Category Archives: Church leaders

Obituary: John G Mitchell

John Mitchell, 1929-2015

John Mitchell, 1929-2015

Dad chose his friend and colleague Rev Wes Blakey to write his obituary for the Methodist Conference. The family is thankful to Wes for performing this service and for allowing us to publish it on the blog. I’ve done so today, because it would have been Dad’s 86th birthday.

JOHN GORDON MITCHELL was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, on 3rd July 1929, the eldest of four children of John and Annie, and baptized in the Church of Scotland where he attended Sunday School and the Life Boys. In war-time he went with school friends to Salvation Army and played baritone and trombone in Junior Band and later went with one of his sisters to the Junior Christian Endeavour in Roxburgh Street Methodist Church. His time at the Methodist Church had a profound influence upon John, where he became a member of the Sunday School, Youth Fellowship, and Lance Corporal in the Boys Brigade leading a regular Bible Class in the latter. Here, the ministry of Rev Ivor Seeley was a huge influence upon the young John.

On John’s 14th birthday he left school and began work for meagre wages and long hours on a farm in Kilmalcolm, which left no time for church or much else. Two years later he returned home and eventually gained an engineering apprenticeship. He was able then to return to Roxburgh Street Church where he was immediately welcomed back and was active again in Youth Club, Youth Fellowship and became Sunday School Superintendent.

Following a call to preach he became Fully Accredited in 1949 and then went on to answer a call to ordained ministry and, when accepted in 1950, began his studies at Wesley College Headingley.

John’s love of sport continued through his 3 years of college, becoming the football team’s goalkeeper, and in 3rd year he was team captain and General Sports Secretary.

During his candidating process a friendship grew between John and Chris, who was a member at Ardgowan Methodist Church, Greenock but, as was the custom then, marriage had to wait until August 1956 after ordination. That began a strong and loving partnership of mutual support which enriched John’s ministry in every respect.

John served in North of Scotland Mission 1953-56; Haltwhistle 1956-62; Sunderland North 1962-68; Newcastle Mission 1968-73 ; Consett 1973-80. In the latter two he served as superintendent and in 1980 was appointed as Chairman of Newcastle upon Tyne District. During these years he held many District and Connexional roles ~ both Assistant Synod Secretary and then Synod Secretary; and both times of the Methodist Conference being held in Newcastle in his ministry he was very involved as Assistant Secretary then Chairman of the Arrangements Committee.

John and Chris’s daughters Anabel and Elspeth were both born in Haltwhistle, and ultimately they were to introduce sons-in-law John and Winston and then granddaughters Harriet and Cassie; he took great delight in them all, each adding a joyous dimension to his life.

Above all else, John was an excellent pastor, always approachable and, no matter how busy he was, he made time for people. He was blessed with an astonishingly good memory for names and details about people, and in any gathering – Church, Circuit or District – he consequently knew the people with whom he was meeting and could tell almost to the minute when some ministers were going to sneak out of Synod, thinking they had missed his eye. Sometimes a conversation with them in the following days would kindly remind them that he knew!

His preparation for meetings was immaculate, and always began with prepared devotions that were thoughtful, helpful and set the right spirit for that which lay ahead, many of which he recorded in his book First on The Agenda which inspired many of his peers and those he ‘took under his wing’. Throughout his ministry, his administration and business acumen enhanced each meeting and led the church wisely and well.

John’s leading of worship and preaching was inspirational and never skirted around thorny issues, even his rocking backwards and forwards on his toes and using some lesser known Scottish phrases, endeared him more to his congregations and made his words even more memorable. When he decided he would not lead public worship any longer he started to write his blog, where his pearls of wisdom and rich experiences continued to inspire.

Throughout all he was a great ecumenist, working well with church leaders to bring about better understanding and closer working between denominations. As a District Chairman he made a huge contribution to the Connexional scene in many ways, but always stressed he was a minister of the people and that was paramount.

A man of many parts, who loved and was loved by his family; respected and admired by his colleagues for his support, which was second to none, and his immense quiet wisdom.

Tidy to the last, he died on the last day of the quarter having finished his blog, the last post in a trilogy, between watching the Scottish and English Cup finals on TV the day before. He died on 31st May 2015 in the eighty-sixth year of his age and the sixty-second year of his ministry.

