New beginnings (in Hertfordshire)

This is a strange in between time. I am on the way to becoming the minister of these two churches but am not yet there. We’re living in one of the manses, I’m using the office of one of the two churches, I’m meeting members of the congregations. At the same time the ministers currently serving them don’t finish work until next Sunday and I’m trying to use the time to get as far as possible with our unpacking and settling in.

I will begin to prepare for the start of my new ministry next week, meeting with the secretaries of the two churches, planning my first month or two as minister and working on sermons and on my part in my ordination and induction. Meanwhile I have got a first sense of what it is to be a minister as I encounter those among whom I will be working.

As this has happened I have been aware of doubts, worries and uncertainties of a new kind: can I do and be what these communities hope for, expect or need? There is a new tension born of the coming together of my path to this point and those of the two congregations and those who make them up. One senses, as one comes into a new situation, that there are stories and patterns that one will never truly know, in the way they are known to those who have lived through and into them. This place, this set of relationships, these buildings, are invested with meaning and significance to these people in deep and complex ways. Who am I to intervene, lead, enlighten or inspire? Yet if I can’t do all these things what does my vocation amount to?

At the same time I’m aware, too, of the particularity and individuality of my own spiritual life, of my own relationship to God through Christ and in the Spirit. I’m not claiming there that my Christian identity is more unique than anyone else’s, just noting that it has been formed through experiences and in contexts different from anybody here. If I am to be true to my personal calling all of this has to be alive in my ministry but I feel suddenly unsure how capable I am of connecting the truth of my own spiritual identity with that of these communities who have been led to call me to them.

What does it mean that I am here? What does it mean for me and what does it mean for the congregations of Brookmans Park and Potters Bar United Reformed Churches? These questions are troubling and disturbing me as I ease into this new phase of my discipling.

Two things stand out for me as supports in this unsettling pause: that faith is trust and that core to that faith (for me) is the idea of individual vocation. There come moments in life, even for someone who is as inveterate a contingency planner as I am, when no looking ahead can make a difference to how one feels. A course is set, one is committed to an action and the only thing that makes sense is to prepare oneself to react to events and opportunities. At such moments faith, trust that one is where one is meant to be and doing what one is meant to do and that all will, somehow be well is all that’s left

Part of this faith is the idea that for each and every person there is some thing they are called to do or to be. This idea is essential to my understanding of my ministry. Not only do I believe that I have been brought to this place by answering a call I also believe that I have been brought here so that both I and others may be helped to discern our call more clearly. Both these congregations are here to some purpose, there is work for them to do. I don’t know yet what that is. At the same time it must be the case that they will show me the way to discern the work I have to do.

Thus over the next weeks and months my task will be first to listen, both to all the people I will be meeting and to the Spirit encountered in prayer and in the scriptures and then to speak, offering people what I have heard and paying proper attention to their responses. Out of this conversation with God we will all, I hope and pray, begin to find our way together into a deeper and more fruitful

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