God's work will always draw flak.
Today we say farewell to Nick Walkden, who has overseen the ministry of he Ministry Centre over the last four-and-a-half years. We will miss Nick – he has been a key player in the development of this valuable resource as we share Jesus with everyone beginning in our community. He has been brilliant, both with people and with systems. A Mancunian he laughs at my jokes (when he understands them). So as we appoint his successor, once again we look to the Lord. As ever we rely on God’s provision, to send the right person at the right time. After all it’s his building and it is his ministry. For here is the basic in all Christian ministry – to know that God takes full responsibility for his project. I recall Rikki Abernethy in a presentation to the congregation on the proposed new building nearly 20 years ago quoting Hudson Taylor. “There are three stages in the work of God: impossible, difficult, done.” This understanding makes all the difference when we step out in faith in obedience to God’s guidance. Six years ago, the day the Ministry Centre was opened, one-time curate Mark Stanford, now vicar of Holy Trinity Formby, came up to me and said: “Ross, you have the gift of faith!” And he was right. Not just me of course but a whole group of us had been given this invaluable gift of faith. This is one of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:9. The apostle isn’t talking here about the faith through which we become Christians, not saving faith. In this context it is simply the conviction that God himself is at work in a particular context. So whatever the setbacks or opposition, no problem. God is on to it. Never forget such faith in God is a gift, given by grace – not something we have worked up or strived for. And certainly nothing we can take credit for. And this faith will be tested – that goes without saying. And the greater potential, the heavier will be the flak. So in a strange kind of way the level of opposition we experienced was a direct encouragement. Such was the hassle, we realized God must be at work. But as often the case God took longer than we expected. The reason was that we were in the slow learners group. The story goes back many years but the key development was in 1994 when the new head teacher, Barbara Stevens, decided to consolidate the school on the one site. And the old school building became available. However, the County Council was obliged to sell the site to the highest bidder – and land in Aughton is prized. It took five years for the Church Council to buy the site - after innumerable setbacks and long hours spent in our Diocesan solicitor’s waiting room. However, during this time we invited church members and local residents for their views. Pete Chalk – who was to do sterling work as project manager for the building of the Ministry Centre – wrote: “Unless absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t want to knock down the current building.” The irony was that it was Pete some ten years later who commissioned the demolition of the old school building. I think that is a measure of how far God had to move us and to expand our vision. The next stage everyone remembers, from March 1999 to December 2006. How we tried and failed to get our first building through planning. To quote those campaigning against “it was just too big.” However, those six years were not wasted. We effectively learned from scratch how to build a Ministry Centre, an invaluable lesson. As it happens some 150 years ago the Rev William Henry Boulton, the Rector of Aughton, faced huge opposition when he built Christ Church. The Ormskirk Advertiser even intervened, suggesting that Lord Derby arbitrate. That’s another story for another time but the message is the same: when we step out in faith, such faith is going to be tested. As Rick Warren observes: “When you understand that life is a test, you realise that nothing is insignificant in your life.” The challenge, as ever, is to stay true to the original vision, for the Ministry Centre to deliver ministry in Jesus’ name rather than just be another community centre. As ever, he makes all the difference.