These early months were full of firsts on a steep learning curve. My first harvest festival and my first baptismal class. I yearned for my first believer's baptism and 'preached for a verdict' (as W.E. Sangster used to describe evangelistic preaching) on Romans 10:1-15 Lips and Heart. When would it be?
My first Remembrance Sunday I discovered to be a very big deal because so many had lost friends and family. And then my first Advent! Those advent Sundays from December 3rd in sequence were my first proper experience of leading a church through part of the Christian year. How much I was to value this discipline in the future and how much (helped of course by having a young family) I was going to love celebrating Christmas.
On Advent Sunday: The people were in expectation (Luke 3:15) compared the bustling Blackburn shopping crowds to the river bank where John the Baptist is preaching! How easy to say we have seen it all as we prepare for Christmas. Disappointment lurks as it did then. The advent question is 'Will we be disappointed? Knowing the story, Joseph and Mary, the baby in a manger, shepherds, and all that, we can say 'It's all just what we expected. Just another year." We can expect no surprise and show no excitement. NO. This is the most impossible event in the world. Without Christmas there would be no Easter, no Holy Spirit with us now, no hope for the world. We can never say 'He's just what we expected'. Like the crowds, we should stand and gape in expectation. In the evening I preached on the Second Advent in Mark 13. with its challenge to 'business as usual'. For God has interrupted once and he will do again.
The pace towards Christmas quickened with further sermons like: The Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30) with its poignant analogy in the stable door and which speaks of the humility of Jesus, and humility for us, the church and the world if we heed his call to strive to enter by the narrow door. On the third Sunday evening the children led a Candlelight Service at a slightly earlier time. As the children sang, with proud parents looking on, Carol and I felt such warming. We belonged within this big gifted church family.
Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday with a Carol Service in the morning, Entitled The Brilliance of Christmas, it fell into sections: The glory around the shepherds, The Star for the Wise Men, the Light of the World. I still have a record of all those who read Scriptures and other readings. This was to be the stuff of my future ministry and for the first time it really did fill me with surprising expectation.
Interestingly, early on in the service the primary children left to sing at the Old People's Home just round the corner from the church. This home, called West Bank, was to feature prominently in our commitments on Christmas Day too.
Oh, it was all so new, exciting....exhausting.