What we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake…
When I met with the Chair just over a week ago to plan this service I told him I was fed up of talking about myself, and how I’d been doing that for the last 5-6 years to different groups and committees following a tussle with God through which I finally agreed to consider putting myself forward for Foundation Training, to test a call to ordained ministry…
Ever since that point I’ve been waiting for someone to rumble me, so far they haven’t so maybe today is your chance!
What I am going to share with you is a testimony not just of a call, but a journey of faith, I do so because one of the things that surprised my District Candidates Committee in East Anglia was my lack of Sunday School experience. When the pannel remarked on this my Anglo- Catholic mentor responded- she's a convert, I thought you Methodists believed in that!
My journey of faith has been a journey of discovery, and will probably be similar to yours in some ways, and very different in others. The scripture I asked for is one of my favourite passages for it speaks of the way that we carry the treasure of God’s glory and light within as one version puts it the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives, we are fragile jars of clay…
And I guess that one thing I have been aware of for a long time is the fragility of life; and perhaps particularly of my life… that image of a pansy growing out of a pavement illustrates that for me so well….it also tell us that quite often if we have eyes to se it we find treasure in unexpected places.
I was not brought up under the sound of church bells; rather I grew up hearing the daily call to the faithful from the Mosque at the end of the road. I grew up in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, and lived there until I was 12. I had no experience of church at that point, my parents never spoke about God, I didn’t know what prayer was, I attended a multi-ethnic international school and Religious Education was not on the curriculum.
When I was twelve my family moved to England, various difficulties followed as my father struggled with alcoholism and my parents divorced, in three short years I moved from going to school with the Sultans daughter to living on a pig farm in Essex.
In the midst of all this messiness two things brought me great comfort; the first was a school hymn book. I had never sung hymns until we moved to England; in fact I’d never heard one. Many of my new class mates thought I was potty because I loved assembly for the hymn singing! God knew I was meant to be a Methodist!
The second thing was a copy of the Bible, I can remember longing for my own copy of the Bible, and eventually my mum relented and allowed me to purchase one. With no knowledge of versions at all I chose the most in appropriate un-child friendly copy I could find, it was small and white with a silver cross on the front, a King James Version with miniscule print. I treasured it, and set out to read it from cover to cover, again, and again and again, oddly I kept getting to Leviticus and giving up!
Life though continued to be a mess, I was a muddled and lost teenager who longed for some form of stability, and got it into my head that God would provide that for me if only I could manage to be good enough… Enter the split personality! But one thing it did mean was that I started going to church, surely God would be pleased with that J
There followed a number of years of trying to be good enough, I helped with Cub Scouts, sang in a concert party that visited Old Folks Homes, joined a conservation group...
I did a lot of other things to, things the tabloids might be interested in, but I won’t bore you with them…
But I carried on going to church and trying to be good enough. When I found myself unmarried pregnant and homeless to my surprise I was supported by Christian folk who accepted and loved me for who I was, people who helped Tim and I to find a home, people who, prayed for us, people who counselled us, people who bought us food when we ran out of money. People who didn’t ram religion down our throats but talked to us about a loving God as if they knew him…
When our third child Chris was born it turned out that he had a serious congenital heart defect. It was at this point that I ran out of “being good masks”, I quite simply didn’t have the energy to be good. I began to pray, although my prayers were little more than a cry for help…
God answered those cries for help, in the midst of muddle and mess I sensed a deep peace, and the words of the prayers and hymns I’d said and sung week by week became real somehow…
I joined a Bible study group at the Congregational Church and started to grow in faith...
I couldn’t understand how the church had kept this wonderful God a secret. The message of the cross, of a self giving, loving God broke down my trying to be good enough exterior and woke me up to the possibility of a new way of living.
With our family Tim and I moved to Texas, where we lived for 3 years, we tried out a number of church flavours… ending up as Episcopalians…
A move home brought redundancy for Tim and illness for me, alongside this we began a course of study with an Evangelistic Organisation, and much to my surprise I really enjoyed the academic challenge…
With Tim out of work our finances were tight, and it seemed that the expected avenues of job searching were closing for both of us. We were encouraged by friends to use the theological training we had had and to apply for work with the Church.
We applied for a number of positions including one for a Community Worker with the Downham Market Methodist Circuit in Norfolk, and to our surprise we were offered it and took it as a job share.
This was my first real introduction to Methodism and two years later during a leadership seminar at Spring Harvest I wrestled with the decision to begin the Candidating process or to leave the church, it was as stark as that! Part of the struggle was to begin to accept that my jar of clay self could be called to ordained ministry!
Through foundation training a call to word and sacrament, to presbyteral ministry became clear. I grew to love the church in all of its complex fragility and training with an ecumenical course was probably the best way for me to discover why Methodism with its doctrine of Prevenient Grace was so close to my heart…
I was learning to know the God goes before and behind us, loving us into life in a deeper way and more amazingly that God was calling me to love others into life as I followed his call.
I have been stretched by and mostly enjoyed my time as a Probationer with Snaith and Selby, and now the Goole Circuits, and am grateful to Linda, Geoff, Colin all of the CLT, and so many other folk who have not only encouraged and helped me but also challenged me.
I’d like to share one last picture with you, some of you might find it shocking, but it speaks to me of grace, of the kiss of God for our brokenness, and of the kiss he asks us to share with a hurting, broken world. A world that needs God’s love, God’s justice and God’s mercy, a world we are called to love…
I’ll finish with a poem/prayer…
Your gift to us
is a call,
our gifts and talents,
weaknesses and flaws,
into your hands
that you might
work in us
joy and sadness,
laughter and tears,
and we cannot refuse it
we are compelled
to receive it,
to share it....
For this gift
is not given
to be admired,
but to be used,
it is not a shiny
but a gift of life and service
whole and holy,
and only with you
Help us to receive your gift,
to follow you.