Tag Archives: Ministry


A Methodist minister is ordained at the Church’s Annual Conference in June. It is a big day, a long day, a memorable day – although not quite as lengthy as in my day. First there is a lunch where the ordinands and their guests meet with the President of the Conference who talks to them informally and briefly, congratulating them on reaching Ordination and perhaps offering some practical advice gleaned from his/her experience in ministry. After lunch in a crowded conference auditorium they are received into what is known as ‘Full Connexion’, in my judgement of greater significance even than ordination. The President addresses them more formally about ministry. Come evening, at different venues, is the ordination by laying on of hands, the service itself always a wonderfully inspiring and humbling occasion. A Charge is given to those about to begin the work to which God has called them by an appropriate person on behalf of the whole church, a pertinent word of wise counsel and encouragement.

Three times that day an ordinand is challenged, as indeed is the entire gathering. But two things stick in my mind, neither of mind-boggling significance. At the informal session the President said, “Keep your desk tidy. It turns my stomach to see the mess in some ministers studies.” Good advice but not tremendously exciting or inspiring! At the ordination service all I remember is an extract from someone’s homily, a tit-bit of practical advice it being said, “In your ministry Saturday is the day you prepare yourself for Sunday. So, do not anything on Saturday that you ought not to be doing on Sunday.” I saw myself denied the pleasure of shouting encouragement and, now and then, (polite!) abuse at my favourite football team on a Saturday afternoon. I thought of some of the activities in which we participated at the youth club on a Saturday evening. I thought to myself – is this the code of practice to encourage and sustain in the years ahead? Am I doing the right thing? Subject to those restrictions I would certainly not be ‘a happy bunny.’

Sermon on the Mount. Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sermon on the Mount. Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Turn to Matthew chapter five or Luke chapter six to what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, and which may be like an ordination charge, in this instance addressed to the twelve disciples. As I was given my charge on ordination day, likewise Jesus spoke to the disciples in similar vein, as they prepared to undertake their life’s work. My charge came in three sessions and it is virtually certain the Sermon on the Mount as it is presented in the gospel is not a single actual sermon but a summary of a number of talks given by Jesus on different occasions. The Sermon on the Mount begins with The Beatitudes – eight of them; each one begins with the words Blessed or in modern translations,’You are blessed or Happy are those’ (who) . . . .

When I first appeared in my royal blue cassock, gifted to me by family at a special time in my career, a lady in the congregation enquired if it was a new uniform for ministers! I was later to learn that a group of my colleagues actually participated in a discussion as to my motive in becoming so clad for worship. Was I trying to be different, a lookalike bishop? A sensitive subject for us! The Methodist church still refuses to countenance the appointment of some form of episcopacy into our system. Well, what was I getting up to? My friends need not have feared, I had no thoughts of grandeur, I was acting on the understanding that the Sermon on the Mount/Beatitudes consist of a promise of happiness, a call to happiness, an invitation to the happy life. Why did I choose to go blue? Ministers in the Church of Scotland dressed in the royal blue and I thought it looked well and bright – colourful. I wore it as a form of protest, an attempt to get away from the more familiar funereal black; a modest attempt to change the image of the church – to demonstrate that the party we attend on a Sunday is not a wake but a ball. So, be happy and be glad, is our Lord’s invitation and call.

To be continued . . . . . .

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.”


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 . . . . . .

We are one

The preaching of St Paul at Ephesus. Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The preaching of St Paul at Ephesus. Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Letter to the Church at Ephesus circulated at a time when the world of the day was divided. There were divisions that separated people from people; class from class, nation from nation, ideology from ideology, Gentile from Jew, male from female. What was true of the world was also true of human nature. The Apostle Paul is very much aware of the Jekyll and Hyde personality. In the letter he describes the unity to be found in Christ. The keynote message is the gathering together of all things in Christ. (Ephesians 4: 1–16)

In Chapter 4, we are at the beginning of the second part of Paul’s letter. In the earlier chapters he deals with the great and central truths of the Christian faith and with the role God intends for the church. We are reminded of the diversity of character within the church. We are different because we have been given different gifts. The great truth which Paul underlines and one which we are slow to learn, resides in the possibility that in Christ we may have unity in diversity. Our suspicion of those to whom we attach labels which differ from our own does not survive scrutiny before Christ.

He speaks of the ministry of the whole people of God, something about which we must be convinced and must accept in order that the church may be more effective in its mission. It means that whatever our office in the church, or if we have no particular office, we share one ministry. There are no boss people, only partners.


An apostle’s prayer

Lord, if the choice was left to us to call people to follow you, we should be so fussy and high-minded we would probably find that the criteria we set excluded ourselves. Unless there is room for all in the kingdom, there is no room for us. Lord, except your love is a many splendoured thing it would not embrace us. We are humbled and thankful. Forgive us if we do not represent you fairly and do people an injustice by our failure to live a life that tells the true story of your love. Amen

You cannot put the clock back

Image credit: Soil-Net Library via Wikimedia

Image credit: Soil-Net Library via Wikimedia

On the week before my fourteenth birthday I went to spend the school summer holidays on the farm of friends, where I was to work for the next two and a half years. On a Sunday afternoon stroll with my father I told him I did not want to go to secondary school and intended to remain on the farm. My father’s reaction took me by surprise – it was not what I anticipated and dreaded. He wasn’t angry and he didn’t try to dissuade me. Instead he told me that, if that was what I wanted, all right, but I must not complain, or blame anyone but myself if there came a time when I regretted it. I was reminded of this recently when I walked over the actual spot where I confronted my father with my life-changing decision. I have never forgotten.

The Revd Dr Howard Watkin-Jones, presiding at my final interview as a candidate for ordained ministry, asked me if and how I thought my farming experience might be useful to me and to the church in ministry. In my reply I suggested I might have a useful ministry in a rural set-up (I did) and possibly someday retire in the country (I didn’t). Dr Howard Watkin-Jones (later to teach me in Church History) assured me that if God had a plan for me in ministry, my time in the country could be part of the shaping of my future ministry; he was right!

I have never complained but on occasions I do regret not having continued at school. Looking back, I can see those things which might have been different – things I would want to change if I were to live my life again. Wishful thinking and a pointless exercise. I can’t put the clock back! When I find myself singing the words of the song I wish I were a little bit younger and know what I know now I’m asking the impossible. To be younger, I would forfeit all the lessons that life has taught me. In spite of failure, mistakes, disappointments, when I count my blessings I cannot dismiss the providence of God. Perhaps there was no other way for me to take but to travel the road I’ve followed and to come to the place where I am now.

In everything God works for good with those who love Him. Romans 8:28

Contrary to what may be said of it – not an easy text.