Monday, November 13, 2023

Life Statements 2)

 Ordination statement cont.

Since I committed myself to this vocation and began training at Regent's Park College in Octobers 1969 there have been confirmations that this is the right course. The most recent is my call to Leamington Road Baptist Church, Blackburn, which sets a seal on my training for the pastoral ministry.

But there is one thing more I must say to this congregation in Chatsworth. On 3rd. August 1969 Chatsworth took a great step of faith - it invited me untrained, inexperienced and very nervous to preach.  Only I know how great your faith was! Preaching, of all the aspects of the ministry was one where I felt least adequate and there are churches not far from here which, courtesy of the London Baptist Preachers' Association will readily agree. Yet, when I climbed the mount for the evening service on that August date I experienced something which will always stand on a peak. I cannot really describe the loss of self-awareness, the peaceful confidence, not rooted in a careful script but grounded in the humbling strength of the Holy Spirit.  Only those who have known extremes of butterflies, dry throat and a crippling ill-ease which may accompany public speaking can appreciate why this experience is a turning point I can never forget. It gave me for the first time the happiness of preaching the good news unhampered by my own limitations and borne up by the Spirit's power.

I cannot explain why I felt this until I remember the prayers of this people, with me every minute. For those prayers and that day I thank God.

As I read these words I picture this Ordination day in sharp focus.  But, when I describe what happened on 3rd. August I realize how I pulled my punches. It really was true that preaching was part of my calling which I dreaded.  As a lay preacher I had recently visited a Baptist church, travelling by tube.  That day's pulpit experience still makes me shiver.  No one spoke to me at the end and the Treasurer grudgingly flipped me half-a-crown (old money = 25p) to cover my travel!  It was awful. What happened on 3rd. August was so momentous I felt it was too presumptuous as a young man to mention it.  Surely many would think it was the product of an overwrought imagination rather than spiritual reality.  Only many years later did I dare to tell the story how God had unmistakeably spoken to me. Even while I was preaching another voice clearly said: Michael I call you to preach.  As I later wrote in 360degree Preaching: God gave inadequate me a vivid, lifelong commitment to preach. 

I think I was right to keep quiet in 1972 but am sure I needed to go public later. It explains so much of my subsequent life.  It also raises questions about whether God calls specifically for preaching. Is this among the gifts to the church? Good questions.

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