it was. I had been steeped in a cosmological dualism as, indeed, had many evangelicals. The material was the enemy of the spiritual. The Christian life involved a rejection of that which was worldly. The Christian's ultimate hope was to go to heaven when we died. When we did our soul would be freed from the prison of the body. I am sure many of you will recognize all this, even if it is less common today than it was then.

Studying the Gospels brought me face to face with the fact that Jesus would have been considered worldly by Christians like myself. He drank, went to parties, hung around with a certain type of woman, and seemed to enjoy himself. He had a reputation for being a drunkard and a glutton, not a reputation evangelicals cared for in those days!

Furthermore, the Bible itself seemed far more positive about creation than I was. The ‘earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’. When God created the world he looked at it and ‘behold it was good’. ‘God’, said Paul, ‘had given us all things freely to enjoy’. Enjoying physical things was a new concept. I could go on, but I imagine you get the idea.

Tom Wright has said that he realized he himself was a dualist when he wrote a commentary on Colossians and it was this that changed him. For me, it was studying Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Whatever, the more I thought about it, and studied the Bible, the more I realised I was a dualist and that this was incompatible with the Bible.

On a theoretical level, I remember acknowledging this when it was my turn to take Chapel at LBC one morning. I chose the hymn: ‘Jesus is Lord creation’s voice proclaims it!’ If creation proclaims the Lordship of Christ, how can it be evil? On a practical level, I acknowledged it while taking part in the Holiday Club that the Youth Fellowship organized each year. To relax in a free moment, I and a couple of others went to the pub. This was a highly symbolic act and the end of an era.

What did I feel, liberation? Yes, at one level, I did. The evangelical culture I was used to was suffocating and life-denying. It was wonderful to be allowed to enjoy material things and all with a clean conscience. But there was a loss as well. It is a loss I still feel to this day as it meant, psychologically, a break with the culture and theology that had previously been so important to me. And, if I had been wrong in this area, what other areas had I been mistaken in as well?

This question was answered by my study in church history and historical theology. I had arrived at LBC thoroughly grounded in the evangelical myth of church history. This myth went something like this. The early church of the New Testament was the pure church. After the death of the apostles, the Church fell from the heights of the New Testament, reaching an all time low under the papacy during the middle ages. It was only with the reformation that true doctrine was rediscovered and the light of the Gospel again began to shine. Roman Catholics weren’t Christians, neither were those in the churches who did not subscribe to the reformation doctrines, doctrines such as justification by faith, for example. For those who think this is narrow-minded and extreme, remember that most Roman Catholics thought that Protestants were going to burn in the fires of hell and that Roman Catholics still will not allow non-Roman Catholics to share in communion. Extremism was, and is, not only on one side.

Studying Church history, and Tony Lane was a brilliant teacher, it became obvious that this version of church history was unsustainable in every way. The Holy Spirit had not departed from the Church either in AD70 with the fall of Jerusalem, nor in AD325 with the conversion of Constantine, nor in AD476 with the fall of the Roman Empire. What was more Vatican II had demonstrated that the Roman Catholic Church was itself changing and opening up to new ideas. The Holy Spirit was apparently at work here as well. What is more, while there was much that was good about the reformation, there had been much that was lost. I came to the belief, a belief I still hold, that the split in the Church that was the result of the reformation was a tragedy that protestants should have done more to prevent and, after it had happened, to heal.

As both an evangelical and a charismatic, this was all deeply disturbing. Evangelicals were extremely suspicious of anyone who was not an evangelical. Charismatics were extremely suspicious of the traditional churches who, we believed, had suppressed the Holy Spirit. If the Church from the end of the New Testament period to the time of the reformation had been a true church, and if the Holy Spirit had been active in all the churches, including the Roman Catholic, then where did that leave some of the most cherished evangelical and charismatic beliefs?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Personal Journey 4

I do hope that this isn’t getting too boring and introspective. It’s certainly taking longer than originally intended, perhaps because I can’t resist the temptation to comment as I go. Next week, in order to add some balance, I will also begin a series of blogs for Advent.

I hope to post the next in this series on Saturday.

