Over the last five years life has brought some unexpected developments, not least the events of recent weeks as I have taken up responsibilities at Lambeth Palace as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation. This is a part time secondment from Coventry Cathedral which itself is to be the focus for the new Archbishop’s commitment to reconciliation. As a practical expression of this responsibility by Coventry I am to provide support to ++Justin, a former Canon for International Ministry at the Cathedral and my predecessor in this post.
We first met in April 2005 at a consultation in Coventry arising out of the Lausanne consultation in Thailand the previous autumn where I had represented ECONI on the reconciliation track. The Thailand event was a formative experience for me and the declaration signed by those present in the reconciliation working group hangs on my office wall. It lead to our sabbatical in the US at Duke Divinity School where my wife and I enjoyed five months in 2006.
Coventry Cathedral had played a full part in that consultation and little did I realise in 2005 that I would be working there within three years. It was in fact my second visit to Coventry, the first in 1997 with a group of Southern Baptists who were developing a reconciliation ministry and network which still has links to the Coventry Community of the Cross of Nails. It was one of them, Phyllis Hardin, who sent me the information on the job at Coventry to see if I knew anyone suitable, the assumption being they would need to be Anglican and ordained.
++Justin was one of many Anglican friends who warmly brought me in to their circle in a job in which I have found much fulfilment and fun in serving God and the church. Dean John Irvine and the Residentiary Canons at Coventry went out of their way to make me part of the team and bring my Anabaptist convictions and pragmatic approach to this opportunity for ministry.
Now that role is to be developed. While an initial focus will be on the ongoing conflicts within the church over deeply held differences, the ultimate aim is to look out to a world torn apart by violent conflicts, and enable the church to live as the children of God, peacemakers.
The challenges that lie ahead are certainly daunting. One thing is certain, I will get many things wrong. Yet I can’t help but sense that God is in this journey as he was in the journey I took just over 35 years ago when my life in Christian ministry began.
Between my Irish Presbyterian upbringing and emerging from theological college a convinced Anabaptist, there was a sojourn of deep significance which changed me more than anything in my life, apart from my journey in partnership with my wife. I lived in Lahore, Pakistan, working with BMMF at St Andrew’s Church an old railway workers’ church with an English speaking congregation.
Part of the Church of Pakistan it was Anglican in practice and it was here I preached my first sermon, wearing a cassock! Rev Sid Iggledun, a CMS missionary from Sydney was my mentor and responsible, along with Jim Tebbe from the US, for my returning to the UK to study theology. A friend from that time Irfan Jamil is now the Bishop of Lahore.
At each stage of transition in my ministry there have been significant people who have been God’s gift to me in opening avenues of service and growth in faith. During lent I want to think on them, giving thanks, maybe finding time to write a blog or two on some of them.
++Justin is the latest in this lineage of friends in Christ who have seen something that I really don’t fully recognise and opened a path to grow in faith and continue in service. That they have been there at all gives me some hope that what lies ahead is of God, despite all that may tempt me to think otherwise in the days and months ahead.