Strange how God uses mistakes.
As soon as I walked in after all those years, I knew for certain that it was God who had engineered my move to Heswall. At the time in 1979 it seemed a huge risk. I even wrote to a friend: “I suppose the move could be the best move I’ve ever made or the most disastrous.” So returning to the Church of the Good Shepherd last Sunday, after a gap of some 23 years, was a huge encouragement. For we never wanted to go to Heswall. Even the invitation to go there was as a result of a massive misunderstanding. Strange how God uses mistakes. But now looking back our move there could be the most significant decision in my ministry. When I arrived the church was facing one way; when I left some five years later it was heading in a totally new direction. A dramatic change of course. It took another three ministries, back-to-back over 18 years to complete the transition but now the Good Shepherd feels like a very different church. Even as we walked through the doors we could see that the church had been transformed – and not just the building. Gone were the old pews packed tightly into this 1950’s building; instead a carpeted worship space with a coffee serving area at the entrance. And engaging all-age worship instead of BCP (1662 Book of Common Prayer) matins. So many signs of spiritual growth! A well attended young people’s congregation each Sunday evening, modern worship songs alongside the more traditional –and – the reason I was there – a decision to build a totally new church centre facing onto Telegraph Road. When we first walked through those same doors in June 1978 you could never have envisioned such a future, no way. Everything about the building said “No change here!” And so naturally I said No. Canon Kenneth Lee had offered me the post of a second curacy as a result of a misunderstanding. I was all set to become a school chaplain but somehow this information had reached him as “There is this curate in Liverpool looking for a job.” So he wrote to me out of the blue. I decided to go for an exploratory interview just to check out our decision to leave parish ministry. Everything was wrong. Ministry was liberal catholic, churchmanship was right up the candle and significantly Kenneth was about to retire. He needed someone to cover the looming interregnum (the gap between one rector going and the new one arriving). And that was that. But then God got involved – and we were to experience the most dramatic guidance to change course in order to change the course of this particular church. Clearly there were some people who were praying. It began with Kenneth sending us a Christmas card. At first I could not work out who it was so firmly had Heswall disappeared from view. But God was beginning to show his hand. And time and time again over the following months Jacqui and I were shown the example of Abraham taking a significant step of faith. It seemed whenever we opened a book or turned on the television remarkably Abraham stepped out. Unsettling to say the least – but that is exactly what God was doing, unsettling us, not allowing us to set our sights elsewhere. One sermon in particular moved me – at St Andrew’s Litherland. God seemed to be speaking directly to me, unnerving. Strangely I was the preacher. So to Kenneth’s delight and to the Bishop of Warrington’s disappointment we said Yes to Heswall. It seemed at the time that I was the first evangelical in Heswall for eight centuries! Even after moving I wasn’t sure. And this hesitancy was confirmed when in preparing me, a retired priest showed me how to put on vestments. Looking in the mirror I was horrified. (This was 1979, a bygone age when everything you wore as a priest was significant). But the Holy Spirit reassured me. The Bible reading for that day was from Acts 21, the apostle Paul’s surprising decision to be purified in the Jerusalem temple along with some fellow believers. The Scripture Union commentary read: “For the sake of the Gospel Paul gave up his principles.” And that was me. Over the next five years I held on to two basics: I would preach at every service and I would aim to explain the Bible passage as best I could. And the Bible passage God gave to me as we “moved over the Water”: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 1516). Not surprisingly God keeps his promises.