When we hold our course
It’s been a particularly difficult few years. First we had the Pandemic, then Ukraine and now Kwasi Kwarteng. All we need now is for Everton to be relegated.
The current political furore reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s budget in June 1981, scarcely a month after the General Election. It was a controversial budget, introducing us to Thatcherism. One commentator, I recall, stated that if you are going to make radical change, you might as well go the whole way and do it properly. Half measures rarely work.
Strangely at the same time Jacqui and I were in the process of starting a youth fellowship at the Good Shepherd in Heswall, where I was curate. There was simply no provision for teenagers in the church and so my Rector asked us to start a youth fellowship. There were no suitable church members to help, just Jacqui and me.
At first I demurred. We would be moving on within the next three years, not enough time to establish a resilient ministry, and no one to take over. However, Robin insisted – and that was it.
In those days middle class parents sent their teenagers to be confirmed, as a rite of passage, much as in the same way that you apply for your National Insurance number. And so for our first meeting, we had about 18 very shy 16-year-olds squeezed in our front room, all dispatched by their parents.
So we began a confirmation course. I put some effort into this, often using state-of-the-art technology in the form of film strips with a cassette-based soundtrack. Hippity Dog was particularly enjoyed. And at all times we held to a spiritual agenda, to explain as clearly as we could the Gospel of Jesus and his claim on our lives.
The course went well and as the Confirmation service loomed I explained to our confirmands that we would continue on Sunday evenings at our house. The big question: would they come, even of their own free will?
I still can remember walking along Feather Lane after Evensong that first Sunday, wondering if any of our candidates would actually turn up on this dark winter’s evening. I simply had no idea what to expect. And I resolved there and then, to give God all the credit should this ministry take off.
Andrae Crouch was a key Christian musician at that time. He observed: “God can take anything we have, as long as we give him the glory for it.”
It also meant that if the whole venture was a complete failure, God so-to-speak would shoulder the blame. His ministry, his responsibility.
So I entered our front room and to my astonishment the entire confirmation group was there. But that was the easy bit.
Each Sunday evening, me usually tired from taking upto four services, we would seek to teach what it meant to follow Jesus. I put a lot into each meeting with more film strips and some imaginative resources. We even had one concert in our front room from a well-known Christian musician. (Barry was visibly drained).
However, it came to the stage that one evening I had had enough and was tempted to just go through the motions and offer some trivial pursuits quiz. Easy but unchallenging: just entertainment, nothing more.
As it happens Mrs Thatcher also was having a tough time and I may have had her in mind when I resolved: “If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail properly!” Either the Gospel works or it doesn’t.
And so I put aside the temptation of having a run-of-the-mill quiz and maintained our original course of seeking to make disciples of Jesus. But there was apparently little response, just me having migraines.
Soon it was the 1982 World Cup and there was no way we could compete with that, and so our Sunday evenings simply fizzled out in early June. That was it. We had failed – but I knew I had given it my best shot.
Except that summer, strangely many of those young people became Christians, for the most part independently of each other. Both amazing and a little weird. So that September we started afresh, this time with the goal of those older teenagers maturing as disciples. Today we are still in touch with several of them.
We were soon to move to Rochdale – but remarkably I happened to bump into a young man just moved into Heswall. Quite a story here, with Chris taking over leading our youth fellowship.
Fast forward 40 years – and the Church of the Good Shepherd is known for its ministry with young people, thanks to a whole succession of gifted leaders. We simply give God the glory: there is simply no other explanation.
One of my heroes is the missionary Hudson Taylor. He concluded: “Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on his power and presence with them.”
While for me, my watchword for ministry in Christ, even to this day: If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail properly.