Wes Blakey, June 2015

Back to the world

John Mitchell 1929-2015

John Mitchell 1929-2015

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that John Mitchell, my father, died suddenly on 31st May. He had sent me his last blog post the previous day, the third in a trilogy on conversion, which I am now publishing below in his memory.

The regular reader of this blog will be alert to the fact that the last two editions have pondered over two of three aspects of Christian conversion. It follows this must be the third and final presentation of our chosen topic – a matter of relevance and significance in the undergirding of our evangelism. There are three conversions to a Christian man or woman’s life. First, to Christ, then to the Church and then back to the world. Or, put another way, there are three ways in which an alleged conversion may be incomplete and imperfect. This exercise introduces itself thus: a conversion is incomplete if it does not leave us with a sense of overwhelming responsibility for the world. The sisters and brothers we are bidden to strengthen and support are both outwith the church and within. A temptation for the church is for us to become a holy huddle, cosying up to one another for warmth. Yes! I know! I know! I have pleaded in the second post on this theme for us to create the warmth of a loving, caring fellowship. At the same time, a church must never become a closed shop, drawing its blinds to the world outside; lost in praise and prayer; connoisseurs of preaching and liturgy; busy congratulating itself on the excellence of its Christian experience and Christian fellowship. Although in recent years the church has accepted its responsibility to serve the present age, sadly in my view there are still some Christian folk who see the church’s sole role as securing the soul a space in heaven.

The name Bob Holman may be a familiar one to some if your newspaper is the Herald or the Guardian. There was a time when he regularly wrote for both those newspapers. Although not all of his readers always agreed with him, his columns were popular as they were stimulating and challenging. I may be wrong but I would credit him as an ardent, evangelical Christian by conviction, with a strong measure of socialism surging through his veins. What is more, he practised what he preached. He was a professor at Bath University, from which post he resigned to launch a community project among vulnerable residents in a deprived area of Bath. After ten years there, he and his wife moved to Easterhouse, a suburb of Glasgow with a reputation of deprivation and its accompanying social problems, and there he became associated in the social and community ministry of the pastor of the Baptist Church he attended. He not only worked in this greatly disadvantaged and much publicised community, he lived there, side by side with his neighbours, identifying with them, helping in their personal and family crises, supporting and encouraging them when they were in conflict with the authorities. And in between, he wrote to newspaper editors and politicians on matters of political concern or social injustice, championing the cause of the poor and inadequate.

I have on my shelves a book by Bob Holman entitled Ordinary Christians. He writes: For nearly fifty years, everywhere that I go God gives me friends, ordinary people with whom I feel comfortable, whom I care for and who care for me. The book tells the stories of twelve ordinary people who became Christians and shows that God still calls such people to serve Him. Like Bron, a converted agnostic, who, in spite of personal difficulties and disappointments, raised funds, supported and visited as a volunteer a ministry in El Salvador. Even in her fifties and in retirement she lived frugally and bought all her clothes from charity shops. She said: As a socialist I gave 10% of my salary, as an Anglican I gave 30%, when I became a Catholic I thought it should be all for the Lord. The stories of the others are similar, converts to Christianity, joining the church, sustained by the fellowship and following in the footsteps of the Lord, loving, caring and working for those who are among the world’s born-losers.’ Converted to new life; converted to serve; back to the world. A worthy response to the Good News of Jesus.

65 years a preacher

65 years a preacher

John Mitchell

3rd July 1929 – 31st May 2015

Rest in peace

Role models

When I was about to leave home for college I received a letter from a former minister of my home church in Greenock wishing me well, and offering a little helpful advice which I was to put to the test more than once over the years. There was no one quite like Rev Ivor P. Sealey so far as the lively members of the youth fellowship were concerned. I was one of them. He was equally popular with the older folk, although not all. There was the criticism that he spent too much of his time with the young people to the neglect of the older generation in the church. Well, as the saying goes, that one has hairs on it! It was not quite true, but I suspect many ministers of my generation have had to contend with this accusation. I had no thought of ministry when Mr Sealey was my pastor. Anyhow, I was too young – but what about Samuel the lad in the Temple (I hear you calling in the night). Nor had I any idea that I might be being groomed, quietly and carefully, to contemplate the irresistible challenge of becoming one of Mr Wesley’s preachers. Ivor did spend a considerable time with us ‘youngsters’. He took us on walks and outings in the summer and in the winter/spring a group of the lads gathered around him as we cheered and offered terrace advice to our favourite team. The referee also benefitted from our football wisdom. In time, I realised Mr Sealey had become a role model to me in the development and maintenance of my ministry.

Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland. By Sandra [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Sunderland.By Sandra [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons]

Allan Roberts was very different and, in my book, equally a role model. When I moved to Sunderland, three members of staff – I was one of them – resided on the same road and we saw a lot of each other. Allan, a senior minister about to retire, was more than a colleague of vast experience from which we benefitted. It was a privilege to have him as a friend. Allan would never have claimed to be more than a moderate performer in the pulpit, and he was probably right. That is not a criticism of the content of his sermons or his prayers. He followed faithfully the principles and practise of homiletics. In short, I think it can be said he would recognise his preaching as lacking in flair. In the time of our colleagueship, the fact is that Allan was able to hold together a fairly large and faithful congregation. No pretending it was his preaching that gathered them in. No – their minister simply radiated sincerity and humility, and how they loved him – as he loved them. And most importantly, he knew them and cared for them through thick and thin – a pastor with a big heart.

Lewis Allison and Wilf Simpson were as different as chalk from cheese. They exercised their ministry to many of the same people in the same churches. They were both to be my Superintendent in Sunderland. When Mr Allison moved Wilf Simpson succeeded him. What is more, we lived next door to them. I am now about to change my treatment of their stories. Different it may be, but it will tell us (I hope) something about them as ministers and colleagues, just a hint at what I may have learned from them. I certainly admired them and respected them and thank God for the privilege of working and sharing with them. Wilf Simpson was the man who said his prayers on his knees – not a position of devotion; he said prayers on his knees cleaning out and setting the fire in the grate before he served his wife with her ‘cuppa’. Lewis Allison was involved in a healing and counselling ministry. I think the work of Dr Wetherhead had an impact on what Lewis did, whereas Wilf’s service in China and internment by the Japanese contributed to the shape of his response to his calling. Different men; different styles – both with a lesson for me. On arrival in his new circuit, Wilf decided the manse needed rewiring and he was the one to do it. We had an arrangement! If he required assistance he would bang on the wall and I would dance attendance. ‘Knock, knock’, I was on my way to be met by my super appearing from under the floor-boards, cap askew, face needing a bath, etc., Wilf saying ‘guide the cable along when I shout from underneath!’

First lesson? Both our properties had awkward chimneys, two right-angled bends and a flat flue ledge. No sweep would tackle it. I was informed by my esteemed neighbour that we did the job ourselves. He had the appropriate brushes. I needed some old clothes and a pair of sandshoes. All one needed to do was to get on to the tiled roof of the rear premises, use the brushes and collect and dispose of the soot from the chimney’s three apertures. Good job Lewis taught me all about it. I must have fallen asleep when we were given this lecture in College. Second lesson? I have concluded that those two worthies were thereby quietly preparing me to be a good and useful superintendent minister.

Kenneth Waights and Mark Wesley Earl mean more to me as role models than they could ever imagine. When we became colleagues, and eventually friends, both were in their second appointments as Chairman of District. Each in turn was to be my Chairman, but two very different personalities. Of the ministerial encouragers and inspirers featured on this blog, those two may have made the greatest impact. I did not know it, they probably didn’t either, but their influence prepared me for a job that occupied the last fourteen years of my ministry. I needed all the help and encouragement there was to succeed Ken and Mark when they retired in a job I never expected to come my way. Kenneth Waights had flair, he was the loud and jolly one. This may be explained to some extent: he wanted to go on the stage before his call to become a minister like his father before him. Mark was quieter; contemplative; unassuming – a good sound preacher. For much of his ministry Ken was one of a group of ministers appointed to serve in Methodism’s great Central Halls with a reputation for popular preaching. On the other hand Mark, at great personal cost, saw his ministry in China and was interned for the duration by the Japanese. I was Assistant Secretary of the Synod in Ken’s time and Secretary in Mark’s day. So I was close to both and I watched, absorbed and learned.

