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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Those who changed my direction

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10) Well, I'm nearly there, my threescore years and ten and looking back over the decades, I can praise God for his faithfulness – finding him reliable through testing times. I thank him for the countless people who have encouraged me, those who have influenced me in in big ways and in small – and especially for those individuals responsible for a marked change of direction in my life. Some are obvious – my parents, members of my family. Clearly life would have been very different had Jacqui replied to my proposal of marriage, “I think I’ll wait just in case something better turns up. However, there are individuals who in acting as they did changed the course of my life - one moment I was heading one way, next in a new direction. I guess the main one was Roger who found himself in the concluding paragraph of my retirement sermon at Christ Church, Aughton. I hardly knew Roger. I certainly had no idea who he was when he knocked on my door to invite me to the Covenanter Group at the Oxford Hall brethren assembly. This represented a marked change of direction as my parents finally allowed me to leave St Nics. I often wonder what would have happened had I stayed there, inoculated for life against Christianity through the sheer tedium of matins. Had not Roger not screwed up his courage and pushed the doorbell at Portland Avenue, my life would have been very different. Sadly I very soon lost contact with Roger but God used his obedience at a key juncture in my life. In fact, it’s surprising how many people changed the direction of my life through one single action. David Dennison, warden of Christ Church, for one. As part of the process of appointing a vicar for Christ Church in 1992, David resisted diocesan pressure and placed an advert in the Church Times, unusual in those days for an evangelical church. As it happened I just had a meaningful conversation with my old rector, Robin Morris, about being open to God using job adverts, even in the CT. It seemed vaguely unspiritual. Had I not seen that advert (and I knew right away that this was it) I would never have found out about Christ Church, an opening in another diocese and one – I haven’t the time to explain - without an evangelical patronage. Had David had done what he was told by the Bishop, my life would have taken a different direction, probably along the M60. Some of these key people had no idea of the significance of their action. Again I hardly knew Canon Richard Daintith, then a retired priest living on the Wirral. It’s 1979 and my first curacy at Hatton Hill is coming to an end. The bishop supports my plan to move into school chaplaincy and I am interviewed for a position. Somehow over the water, Richard gets the wrong end of the stick in a brief conversation with my brother-in-law and mentions to the Rector of Heswall, incorrectly, that I am looking for a job. This precipitated a whole series of events which culminated, against all the odds, with me going to the Good Shepherd Heswall. At the time it seemed a huge risk but this step of faith was to have substantial repercussions. I’m running out of the space but I must mention our vicar at St John’s Waterloo, Ian Bunting. His faithful ministry had a huge influence on our lives, both Jacqui and mine. But we’re talking here about a change of direction. I often claim to have been ordained by mistake – and here Ian was a key culprit because it was Ian who invited Jacqui and I to spend a weekend with him and Mair at Durham, where he had recently been appointed to the staff at Cranmer Hall theological college. A career in social work I now realised was not for me and so I was open to ordination as an option, no more. However, British Rail beat the CofE to it and in complete confidence offered me a job as an economist. Not even my parents knew. Nevertheless we still went to stay with the Buntings and on the Saturday morning, Ian arranged for us to have a friendly chat – at least, that’s what I thought at the time – with the college principal, John Cockerton. So I was shocked when John offered me a place the following October. Naturally I apologised and explained I was not applying. We had been talking at complete cross purposes. At this point John sought to change my mind. “You can take a job at, say, British Rail and experience a small segment of life in great detail,” he explained, “but in ordained ministry you enter many different worlds.” John had no idea about my proposed job at British Rail – he simply pulled it out of the air as an example. And again, God was able to use this one sentence to set off a whole series of events which led to my ordination. Again I never knew John very well but we were delighted to visit Ian earlier this month in Nottinghamshire. In other words, you never know how God can use you – maybe through just a single conversation, even through a mistake. He is far more active in our lives than we would ever even begin to imagine, “for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.” (Psalm 26:3)

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