Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A Life Ruined for the Ordinary (Part 1)

I have just got back home after attending the Church Army Conference.  The program was mostly the societies endorsed Evangelists sharing the story of their lives and subsequent ministries.  I was very encouraged hearing of the extraordinary things God has been doing in the lives of these relatively ordinary people, so I thought it might be worth recording my story on the chance someone might find encouragement in the work God has be doing in me.
Mine is not one of those dramatic conversion stories some people have.  My parents turned back to God after the birth of a still born child when I was 5.  My earliest memories are of us as a family attending church, being part of a Sunday school and of parents who served God in a variety of ways in their local Church.  At that age I naturally trusted and believed in God, this is not to say I have not had to develop my own faith.  Since then I have had doubts and times when I have wandered far from God but each time God has brought me back and through that process deepened my understanding of Him and I have grown in faith. 

My sisters and I ready for church on Sunday morning
I recently celebrated my 58th birthday. I have been following Jesus for something like 53 years. 
My first experience of actively taking on a ministry responsibility was when I was about 14, I was a keen member of CEBS (The Church of England Boy’s Society) and the CEBS leader wanted to begin a group for the very young boys, 5 – 7 year olds.  After thinking about it I talked to the leader and he agreed to let me try.  Once a week for an hour and a half I had charge of half a dozen excited boys, and needed to prepare a program to maintain their interest, lots of games, a devotional, some skills work.  I was only ever half a step in front of the boys but it was fun and I learnt quite a bit about ministry and leadership and serving God.

A couple of years later I was part of the church’s youth group when all the older teenagers became young adults, got married or moved on and we suddenly found that the group no longer had any of the older teens left to lead it, and in fact I was now one of the older teens at 16.  Again I took on the leadership of the youth group and started an after church on Sunday night ‘coffee shop’ for those that did not have to rush home after evening service. 
The coffee shop became popular and teens started dropping in who were only loosely connected with the church and they had not all gone to church before dropping by or some came from other churches in the area.

This was the mid sixties, the beginning of modern youth culture.  Rock music, long hair, beards, motor scooters and motor bikes.  Of rebellion, of the counter culture, of Vietnam and moratoriums, peace, love and dropping out. Of teenagers questioning everything and everyone searching to find who they are and what they stand for.
It was a time of deep conservativism in mainstream Australia, of Robert Menzies and Bob Askin. It was a time when the Church of England had just started calling itself the Anglican Church and still used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

When the church’s parish council heard what was happening on Sunday nights, of teenagers in front of the church and staying after services were over they became concerned.   They did what many churches have been doing and continue to do with those they do not know or understand, who are different to them.  They shut the door on them.  They informed me that the coffee shop was closed.
And I knew to the core of my being that something was not right in their decision.

I asked the Rector if he would arrange a meeting with the three Parish Wardens.  The meeting took place and I asked them to reconsider their decision.  I suggested these were the very people that the church existed to reach out to, those who did not yet know God.  They listened and we prayed and the coffee shop was allowed to remain open.

Those men are all long dead now.  I cannot imagine it was easy for them to trust a kid like me with what they feared might happen to their old historic building but they did, they were gracious, and I think it was in that time that my life’s journey was set a course.

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