One thing I learned as I reflected on the encouragement and inspiration of so many of the saints was that they were concerned and active not only with things spiritual but – a word to clergy and other clerical gentlefolk – were also ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and physically graft side by side with the saints who do not wear the clerical collar.

Words of encouragement that became a personal mantra for me from a senior minister who reminded me, “John, you are not Ken Waights, you are not Mark Earl – be yourself.”

Inspirers

In my recent posting (For All) I paid my personal tribute to the countless men and women to whom I shall be eternally grateful. By their encouragement, support and love, aware of it or not, they contributed in no small measure to the development and maturing of my 41 years of active ministry. As I concluded the piece, nostalgia refused to take a rest and pointed me in the direction of another group within the church of inspirers and encouragers – ministers appointed to an area of work with and alongside colleagues. My young daughter came home from school one day somewhat perturbed. She had been quizzed by the girls, “what does your Dad work at Monday to Saturday?” Or something similar! I can assure anyone who thinks of a minster of religion to be on to a good thing, as I was greeted once – “the one day in the week man”, it is not so. Believe me if that is the regard in which the ministry is held, God, forgive us! And In our situation active and honest colleagueship is absolutely vital.

Anne Burgess [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Findochty. Anne Burgess [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Again I must confess my heart-felt gratitude for the encouragement and support of our brothers and sisters in ministry. Within the bounds of confidentiality I am about to share with you snippets of my story in this regard. These will be in the main senior ministers in positions of responsibility, such as superintendent ministers (supers) and chairs of district. They are appointed and given a pastoral role, not least for those in the early stages of ministry. It is with some reluctance that this little story is told because it is partially one of minor criticism but criticism nonetheless. Given my situation in 1953 at the end of college days I was sent, a single man, to serve my three years’ probation prior to ordination, at Findochty and Cullen. A tough assignment for a student probationer – the kind of appointment where you may understandably expect the superintendent to feature in his role as mentor and pastor. Not so within the Methodist set-up on the Moray Firth. I scarcely saw my super save on his four or five annual visits to comply with ‘Standing Orders.’ Here I come to my criticism – it was a bad system despite it being the practise for around 25 years before I arrived on the scene. My landlady ‘collected’ probationer ministerial lodgers! I might criticise the system, but not the supers who preside over it. I served with two of them as one moved on another took his place. There was no suggestion of negligence on their part but they resided 63 miles from my patch and not many ministers had a car. What could you expect? I was not alone on the coast. I had two colleagues, one in Buckie, the other, the more senior at Portessie. There was little opportunity to establish a close relationship with the latter, a nice man but his wife was an invalid, he was in his final years of active ministry and was not a strong man himself. So it was to Buckie and George Howarth I turned for counsel and support. His faith was robust as was his ministry. He loved people, he challenged them, got on well with them, church members and non-members alike. He got a great response from within the community to his appeal to the able-bodied to join him late in an evening to build a schoolroom/hall at the back of the church. Not everyone in church shared his vision. Some folk did not believe in halls and schoolrooms – the devil got into the Kirk through those so-called amenities! George came to my rescue within days of my arrival – my first funeral and a tragic one. A young skipper of a fishing vessel, a husband and father, drowned in the harbour as he was going aboard. George was quickly at my side and saw me through those early, sad days and I remain grateful. He was a real character, much more could be told. George was the minister who called you ‘Pal.’

Stephen McKay [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Haltwhistle Market Square. Stephen McKay [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

I went south for my first post-ordination appointment, from one beautiful part of the country to another – from the invigorating Moray Firth to historic Northumberland. (Got past Hadrian’s wall without passport!) This was a rural appointment and the super, Walter Thyne, and I cared for 14 chapels between us. I was indeed fortunate to be a colleague under the supervision of Mr Thyne (one did not address supers by first name in those days). Alas the partnership was only to last for 12 months, brief but beneficial. Walter was the kind of minister who was the salt of the Methodist’s ground! From the first day, Walter, a father figure, cared about me and quietly and humbly set an example to me to last a lifetime. In my first week two bicycles were produced and Walter conducted for me an interesting and informative tour of the terrain I was to travel many times over the six years. We saw a lot of each other, colleagueship made easier by the fact that we lived round the corner from one another, separated by the Newcastle-Carlisle railway line. Walter was a somewhat shy man, a gentleman, an excellent minister and personally a kind and generous mentor and friend. His daughter, Irene, known on occasion to read my blog, may be surprised to find her Dad featuring here, but he is remembered with affection and respect.

