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.

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