Tuesday, October 27, 2020

120 letters 3) An insight

Looking over these letters seems a little like trailing through a Baptist Who's Who of 1993.  A surprising number of denominational leaders and others took the trouble to write - often handwritten letters too.  (A friend commented how rarely we write by hand today...and how much we miss that personal touch.  I am guilty of typing though Carol tells me noone can read my writing anyway!) 

One of the letters came from a man I did not know yet and in his hand written letter (!) he commented: 'I was told that you did not seek this post.  When the Lord leads us in this way I always think it's such a confirmation that it's right!'  Not only was he right about me not seeking the post but I actively rejected the possibility when a member of the search committee first approached me.  It seemed to me an utterly absurd idea - and I could list many reasons why I was disqualified.  Another member of the search committee tried again with me.   It was an extraordinary time as I underwent a gradual 'Christian battering' from people I didn't really know.  I went to the first interview thinking I was making the numbers up.  Indeed, after that interview one of the interviewers called me and begged me to be more proactive in the second interview!

I have come to believe that this comment above is a true insight.  Because when you really do not seek the call it may be the Lord's leading!  Of course, much depends on the spiritual qualities of those inviting you!  And looking back I realize that not one of my ministerial moves was of my own volition.  Moves to Blackburn, Cambridge, Spurgeon's and the USA were never sought.....indeed the move to the USA was the weirdest set of circumstances of all.   Now, I know this is not true for many people, especially in these days of seeing vacant ministerial positions and needing to apply but my testimony is that this backwards way of moving into a new role can be blessed by God.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

120 letters 2) A hymn

The first hand-written letter in my file came from an evangelist friend, Vic Jackopson, who was at that time heading up HOPE NOW International Ministries.  Vic was a long-standing friend of both Carol and myself.  Indeed he sent a very generous gift to Carol to buy herself a new outfit!  That was especially welcome in our very tight finances. But what really impacted me was a four verse hymn that he had written to celebrate my appointment.  Set to the tune 'For the beauty of the earth' it is based on Psalm 16.  He wrote that one of his fondest memories as a student at Spurgeon's was when the Vice Principal Frank Fitzsimmonds prayed in chapel :'We thank you, good Lord, that you have caused our lines to fall in pleasant places'.  Vic having left prison as a new Christian before coming to college especially appreciated that prayer.

Having just rediscovered this letter and hymn I was amazed when yesterday Vic phoned us out of the blue.  Still hard at work he was asking for my preaching help for a student he is mentoring.  When I told him about his March 1993 letter and hymn he had no recollection of writing it and said it was not likely to be of the highest quality writing. But, as you can imagine, he was thrilled that I had kept it and treasure it still. 'Please would you send me a copy?' he asked. 

I have just sent him scans by email and marvel at the way that an old letter provokes so much praise.  Like his second verse:

Lord, you have been our God and King

And a great Provider too;  

For we possess no good thing 

But that which has come from you. 

Therefore shall our tongues give voice 

And our hearts in you rejoice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

120 letters

I have just struck a little treasure trove which (as a sure sign of age) I had no idea I had kept through the years.  No idea! When I was appointed as Principal at Spurgeon's College in 1993 I received many personal letters (sometimes very personal) from a wide range of people, churches and organizations.  It has been such a revelation to browse through them.  One wrote a celebration poem, another a hymn, another sent a picture of Spurgeon and me!  Many expressed surprise at my appointment - which I felt too. Some told me things about myself I had never heard before!  I am humbled by the care so many friends and church leaders took in writing their reflections. 

One of the longest letters came from Frank Goodwin, the minister who had baptized Carol in Chatsworth Way Baptist Church, W. Norwood.  He later became President of the Baptist Union and I grew to know and greatly respect him.  His four handwritten pages contain so many gems including some advice about the task of ministry.

  'I'll not "congratulate" you for that would imply that there is something higher than the pastorate and that I cannot accept.  However, I doubt there's a more demanding and necessary task than preparing those who have a call to the ministry. If I had any advice to give it would be: 

  1. Encourage the power of communication, so many know but know not how to tell.
  2. Show them how to both lean on one's members and yet lead them.
  3. Encourage the remembrance of the Call for that can be a well of cool water in a hot dry spell.
  4. While one is there to serve, one is always Servant of God. He sets the agenda.
  5. All students should read P.T. Forsyth.  His observation that the first task of the individual preacher is to enable to Church to preach has guided me and set me goals.
He also mentioned about encouraging ministers' dress sense!  At the end he invited me to stay in their retirement home in Tenby which we duly did.  So many things have popped up since discovering this little trove.  Perhaps another post?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

GPS exasperation

A short while ago I posted our (mis)adventure with our GPS.  I called it a frolic but it was anything but.  Yesterday, we needed to post a card for a friend facing an operation. Having learned from our past experience I put the address in the GPS keeping the address details in the car.  It should have taken around 15 minutes though three way temporary traffic lights proved frustratingly erratic - only turning green for road repair vehicles to wander across blocking our way before turning red. (Aren't three/four way temporary lights the worst?)