To be continued . . . . . .

If only

John Wesley by William Hamilton

John Wesley preaching, by William Hamilton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


On Sunday Christians of all branches of the church make their eager way to their favourite church, there to be joined by some of their best friends in a congregation come to participate in an act of worship. They would not miss it. Over the years, Sunday by Sunday, it has meant so much to them. Recharging their batteries, some would say. And so they came expectant that they would have a good sing – favourite hymns known and loved that warmed the heart; prayers couched in concern and love. And perhaps more likely they came hoping to be challenged, inspired, to hear a sermon that was both a revelation and relevant to their personal circumstances and need. They were seldom disappointed, their minister was a marvellous preacher. He knew what to say and how to say it. He could send them home with their batteries charged, faith refreshed, fears and doubts removed, and pointed them to the next step on their Christian journey. That is what they liked about their minister, he was nicely sure, always positive, left them in no doubt of where he stood and where the Lord was leading.

All well and good but I suspect it not to be the whole story. I suspect there were days when some set off for home in a different frame of mind. When they went home from church thinking – it was a marvellous, informative and challenging message. Recalling the sermon, reluctantly and timorously they found themselves saying, I do not think I could subscribe to that statement. If only I could be sure! If only.

I can feel uncomfortable in the company of the eternal optimist for whom life always seems to be going well. We have them in church, vociferous rather than tactful. Good folk, faithful and devoted to doing the will of God, but a testimony spoilt somewhat in the impression given that unlike some of us they have direct access to God: a hotline to heaven with all the answers to personal dilemmas, doubts and fears. One suspects that what is given as personal testimony is sometimes no more than an expression of personal indulgence. In their presence the if only disciple is vulnerable and feels his/her faith is decreed not big enough. There are occasions when we have no right even to contemplate to speak for God. I have heard some appalling (maybe well-intentioned) comments made at the side of a hospital bed, or a home where tragedy has struck. I have had to bite my tongue and leave any discussion about the Providence of God to another and more appropriate time. The more encouraging testimony is that which listens, questions and who can say no more than if only. If only I could be sure! There is no reason to consider ourselves to be inferior believers; no need to be ashamed. We are in good company. Dr Leslie Weatherhead, one of last century’s pulpit giants, who in his day brought many people to faith, towards the end of his ministry caused quite a stir in certain Christian circles when he wrote a book that described the inner turmoil with which he had to contend for most of his life. He called the book Christian Agnostic. I do not know about you, but I can identify with him. I too have doubts and questions, times when I am agnostic about aspects of faith and believing.

How can we be sure about God? Maybe the high priests and prophets of new-age atheism have got something valid and authentic. If only – how can we be sure about God? It depends on what kind of assurance we want – if is logical proof or mathematical certainty we require, we are headed for disappointment. Studying for my preacher’s exams before being an accepted candidate for ordained ministry, I was introduced to what were known as Proofs for the existence of God. What were those proofs?

  1. The world of nature pointed to God.
  2. The moral order in the world directed our gaze to God.
  3. People’s universal hunger for the supernatural provided evidence for the existence of God.

I cannot imagine being enlightened or converted by that kind of argument. Aids to our understanding God they may be, but they are by no means proof of his existence.

I have told the tale many times, and at least once on this blog, of John Wesley’s coming to an assurance, desperately wanted, yet sensing it could be denied him. Sailing home from Georgia an unsuccessful, distraught and unhappy clergyman, his ministry there a miserable failure and what faith remained in shreds, he was determined no longer to preach. How could he preach faith when he did not have it himself? On board ship as they headed home, Wesley became aware of a group of Moravian Christians. He was impressed by the way they lived the Christian life and practised the faith, and by their love and devotion to Christ. So much so, he resolved to seek help and counsel about his dilemma and spiritual crisis. It was the wise and saintly leader of the party who took John in hand. His counsel and encouragement to a broken man who yearned for faith and lost it: preach faith until you have faith. He did and I write this piece on the day 24th May (1738) we commemorate Wesley’s renewal and restoring experience and testimony: I felt my heart was strangely warmed and that I did trust Christ alone for salvation.

