20 years ago to this very day – 1st June, 1992!
A significant date in my life for the surprising reason that nothing happened.
I had been in Rochdale for over eight years as vicar of St John Thornham, longer – given the circumstances – that anyone had expected.
But it was time to move – the church was entering a new phase following the trauma I had walked into.
Moreover, that summer was a remarkable concurrence in our four daughters’ education – starting university/starting sixth form/starting GCSE’s and starting secondary school.
So we began the process of looking for the next appointment. In those days (and this may still be the case), the whole procedure was compartmentalised, which meant not only writing to different bishops but making contact with a whole series of patronage societies. I pulled out all the stops.
I even visited the civil servant responsible for those parish churches whose patron is either the Crown or the Lord Chancellor. His office was on the first floor of 10 Downing Street. As I walked out before the world’s press behind John Major and Édith Cresson I banked on no one thinking it could possibly be me! I was right.
We did not expect to stay in the Manchester area: only my new warden supported Everton (the reason he was appointed). And given the three months notice, we decided that the cut off date for the decision would have to be 1 June, to be in place for the beginning of the academic year.
Giving God a deadline is never a good idea. So by 1 June, no obvious place had turned up – a whole story there. So it seemed we were staying in Rochdale for two more years.
However, it was a visiting youth worker who told Jacqui that God usually works last minute. This certainly tests our faith for we find it difficult waiting for God to act. “Come on, Lord, hurry up!”
Certainly this was the experience of the Bible writers – from Genesis
22 (God stops Abraham sacrificing Isaac jit) right through to Revelation 6:10, “How long, Sovereign Lord?”
We need patience because God’s timescale is different to ours. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8). Notice the ‘but’.
Returning to Heswall for a funeral on 27 May made all the difference.
I have a huge respect for my former rector and in talking to him, it became clear that God was at work in our conversation.
I became convinced it was right to move. “Typical of God,” I remember saying to Jacqui as we drove back to Rochdale. “He is telling us to move but not showing us where to move to!”
Moreover, Robin helped me to value the ordinary, everyday avenues of communication – such as adverts in the Church Times. I had thought that any church which would advertise in the trade press was by definition not for me!
Instead I had been looking for wonderful coincidences and remarkable happenings, as in previous moves – I was offered a place at theological college by mistake and by mistake I was offered the curacy at Heswall. I think I was expecting to bump into a bishop in some unlikely setting or unwittingly stumble into a prayer meeting as the saints interceded for a new vicar.
I’m not sure when in June the advert for Christ Church, Aughton appeared – in all places, the Church Times. David Dennison as warden only placed it there as an after-thought. The Diocese recommended just the Church of England newspaper – which I didn’t read.
(The funeral of David’s mother, Eleanor, takes place today at 1.00 pm in church – please pray for the family)
I remember walking from the newsagents down Thornham New Road, seeing the advert and knowing there and then, without a doubt, this was it!
But there lies another story.
Typical of God to disregard our deadlines! (And to speak to us through our friends).
Off to the Olympic torch now in Ormskirk – 9.04 around the town.