As we neared the turning, the gentle GPS voice guided us to turn right down a road and then announced we had arrived.  However, we were on a completely different road.  As rain began to fall more heavily I drove on and on through the estate looking at every road sign.  Back on the main road we re-entered the process to begin again. Carol was sighing - not again! By now the rain was intense.  Still there was no sign of the missing road but a woman was running, without a coat, to get out of the rain.  Without sensitivity Carol shouted out where was this missing road. 'I'm getting wet' she said, pointing back where we had come.  By now the rain was monsoonal sweeping a small flash flood down the road!  As we turned round we saw a layby and a path that was almost obscured by parked cars.  And also obscured was the name of the road which turned out to be a path between houses.  Having checked the number Carol waited for the gusting rain to ease and when it didn't she set off only to find she couldn't find the house anywhere. Through the windscreen I saw this forlorn figure wandering about and eventuallycrossing a front lawn to a house tucked away on the side. 

So, relief the job was done but with guilt that a woman was soaking because she had given us directions and exasperation that a reputation is growing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


A particular rail journey came into my mind recently.  I was travelling up to York. We made good progress until north of Doncaster where we suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere.  Over the intercom, after a crackle ,came an assuring voice:' Good morning, this is your conductor speaking. I apologize for the delay but up ahead there is a train across the line.  I shall let you know more just as soon as I hear more details. I apologize for the delay,'  People smiled wearily in the carriage and I thought at least this man had told us what was happening though it did seem rather odd.

Fifteen minutes later came another crackle: 'Good morning, this is your conductor speaking. Did I say there was a train across the line? I meant to say there is a tree across the line.  They have called for a team to cut it down. I shall let you know when I am next told anything'.  There was amusement in the carriage but also a loss of confidence...how could someone make a mistake like that?  And, of course, it meant a lengthy delay to our journey

When we are on a journey there are some details that we want to be trustworthy and true.  And on the 'journey of life' it is critical for the living of lives and the end of lives and, indeed, for the end of time that we can be assured about the big picture ahead.  All this came to mind when I was reading Rev. 21: with its vision of God's future: Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true (v5).  That's what we need to hear! 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Follow Up

Tonight Carol and I were delighted to just catch Ron and Gill before they move away from the church house where they have been a great couple in ministry for 19 years at our Histon church.  The house is now bare as final removal occurs this weekend.  Carol mentioned that I had found the Ordination and Induction service leaflet for the beginning of their ministry at Stradbroke.

They appeared astonished!   Neither of them has a copy and were clearly surprised that I had found mine. 'Would you like to receive it?" I asked. ' Oh, yes!' they chorused.   Ron reminisced how it was an unusual service comprising both ordination and induction in the new church and Gill couldn't remember that she actually made a vow as Minister's wife.  I still cannot remember any other minister's wife making such a vow in the many services I shared in over the years.  And, what's more, she really fulfilled the vow:

Superintendent: Gill you have heard the commitment that Ron has made to this church, do you promise to encourage and support him as he exercises ministry in this church and community?

 Gill: Relying on God's help, I do.

My archives continue to contain far too much stuff but I am glad to have uncovered this at the propitious time - marking a beginning with a good ending! 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

A Happy Discovery

My last post shared about my memory bank being happily opened in a carpark.  Yesterday, I discovered something else that happened...... on Saturday 17th September 1994.  It was my first year as Principal at Spurgeon's College and one of my new responsibilities was to conduct ordination and sometimes induction services of students who had settled in their first churches. I remember it was a hectic Summer and it turns out that I had five such services in September alone.

Yesterday, in an old file, I found some details about them including some printed orders of service.  Now, I can remember the students themselves (sometimes vividly) but I confess I could not be sure when and with whom I was actually involved in their ministry beginnings.  But there in black and white were the details for 17th September at Stradbroke Baptist Church where my own minister who has just retired was ordained by me!  Ron and Gill Day made their vows (with a special vow of commitment of the Minister's wife) at the beginning of their ministry in Stradbroke before moving to Histon Baptist Church in 2001 where they both ministered until retirement.  At the back of my mind I had a picture of being involved but  now I know.  

I preached on Rev. 3:7-13 focusing on verse 8: See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  Written originally to a small community with little strength but which has been faithful, this is the most positive of the seven letters in Revelation. The picture of the open door suggests two journeys.  One - IN into God's promises which Jesus unlocks with a triumphant universal YES. In the face of an uncaring world and negatives all around, we trust in God's promises. On my ordination I received a card: 'The Lord bless you more than you deserve and as much as you can take'.  Two - OUT, into God's world.  It's a temptation to close the door on the world's noise and hostility. But Jesus calls us to go through the door of mission and service in his courage and love.  You can imagine how the challenge went!

What thrills me reading back about this, is that I have been present as a church member as Ron and Gill have moved to retirement and I have witnessed their ministry going in and out of the open door for all of us in Histon.  Their story of ministry has ended so well...and who knows what doors may yet be open. It is still true for them: The Lord bless you more than you deserve and as much as you can take'.