How can I be sure of God in the bad times when it feels as though God has deserted us; days when we are heading away from his blessing and empowering grace? If only? It may not be a bad thing to conclude with Wesley – if only! Practise the life of faith until you have it. The proof we look for is in the living.

A charge to keep I have: 65 years a preacher

David Jackson opens the celebration. On his right, Margaret Jackson. On his left John & Chris Mitchell; Steven and Ann Moore.

LtoR Margaret Jackson, David Jackson, John Mitchell, Chris Mitchell, Steven Moore, Ann Moore, Fiona Butcher (piano)

A slightly different type of post this week, writes the Blog Administrator. On Saturday 21st September, Paisley Methodist Church held a celebration to mark John’s 65 years as a preacher. The afternoon was led by David Jackson, Senior Circuit Steward, and included music, prayers and poetry starting with the Charles Wesley hymn quoted in this post’s title, A charge to keep I have, which was also sung at John’s ordination in 1956. Gifts were presented, a cake was cut and everyone enjoyed a delicious Faith Tea. Thanks are due to:

  • David Jackson for chairing the celebration
  • The Wesley Singers, led by Kathleen Pearson, for two musical interludes
  • Fiona Butcher for her piano recital and accompaniment
  • Cathie Cuthbertson for her poetry reading
  • Steven Moore (Barrhead) and Edith Johnson (Greenock) for delivering greetings in person
  • Members of the Church at Girvan, Liz Adams (Superintendent Minister) and David Easton (District Chair) for sending greetings
  • Margaret Dunsmore for the magnificent cake, and everyone else who provided food

Finally, last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to Alec Wilson who organised the event. It was brilliant and appreciated by all.

It hurts

I have never been so humiliated! Who hasn’t felt like that, sometime? How common the experience is, is reflected In the variety of ways we can describe our embarrassment – nonplussed; crestfallen; having to eat humble pie; looking foolish; feeling small; being red in the face! It can mean a loss of dignity – something we don’t much like – it hurts. When it is unwarranted it can be the cause of resentment.

St Paul by El Greco. Photo credit Wikimedia

St Paul by El Greco. (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

If it is of any comfort to us, albeit a crumb, we’re not alone. Some notable people have suffered the same fate. The Apostle Paul knew how to be abased; knew what it was to be humiliated. In his letter to the early Philippian church, he relates to his Christian friends a catalogue of deprivations he had to undergo in the course of his peripatetic ministry. He wasn’t bemoaning the fact as one who had learned to grin and bear it! He is saying – I know how to handle it. It is not human resolve alone that enables him to ride and conquer the storm:

I am able to face anything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4: 13.

John Wesley, founder father of Methodism, knew humiliation too. He began his ministry in Savannah, Georgia, as a chaplain with the ambition to convert the native Indians. His time there was short-lived. He returned from his missionary assignment in America a failure and it might not be too much of an exaggeration to name him a broken man; certainly bewildered and unhappy having made a bit of a fool of himself in his pastoral dealings with a young female parishioner and without the slightest impact on the Native Indians. It was too much

Statue of John Wesley in Reynolds Square

Statue of John Wesley in Reynolds Square, Savannah, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for him and he was ready to give in. What the world would have missed if Wesley had not met Peter Boehler, a Moravian pastor, on the journey home, who helped keep him on track, urged him to keep on preaching faith until faith found him. What the world might have missed if Mr. Wesley had not learned to be abased prior to the night of the 24th May, 1738. It all happened for him that night and for those of us who follow in his succession. He recounts it in his Journal:

“I went very unwillingly to a meeting of a religious society. . .. someone was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. At about a quarter before nine I felt my heart strangely warm, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation.”

Life can be tough for us sometimes. People have no right to make us look foolish – they do! Unkind words cut to the core; cynical actions wound deeply; we let ourselves down. There are times when through ignorance or folly we have ended with egg on our face. Times when great has been our fall through the failure of well-intentioned but immodest ambition. It hurts…..

Do not despair, there was no greater humiliation than that which Jesus was required to suffer – spat upon; beaten; treated like a criminal; nailed to a Cross. No wonder he asked the Father if there was no other way – and ALL for us.

