Carol and I have taken out a joyful hour today (over a Chinese lunch!) to reflect on what happened exactly 40 years ago at my ordination. It was Pentecost Sunday and my home church Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood, London, gave over the evening service. Actually the church did far more than that. Around 700 people attended the service and church members put on a tea beforehand for all those who had traveled to London. These included a gang who had driven down from Blackburn, Lancashire where I was to begin ministry in September.
Carol was pregnant with our first child (to be born on July 14th 1972). We cannot remember how we traveled from Oxford where I was finishing my studies. I only had a motorcycle and I cannot imagine Carol as pillion passenger. Probably we hired a car for the weekend.
I asked Carol what she remembered most. She recalled all those friends who arrived for tea beforehand in the large hall behind the church, and the tingling excitement as so many people surprised us by their presence. 'It felt like our wedding all over again,' she said. But that was only the beginning. The guest preacher was Dr. Barrie White and I remember him challenging me about being a transparent Christian leader so that people could see Jesus through me! My vows to serve Christ for the whole of my future felt heavy too, and I knelt as many hands were laid on me. We chose all the hymns and the full-throated church let rip.
Yet, Carol says perhaps for her the most overwhelming time of all was afterwards, when guests streamed back into the hall that had been replenished with food and now a long table stood against the wall laden by baby shower gifts for our new baby. Carol says she didn't know then what a 'baby shower' was! Such practical love in such abundance was utterly overpowering. We were speechless. Since Carol's single parent mother had died when she was a student the church family had always been the greatest support. But this surprise remains unforgettable among their kindnesses. Friends lined up to greet us (just like a wedding again) and it took the whole night to get through. Many days later we were still catching our breath.
Chatsworth continues to have a big book on display in which all the names of those who were sent out by the church as pastors and missionaries are honored. Each is given a page dated in sequence. So there I am - May 21st. 1972. What a day!
We both say thanks to our heavenly Father for his steadfast love and mercies new every day over 40 years of ministry. And to his faithful generous people who have stood with us on the journey ever since. Especially over my recent time with cancer our church families in Blackburn and Cambridge have been extraordinarily supportive. We are profoundly grateful. I think you can tell that we really are!