Dear friends already met and friends to be made,
I was deeply touched to receive your call to be your new minister. Through the course of our encounters, I too, felt a genuine sense of call on my heart, and so was very glad to accept your invitation to serve as your new minister.
It was only in June that I felt that the time was right for me to seek a new ministry. In putting my name forward to the Synod Moderators’ meeting, I shared with them my hopes to return to a local church-based pastoral ministry. I also requested to see some profiles within c. 60 miles of London, which would enable my wife Jan and I to be nearer our three adult children. Of the profiles that I received, it was your profile for the joint pastorate of Emmanuel URC West Wickham and Elmers End Free Church that stood out.
I appreciated the expression of each church valuing their relationship with the other, and the line near the beginning that read that in response to a minister who would “bring their own energy, strengths and passions to challenge…”, you would “promise to journey with them in a loving and supportive environment…”. I read on, and felt a sense of excitement about what Emmanuel were already doing, not least the outreach mission to develop Messy Church at Emmanuel, in addition to your well-established congregation.
Whilst your profile was completed in November ‘19, a look around your website revealed that since lockdown you have developed ‘A Word of Worship’ for lockdown days and had moved part of your church life online through Zoom. Your profile also outlined your second mission priority to expand your pastoral support for your existing fellowship and your interaction with community groups including premises users. I felt that I wanted to know more, so requested an introduction.
Your vacancy group received my profile and invited me for a weekend in mid-July, to visit both churches, meet people from each congregation and have a more formal interview with the vacancy group. From those encounters I received an invitation to return and lead an act of worship in each church, and have a question and answer session. It was somewhat unusual to conduct a service with a congregation of masked worshippers and others joining online from their homes, but I sensed that behind your face-coverings and screens, lay warm and encouraging smiles.
I valued the question and answer session, and came away with a picture of a church with a diverse range of hopes for their future. A church keen to meet the needs of seniors, families, young people and children and a church wanting to feed the faithful and engage with those on the edge of church life and faith. A church which sought to offer worshipful experiences through more traditional expressions in their sanctuary, the continuity of the new printed service for those at home, the development of online worship which may be both the streaming of regular worship and offering creative digital online worship.
I also sensed your recognition that no one person can do everything, but the hope that a new minister could work with the church to discern priorities and take a lead with your existing team in the worship, pastoral care and mission of your church. I felt a sense of excitement, and having received your call to service, felt moved and honoured to respond affirmatively.
The tradition of ‘call’ has deep Biblical roots. Abraham had a sense of God’s call from three visitors to his tent, Jacob dreamed of God’s calling through an angel-filled stairway to heaven, Moses had an encounter with God who called him to serve before a burning bush, and Isaiah had a vision of God and God’s calling on his life. Jesus himself, gained an insight into God’s calling on his life in the wilderness, and again and again when taking time out in prayer.
As for Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, they each received a call in a shore-side encounter whilst fishing or mending their nets. The Biblical tradition not only tells of encounters with a call, but goes on to reveal in story after story that the call is just a beginning of a journey which is worked out along the way, with the call being shaped and reshaped. Call is not for a moment in time, but a dynamic and ongoing expression of discipleship.
But you’ll know this, for if you are reading this, then I cannot believe other than you have felt a sense of God’s calling on your life at some point, to follow, serve and believe. Some (perhaps all) of you may also reflect that you could not have envisaged at the outset the journey of faith on which you have been led.
I certainly never envisaged that I’d move back to the place of my upbringing, let alone serve in ministry there, but then again, none of us can ever be sure of where God’s calling on our lives may lead us. So my ‘yes’ is a yes to your invitation to be your new minister, and a ‘yes’ to explore together where God is calling us, to embark on that journey and see where it may lead.
Together with my wife, Jan, I look forward to moving south in the Autumn, settling in your manse at West Wickham and getting to know each of you, and together discovering and responding to God’s calling on our church and our lives, to worship and witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Until then, travel well, travel faithfully and travel in hope.