A near miss

Salvation Army

Salvation Army

It was young people’s day during my brief time in the Salvation Army when members of the young people’s section were invited to give their heart and dedicate their life to Jesus. Toward the end of the meeting the Young People’s Sergeant Major – the Leader in charge – made her appeal presenting us with the opportunity to start out on the road of discipleship. The journey would begin, she explained, by our being saved or, if we were already committed, to rededicate ourselves to the service of Jesus. She wanted us all to be saved by accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Salvationists were well accustomed to this kind of appeal. The worshipper who was challenged by the message and felt compelled to respond to this altar call would make their way to the front and as invited, kneel at the penitent form. They would arise, counselled, prayed over, their request confirmed – the process of salvation begun.

Back to young people’s day – the process a wee bit different. There was no altar or penitent form in the smaller hall in which we met. So, she was going to ask us to come to the front and kneel before the big drum, to declare publicly our intent. “Hands up those who haven’t been to the penitent form,” she asked. Slowly I raised my hand. “Put your hand down, John” I was instructed, “You have been saved!” That was it – am I saved or am I not? That is the question. What do I say to the enthusiast who might want to know, who asks, “Are you born again?”

That was it until . . . . . . . . .

Stripped image of John Wesley

John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One Sunday evening some years later, the minister was trying to educate the inattentive members of the youth fellowship in the traditions of Methodism. He was telling the story of the Kingswood colliers coming up from a shift underground hewing coal, to be confronted by the Reverend John Wesley preaching the good news – the gospel of grace. The picture is still vivid in my memory of those men, white channels marking their coal-dust faces where the tears flowed as they listened and opened their hearts to the Spirit of Jesus. How their lives were transformed, some of them converted into preachers, others to positions of influence at work and in the community at large, partners in the religious revival led by the Wesleys, a revival that helped give birth to Methodism. This late 18th Century revival helped to turn the minds of the English people from thoughts of revolution, although not all historians agree.

The story told that Sunday evening of those responsive Kingswood colliers has had a lasting impact on one youth. From that moment, my conscience ceased to trouble me about missing out on that young people’s day when I was told . . .” put your hand down.”

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for our spiritual awakening, for those who pointed us to Christ, those in whose lives we caught a glimpse of Jesus. Thank you for Jesus, all he means to us; our hope for days to come. Amen.

What matters most

 The birthplace at 71 Chesterton Road TL4459 : Aaron House of Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury. LinkExternal link  © Copyright James Yardley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The birthplace of Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury at 71 Chesterton Road, Cambridge
© Copyright James Yardley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Michael Ramsay was greatly loved within and beyond the boundaries of the Church of England. He was a gifted scholar. He would require special skills of leadership to become an Archbishop. The high office to which he was appointed gave him a privileged position in the pecking order of high society in Britain. In the eyes of many there was an element of eccentricity about him. Cartoonists certainly appreciated the large eyebrows over which he never seemed to be in control. In retirement he was to be seen on the streets of Durham with a perpetual smile on his face. You thought he was about to speak to you. One young couple met him and returned the smile. They weren’t disappointed. Isn’t it nice to be in Durham” he said as he continued on his way.

Robert Runcie in a Foreword to a book about prayer written by Archbishop Ramsay says, ‘ It is a consolation and encouragement to a present Archbishop that one of his predecessors, after decades spent at the heart of ecclesiastical administration, is able to produce a work like Be Still and Know. The style is as serene as the title. It has an authentic, apostolic simplicity.’ A tremendous compliment, but to those who heard Bishop Ramsay speak about prayer, particularly during his freelance days of retirement, Dr Runcie’s tribute is to the man Michael Ramsay was in himself. He was not the exposition of a theory. He spoke a personal testimony. His life radiated a humility and a serenity ranking him with the saints of whom he delighted to speak. No doubt above all else he recognised that the Christian prayer and the Christian life are properly inseparable.

“‘To intercede is to bear others on the heart of God’s presence…..There are times when prayer vibrates with joy and eagerness, there are times when the brain seems stupider than ever, the imagination wanders far away and the feelings are cold and the will very weak.”

Michael Ramsay Be still and Know. (A Fount Original, 1981)