Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I'm at the High Leigh conference centre in Hertfordshire for a four day gathering of church leaders from Oxford Diocese. The conference is entitled 'Leading Your Church into Growth', LYCiG for short. I'm here with Richard, lay reader in my Benefice, and we are leading worship through the week.

One of the main speakers is the very wonderful Robin Gamble, whom I got to know when I was in Leeds. He is vicar of Idle, neighbouring parish to Calverley where I lived for two years. We met up occasionally during that time, and his kind and wise words were important to me.

But High Leigh has a different memory for me.

I knew I'd been here before, but I couldn't place when - until I stepped outside at the back onto the garden area and suddenly I remembered.

When I was at Wycliffe, Simon Downham used to organise ordinands conferences with the staff of Holy Trinity Brompton. Sandy Millar, Nicky Gumbel & others would teach, encourage and pray with a whole host of us as we prepared for ministry. I first met Ric Thorpe at one of these times, and first learned how to lead worship from him.

The memory that came back to me as I stood outside here at the start of this week comes I think from the Easter break of 1993.

I was almost at the end of my time at Wycliffe Hall, and had no curacy to go to. All my friends (pretty much) were sorted, but I had nothing. I was doubting myself, doubting what I should be doing, trying to remain calm as the end of my Oxford time came rushing towards me, brakes off, and I had nowhere safe to jump.

Nicky Gumbel took me to one side and briefly prayed with me. He told me I'd be OK. And he said I needed to remember some words of St Paul from Romans 11.29 - "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable".

Well, I was a humble sort of guy, obviously, so I stood quietly receiving this wisdom, thinking to myself: "Typical charismatic. He's making up Bible quotes. That verse doesn't exist in Romans or I'd know it."

Then I went back to my room, picked up my Bible and turned to Romans 11.29 where I read: "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable".

I felt God smile at me. I apologised to God and confessed my arrogance, and sat there rather stunned. And grateful. After all, sometimes we get given gifts that feel particularly personal. Some of you will understand that my birthday is 11.29 - the end of November - so this verse spoken over me by Nicky that day has always stuck with me.

I did not walk into a curacy the next week. It took time. And those words kept me trusting. Through the years there have been times when I have doubted myself, but those words have always come back to me. Twenty two years on from the first time I heard them in this place, I am as grateful now for the simple truth of the promise they contain as I was back then.

And as a country parson who just occasionally feels that life has knocked him around a bit, it's good to be reminded.