Personal Journey 4

I remember my first day at LBC. I was happy there from the moment I arrived. I had hated school from the moment I started at primary school and never enjoyed a moment of it. The only good thing about it was the holidays. I have all my ministry been involved in education, I just hope that this involvement may have gone even a little way to making school a bit happier for others than it was for me. But the pendulum swung when I got to LBC.

The people were not perfect, of course, but they were kind, sincere, committed, and diverse. I was, in fact, one of the youngest as a school leaver. Others had had jobs before, were married and had children. Not all, but some. A significant number were from overseas. This created an international feel to the place.

The church backgrounds were equally diverse. At the time, evangelicals were still suspicious of Anglicans and Anglican evangelicals were embarrassed at being Anglican. The common excuse was to say that the Church of England was the ‘best boat to fish from’. For readers not familiar with the Church of England, I perhaps need to explain this.

In England (only in England in the UK, this is important) the C of E is the established Church. In times past, it was assumed that to be English was to be a member of the C of E and this is still enshrined in law. The country is divided into parishes and everyone in the parish has a right to the services of the parish church. The philosophy is to provide pastoral care ‘from the cradle to the grave’, that is, through baptisms, confirmation, weddings, and funerals. Although, as England has become increasingly secular, fewer people avail themselves of these services, many still do, many who are not remotely religious.

This causes some problems for scrupulous clergy who strongly suspect that their clients don’t mean what they are saying. Some clergy refuse to honour their commitments under the parish system; other s honour them and complain. It needs to remembered, however, that the system brings in a lot of money. The Church is paid for its services. The Church of England does not provide this service for free. Later in ministry, having escaped from the confines of England, it used to be my boast that I never charged a fee, but that’s for a later blog!

The argument of evangelicals was that this system gave opportunities for evangelism that did not exist for evangelicals in other churches. It is an argument. I will comment on it later!

Anyway, obviously evangelicals in other denominations were somewhat dismissive of this argument, feeling that evangelicals in the C of E had sold out. There was a very famous argument in 1966 between John Stott (Anglican) and Martin Lloyd-Jones (NOT!) over this. Folk at LBC were at the time more in the Lloyd-Jones camp, but not intolerantly so. In fact, the way LBC welcomed anyone who loved the Lord was really impressive.

I loved the lectures. Being able to spend so much time thinking about theology was heaven to me. I know it is not to others and was not to all there, but it was to me. Strangely, 3 of the 4 lecturers who had the greatest impact on me are still there. I wish I was too! Tony Lane taught church history in a way that made it live and helped you see why it mattered. Max Turner and Douglas de Lacey taught New Testament and gave me a love of academic Biblical study that has never left me, and Derek Tidball showed faith in me that has always stayed with me. This is not for the moment to suggest that the other tutors weren’t special, they were. But these were the four who influenced me most and whose words I still value when I can get them!

Each lecturer had both a Christian commitment and a commitment to thinking seriously about the faith, a commitment that came out of a real relationship with and love of the Lord. Over 30 years later, I believe more and more that we need to rescue theology from the pagans who have taken it over in the universities. Moslems rightly would not accept their holy book, the Qur’an, being taught to them by infidels nor should we allow ours to be. I do not mean that we cannot learn from the secular arts and sciences – of course we can, but the Bible is our book, and we should be the ones teaching it.

During the first year, I continued to attend the Youth Fellowship when I went home for holidays. To all appearances, things were continuing much the same, but the seeds were being sown in my life and thinking that were to change completely both the way I saw the Christian life and also the direction of my ministry.

Things were to come to a head in my second year at LBC.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Personal Journey 3

A Day Late!

I must apologize for having said I would post yesterday and then not doing so. It really was one of those days! I turned up in Central Hong Kong for a meeting at 9.00am expecting it to last 30 minutes only for it to last 3 hours. And it was not a pleasant one at all. One of the most confrontational I have been too in a long time in fact! Fortunately, I wasn’t at the centre of the confrontation, but you do find yourself getting sucked in. This was unexpected. Then I had to have an emergency Dental appointment after damaging a tooth. That was unexpected too. After that, it was a case of trying to do all that was expected! The day closed with a Church Council meeting that, thankfully, was the exact opposite of confrontational.

So a day late, here is the next instalment in my account of my spiritual journey.

