On Sunday I was at Brunswick Baptist Church in Gloucester (in the west of England) where I was baptized as a teenager in 1959. My father was minister there 1953-1961 and this turned out to be an extraordinarily consequential period of my growing up. The church building that I knew so well has long gone, to be replaced by much more compact premises still in the heart of the city on Southgate. Going back to preach there (in its 200th. anniversary year) proved to be exhilarating. Why? Partly, because of the liveliness of the current church, its vibrant fellowship and obvious love. It's wonderful to see yet another generation's continuing witness. Partly, because of the quality of the leadership. One of the key leaders, Graham, was in the youth group way back in my time and he, with his wife and family, have given a lifetime's love and devotion to the church ever since.
But there's another very personal reason. A reunion was arranged for the Saturday evening when I met a friend who also had been in the youth group of whom I had not seen or heard for over 52 years. Tony was (slightly) older than me in his teens. He proved a powerful Christian friend who helped to galvanize my early zeal, taking gospel tracts (by the handful) out onto the streets, into the park, and on one notable occasion on a train where together we visited every compartment thrusting out good news. I remember one tract had the current Prime Minister's quote on the front: 'We've never had it so good!' as it spelt out the danger of missing out God. We preached in teams in local churches, helped the elderly by gardening, and engaged in lengthy prayer meetings for revival. It was a red hot time. I wondered what Tony would be like now.
I was thrilled to the core to see and hear him again, just as I remember. Just as warm, full of God's spirit. He told me how my father taught him New Testament Greek and to play the mandolin! How he had become a Pentecostal pastor, spending his last years in mission work in Malaysia where he met his wife. In retirement he has now come back to the Brunswick church with his family. On Sunday he introduced me before I preached and I could not believe how like the old times it was. Two friends with lives in parallel over five decades had suddenly found each other.
He had a couple of black and white photos of our era. One showed four young men: Tony, Derrick, Gordon and myself, studying a Bible together. Three of us became pastors, all of us continued in faith. Carol said to me: 'Wouldn't your Dad be pleased to see what has become of his young people?' Well, in the communion of saints he will know! It is no surprise that the weekend was exhilarating, is it?