Sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face having just pressed “send” on my resignation letter my mind wandered back to the start of my journey in Kingswood.
I was a keen, young, fresh-faced and newly married curate seeking my first “vicar” post. I was passionate about mission, outreach, evangelism and had been greatly influenced by an Anglican report “Mission Shaped Church” which had come out when I was at college and also some pioneering ideas I had been part of when I had been in Poole/Bournemouth which had begun to talk about the difference between growing congregation -bums on pews- rather than transformed lives. That mission was more complex than turning up the sound system, updating the ‘play-list’ of the worship-band and turning up the collar of your rugby shirt! Instead we needed to re-evaluate what was counted as “success” which meant exploring how Church could look if it was indigenously and authentically expressed in its local contexts? Which asks: What would my life look like following Jesus in all I say and do? And how are my friends, neighbours, colleagues and family experience the salvation story in a way they can understand and respond too?
The buzzwords surrounding this thinking were fresh expressions of Church and pioneer ministry, but what they really did was give a language and recognition to the journey we had been on, the questions we had been asking and the problems we had seen.
These certainly were the buzzwords I was extolling at my interview for the post of Minister at Large in Kingswood, later to become Pioneer Minister in Kingswood and Hanham. I talked about needing to change the language from seeing people from “in Church” -as in attending a service on Sunday Morning- to being “in Christ”.
The Church used a phrase about “needing someone who was ‘bi-lingual’ meaning that they wanted someone who could speak the Church language and understand the Church culture but also to be able to speak the language of the world. I laughed and said “I’m not sure I can speak the language of the whole world(!), or even speak Bristolian(!), but I am prepared to get out there and try and learn the language!” I went on (perhaps naively, or perhaps filled with faith?) that I believed that people have a deep desire for Christ which they are often unable to articulate, and that Jesus said: “the fields are white unto harvest”. At this someone in my interview panel laughed and said: “no-one expects miracles in Kingswood”, my wife and I exchanged glances because we believe that God is a good of miracles and the supernatural, I noticed the Archdeacon conducting the interview a vein seemed to be throbbing by his temple, he clearly disagreed with the “no-one expects miracles in Kingswood” line as well.
Whilst I was finishing off my curacy in Salisbury many people urged me to link up with a guy called Bidds -Andy Biddlecombe- who was a local Christian with a small group of Christians meeting in his front-room with great hunger and expectancy for God to move in Bristol.
I soon met with Bidds over a coffee, and he told me of a picture he had of a Rooster -which was what he called his group- the Rooster wakes everything up in the morning and he believed God was challenging his Church to “arise from their slumbers” and seize the moment to see the Kingdom of God advanced in Bristol. As I drank my coffee, I did not know whether I was inspired or challenged by this, and I decided probably a bit of both!
Bidds became a good friend, challenging me to keep on believe that God speaks prophetically, heals today, works in peoples lives in the most unlikely way. I needed people of faith around me, because I was also working amongst people with a defeatist attitude which sadly been prevalent in many of the Churches and within myself too in my darker moments. Sometimes it seemed like corks and then catalysts for mission within the community, protecting our hearts from the possibility of hurt and failure -but in doing so we also block ourselves off from the possibility of fruitfulness and a foretaste of heaven.
Often when chatting with my friend Bidds I would realise that I took had allowed jaded cynism into my soul. I recall with immense shame when I heard myself talking to my wonderful intern Sam, who journeyed with us for two years, when I asked him to think about “being more pragmatic and less idealistic” -he looked at me and I realised that this was me in effect saying: “no one expects miracles in Kingswood”, and I repented and Sam laughed graciously at me! I realised afresh the need for expectancy to see God at work amongst us and the eyes of faith to see God’s hand at work amongst us. I remember preaching about the spies going into Canna, many were too scared to believe that with God they could take the city so they spoke of the fearful things they saw “they were giants” rather than Caleb and Joshua who said “that with God this city can be taken and be ours”.
It had been a white-knuckle ride, and I felt battered and bruised by it, but I looking back there were signs of God at work -although if I am honest I would have loved to have seen much more fruit- but yet at times like this we have to leave things in God’s hands and know that even if we haven’t seen the miracles, that does not mean that God has not been working miraculously.
I arrived thinking I had answers, I left with questions, and was broken, yet I had also experienced God in the midst of the brokenness, and discovered what Henri Nowen calls “the wounded healer” that despite the limp that God still works through me, and as I worked out my notice period I wanted to remain hopeful and expectant, knowing that God had not finished with me -or Kingswood- and that there was more to come for us both.