Personal Journey 3

Let me also, having acknowledged the problems that the Youth Fellowship must have caused for the clergy in particular, speak about some of the good things. We really did believe in what we were doing and were part of. We genuinely wanted to live a Christian life and do what God required of us. We read our Bibles, prayed and studied Christian books, and not just when people were watching! We discussed our faith and what we should believe for hours and hours. We got involved in our local church and took part in its activites, even when they seemed utterly irrelevant. We were passionately evengelistic and would do all we could to win people for Christ. In the summer, we would go away together and run a Holiday Club for children and combine this with Bible Study and prayer. We wanted to get it right.

Looking back there clearly was an element of youthful enthusiasm, but many of us from this Fellowship went on to full time Christian service so there must have been some depth to it. People may think we got it wrong. I certainly am in two minds about much of it myself, but we were sincere and our motives were true.

We were also very charismatic. This was when charismatic renewal was riding high. The Holy Spirit was being discovered by the churches again. Popular Christian books such as The Cross and the Switchblade, Run, Baby, Run, Chasing the Dragon, and Nine O’Clock in the Morning were suggesting that God could be experienced as well as believed in, and we wanted to share the experience.

There was a new emphasis on speaking in tongues, on the gifts of the Spirit, and spiritual experience, in general. St Andrew’s itself was very evangelical and Bible-believing, but it did not believe in or encourage the so-called spiritual gifts. In fact, it was actively opposed to them. This was a frustration to many of us as we knew that we needed teaching and help on their correct use.

So some of us started visiting a local Christian fellowship that was related to Devonshire Road, the House Church through which I made a Christian commitment. It was called the Longcroft. It was in the days when Norman Meeten was resident there. This was hardline House Church and completely committed to the spiritual gifts and their use. We used to go to a prayer meeting held there on a Monday night. Most of those who were there were much older than us, in some cases very much older. But they never patronised us and welcomed us with open arms.

We used to sing a lot mainly Charles Wesley hymns. We would share testimonies about what God was doing in our lives, speak in tongues, pray for healing, receive prophecy, and listen to sermons that often lasted for an hour and a half, but never seemed like it. There was much that was positive, but the theology was very negative towards traditional churches. In particular, it was deeply opposed to infant baptism. Baptism was for believers who knew what they were doing, not for babies who hadn’t a clue what was happening. This issue became something a battleground between the traditional churches on the one hand and House Churches on the other. It was invested with a symbolic significance, showing which side of the fence you were on.

I was more and more convinced of my own calling to the ministry. There were, however, a number of issues. Firstly, in seeking ordination, which direction should I go in? I was now attending an Anglican Church, while at the same time sharing many of the doubts of the House Churches about it. I did not believe in infant baptism, and so did not see how I could go into the ministry of a church which did. It is here that I must pay tribute to the then Rector, Bill Person. He befriended me and cared for me, even though he disagreed deeply with some of the things of which I was part. He was not impressed with the charismatic movement and believed firmly in infant batism. But although older, wiser, and infinitely more mature, he would debate with me, laugh with me, and take me seriously. He encouraged me to pursue ordination in the Church of England. At this stage, however, I certainly was not ready to commit to the Church of England!

Secondly, I needed to decide what I did after sixth form. I was clear in my mind that I should study theology. I felt then, as I feel now, that the Church needs clergy who have studied theology seriously, rather than having done a couple of years at theological college, or wherever, and then thinking that’s it. At first, I assumed I should go to University as this was what other people my age at my school did. Then I discovered London Bible College, now called London School of Theology. A change of name that irritates me every time I see it, but that’s not my business! London Bible College was inter-denominational and evangelical. To cut a long story short, I applied and was accepted. I also had offers from universities, but when the time came to decide there was never any doubt. London Bible College was about ministry and that was what I wanted to be about too.

I left for London in Autumn, 1974. I was a member of an Anglican Church, but with grave doubts about it, very charismatic, evangelical, influenced by a branch of the House Church movement, convinced that I was called to preach and teach, and genuinely eager to learn. It was the best decision I could have made, and, in the midst of many doubts and changes that were to lie ahead, I have never had cause to doubt going to LBC.

But more about that next time.