When God changed our direction
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This email is amazingly timely!!!
You will discover why shortly.
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You may remember that last September I happened to blog about how Jacqui and I launched a youth ministry in Heswall some forty years ago. Out of courtesy I sent it to the current Rector of Heswall who replied as above.
There was no special reason for the timing of the blog. Just came to me, no more. And yet how often do we find how God somehow engineers our actions so that they are “amazingly timely” with three exclamation marks, no less.
As it happens the parish was organising a special youth celebration celebrating the remarkable ministry over, I think, 30 years of the retiring youth ministry leader – and it takes place this Sunday. To which we are invited.
Looking back over my 47 years of ordained ministry our five years in Heswall, specifically at the Church of the Good Shepherd, may well have been the most strategic. Simply the act of my appointment itself represented a huge change of direction for the parish.
Not that I wanted to go. It seemed a huge risk. I wrote at the time just as the removal van was parking outside our curacy house: “I suppose the move could be the best move I’ve ever made or the most disastrous! So much depends on the new Rector, although the risk is somewhat contained by the Good Shepherd being a large daughter church.”
It all started with a mistake. Coming to the end of my first curacy in the Diocese of Liverpool I decided to go for a school chaplaincy. Not sure why; it just seemed a good idea to widen my experience of ministry.
I shared this with my brother-in-law who later mentioned this in conversation with a retired priest on the Wirral, who then communicated to the Rector of Heswall to the effect that I was looking for a move. He then contacted me to offer me a second curacy in Heswall. Chinese whispers in action!
My instinct was simply to decline right away, but I thought it might be a good idea to check my move into school chaplaincy with a parish appointment. Not least it would give the Holy Spirit some space to work.
So we went for an interview, not expecting to accept any offer. I remember not at all being fazed by being late through losing our way. And our visit simply confirmed my thinking – this was not the right place for us.
A no-brainer really. The Rector was about to retire – and clearly he was desperate to have someone ordained in place to run the two churches in his parish, St Peter’s and the Good Shepherd. He didn’t say as much but he clearly would appoint anyone.
But had I accepted I would be running the risk of finding myself with a curate-bashing Rector. There were many in those days.
Furthermore the tradition of having two curacies before becoming a fully-fledged vicar was fast dying out. That was the main reason why the vacancy was proving so difficult to fill. As it happens Liverpool was about to offer me a vicar’s appointment.
However, there were other good reasons not to go. Previous curates had been liberal catholics and robed accordingly. The style of ministry there was altogether foreign to me, totally unsuited to my low-church evangelical ministry.
And so I declined, a simple decision.
And that was it.
Strangely some months later I received a Christmas card from the Rector. He was still without a curate and retirement was looming. This somehow initiated a remarkable few months as the Holy Spirit, quietly and purposefully, redirected our thinking.
Above all, through the example of Abraham. So we read in the New Testament: “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
There was one sermon on Abraham in particular which challenged me, Strangely I was the one preaching the sermon. I still can recall hanging onto my every word. Weird.
Again, I wrote at the time: “But time and time again the Holy Spirit kept pointing us to the example of Abraham and the men of Hebrews 11 to take your whole family with you and go out trusting in God’s guidance. And if his leading pointed to Heswall, then to Heswall we go.”
This was the only time in my life when God changed the direction of my thinking. For the most part we just take the obvious next step, knowing that God is actively involved in our thought-processes.
We had five eventful years in Heswall, with a wonderful Rector who was entirely supportive. It was Robin who suggested we started a youth fellowship. We did see some growth but the largest increase came at my very last service in 1984 as it became known that I was to be replaced by another evangelical curate.
Since then Heswall would see itself as a parish church with an evangelical ministry with a thriving youth congregation. And we look forward to joining them in two days time for a service of thanksgiving, of how God leads his people step-by-step.
And sometimes we have no idea where he may be leading us – but we know it’s the right path.