As part of our joint service with the Methodist Church recently I was asked to give my testimony. I think it’s a really good idea for any Christian to be able to tell their story of coming to faith. What’s your story like?
I was actually baptised as a baby in the Methodist Church in the St Thomas area of Exeter, and I have discovered that my great-grandfather was a Primitive Methodist preacher in Wales. I am definitely the first member of my family to be an Anglican vicar!
I owe so much to my parents who faithfully took me church each Sunday and I grew up in a large Anglican church in Exeter. When I was 12 I went on a Sunday School weekend where the leader explained how Christ died in my place for my sins on the cross. I took away the booklet “Journey into Life”, prayed the prayer of commitment at the end…and nothing happened.
Six months later my parents took me on holiday to the Scargill Community in Yorkshire. I can’t explain exactly what happened there, but something about the love the youth leaders showed to me demonstrated the reality of Jesus, and I knew I wanted to follow Him. But I waited until I got home before praying that prayer of commitment just in case this feeling went away (I was a very precocious 12 year old!). It didn’t, so I asked Jesus into life and knew from then on He was my Lord and Saviour.
Later on, as part of my degree in modern languages, I spent a year in Austria. There wasn’t a lot to do there, but I did sense that maybe the Lord was calling me into the ministry. This was confirmed when in my final year I spent a week shadowing a vicar in Tooting. However I knew I needed some experience of the real world … so I spent six years doing the accounts of used car dealers, and gaining a real insight into human nature!
However I reached a point in my professional career when either I would carry on and become a partner in an accountancy practice somewhere, or follow my original calling. I therefore went forward to a selection conference where to my surprise I discovered I was accepted for theological education!
I have to confess, though, that by this time my faith was starting to become somewhat dry and intellectual. It was during my first term when, of all things, I was writing an essay on the resurrection that I had a knock on my study door at college. It was a message from home that my sister had suddenly and completely unexpectedly died. The next few weeks were very difficult and yet at the same time I saw the Lord work in my life in amazing ways which completely altered my view of ministry. I think it is often the testimony of folk who have been through the hardest times this is when the Lord is closest.
At first I was asked to read at her funeral, but then I was asked to preach. I really didn’t know what to say, but I then went to sleep for an hour and a half. When I woke up, I knew exactly what to say. It was shortly before Christmas, and I knew I had to speak to the two names given to God’s Son in the Christmas story. That, first of all, He is Emmanuel, God with us, even when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, the one who shares in the pain and brokenness of our human experience. But secondly, that He is Jesus, God saves who thanks to the cross offers a hope and a future beyond this life.
And these two facts have really become the two poles on which ministry has been based ever since. That God is with us yet also able to save. The whole experience also taught me that as Christians our task is not simply to talk about God, but to talk about Jesus and that everything we do and say has to be in His name.
But my story doesn’t finish there. I am very conscious I am still very much work in progress. I am just so grateful that God hasn’t given up on me, and His grace is sufficient for all my needs.
To be continued…