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Well, I’ve never wanted to be a bishop!

July 4, 2015

Brown as a nut, I’ve just come back from 2 days at the Norfolk Show. I’m still buzzing from all the excitement and fun. There was a serious side too. Talking to people, introducing them to a Christianity that many will never have encountered before. A confident, vibrant church that was giving out rather than asking for money. All of this made me think of the vibrancy of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early church described in Acts and the letters. Like today the early church had its problems but it was not short on enthusiasm.

Now that I’m away from the show I know that the infectious enthusiasm offered there needs to come back with me to my parishes. To be fair there is already a healthy slice of confidence in the work of the Spirit here in these Norfolk congregations. But you can never have too much encouragement! That said, I realise that it is easier for me to bounce with my faith. I’m a minister, so it is sort of expected. Also, I’ve come from outside. No one remembers me as a boy getting into trouble or being a swat at school. Quite a few of the people here don’t have that luxury. Many are living not far from where they grew up, among school friends and family. That gives them a way in to this community that I can only envy but it also makes it so much harder for people to accept the Gospel from them.

As Jesus said, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house’ (Mark 6.4). I know that only too well. Shortly after I was ordained, when I was finishing my training and looking for my first parish, my bishop offered me a town centre parish. A bit of a shock for several reasons:

1. I had said that I was being called to rural ministry;
2. It was a large and quite important parish, particularly for a newly trained minister; but most of all
3. It was in the old part of the town in which I grew up.

I had aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins and all the rest everywhere. Right through the old part of town I was “Our Jeans lad.” I learned First Aid at the St. John’s Ambulance group in that church -taught by the local undertaker, who was still there. I could almost hear the conversation: “You’ll never guess. Our new parish priest is our Jean’s son Nigel. You know… Jimmy’s grandson… You remember, he went to school with our Charlie – The one that went to university, like his uncles. Well, he’s back.”

I’m not saying that it would have been impossible to minister there but it would have been far from ideal. It would have been hard anyway but I was just coming out of a difficult time. I had been trained by someone who had given up on his ministry, so much of my confidence had gone too (perhaps a story for another day).

In the end I had to say, “No”. People were furious but it was definitely the right decision for me to make. That said, if I had been called to that parish and to minister near to where I grew up; Well then I’m sure the Spirit would have found a way. Maybe not straight away but over the years He would have found a way.

I wasn’t called there, I’m sure that the Spirit wasn’t with that move and so I’ve never regretted my decision. It was wrong for me because I wouldn’t have been able to be an effective minister. It would have been wrong for the people there, because it would have gotten in the way of their growing in faith. I could never have been the prophet that they needed. They would never have been able to hear the special words of the Spirit for them, only the words of the kid who had done well and come back.

I’ve tried to follow the Spirit’s prompting ever since: Wherever that might lead. It’s meant that I’ve upset some important people but it has kept the Spirit’s voice fresh and vibrant. I feel alive with my God and excited by the ministry he gives: and the rest, well, I’ve never wanted to be a bishop!

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