30 years ago on Sunday 3rd July 1988 I was ordained at Manchester Cathedral. I went on to serve for four years as a Curate at Holy Trinity Platt, Manchester before moving to be a Vicar at Carlisle for nine years. In 2001 we moved to Sevenoaks and it has been a great joy to serve as Rector St. Nicholas Sevenoaks. As I reflect on these thirty years of ordained ministry there are a number of things which come to mind.
First, being ordained has been an incredible privilege. Having the opportunity to preach God’s word week by week with time set aside for preparation has been a wonderfully fulfilling and immensely satisfying role. To be set apart to handle God’s word in this way is a remarkable thing which I have tried not to take for granted. Yet at the same time, the opportunity afforded by my role as pastor to enter into people’s homes and lives and listen to a whole range of concerns has also been a remarkable privilege. To be entrusted with walking alongside others in their grief, pain or sadness, as well as their joys, is very precious and I trust that as I have ministered God’s word and prayed in such situations that the Lord has provided comfort. Further it has been wonderful to have been allocated a front row seat to see God at work in the lives of countless individuals, either coming to a personal faith in Christ, growing in Him or launching into active service for the Lord. What a privilege it continues to be to serve the living God and His people!
Second, my personal experiences in ordained ministry over the last thirty years have reinforced my understanding of the basic pattern of the Christian life. The simple pattern is that we follow Christ which means that there will be experiences of suffering and the cross before experiences of the resurrection and life. I knew that pattern at my ordination but it has been ingrained in me through my experiences since. Many of you here at St. Nicholas will be aware of my times of illness including my cardiac arrest in April 2012, and, alongside Sue, I am so grateful for all the love and support which we as a family have received over the years, but especially during those days when it appeared that my life was in the balance. Yet through these and other experiences, it has underlined the glorious pattern that the cross is followed by resurrection and that we should not be surprised when in some small way we experience suffering now as an indicator that we are indeed on the right route to glorious resurrection. What an amazing privilege to walk in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ through present sufferings to future glory!
My final thought concerns the Lord’s sustaining power, day by day, month by month and year by year. When I was ordained presbyter after starting my curacy, the text was Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:12 “For we have no power…..we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Barely a day or week goes by when I say to myself or to Sue that I do not know how I will get through the next day/next sermon/next meeting. Time and time again I have felt utterly weak and lacking in wisdom. Yet amazingly time and again, in ways not always clear or obvious, the Lord has sustained us as we have looked to Him. I am sure that over the last thirty years there have been plenty of substandard sermons or unwise decisions for which I take full responsibility, but as I look back my abiding memory is the way the Lord has helped me through my weakness, exemplifying His words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Whatever has been achieved in entirely due to God’s grace and power!
The Christian life, whatever our particular role or ministry is always going to be all about Christ and to that extent these last thirty years have been no exception and are mirrored in the experiences of many others whether ordained or not. What a privilege to serve Christ! What a privilege to follow Christ. What a privilege to be used by Christ despite all our weaknesses.
(Rector, St. Nicholas Sevenoaks)