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"I want my harlots back"

2 May is recognised in the Methodist Church as "vocations Sunday". A chance for us to reflect on vocation. Vocation is a misunderstood word in the life of the church. It can often be used as a holy way to describe someone's calling to ordained ministry. Yet we believe in the ministry of the whole people of God and vocation is something shared by all of us - collectively in what the church is called to be - and individually in the tasks and roles God calls us to.

In preparation for vocations Sunday I dug out the testimony I shared a few weeks before my ordination in 2015. I still stand by every word! I share it in the hope it may encourage you to think about what it is that God is calling you to. If you have a divine itch, a divine disquiet that you think God is calling you, reach out to your minister or to me and we can help you try to figure out what God is saying!

Ordination Testimony: 5 June 2015

“I want my harlots back!” Perhaps not the first line of an ordinand’s testimony that you were expecting! Of course those words are not mine but the words of an eminent Methodist preacher. But before you get the wrong idea let me explain that he was lamenting the loss of the lines “Outcasts of men to you I call / Harlots, publicans and thieves” from the Wesley conversion hymn. These two lines, he said, summed up the grace of God. The grace that will plumb the depths of human depravity before God and redeem what seems lost and lets no-one be outside of the love of God.

That speaks to me of my experience of grace that has delivered me here tonight. Growing up I was bullied at school. I had a few friends sometimes but mostly none. Life at school was quite lonely. Yet I found welcome and acceptance at the Sunday School at New Street Methodist Church in Wordsley. It wasn’t necessarily what was said. It was just the atmosphere of the place. At last it felt like I had found somewhere where being me was ok. The same thing happened when I began attending the morning service regularly. There was a warmth and acceptance.

But while God loves us for who we are, God always wants us to grow in faith. For me, growing in faith seemed to lead to Local Preaching. It is with praise to God that I thank some wonderfully patient folk who nurtured and encouraged me along the way. Andrew Roberts, Peter Clark, Miss Bradfield, the Rider family not to mention Donald Knighton, Ann Price, Stephen Wigley, and Stan Taylor, Norwyn Denny, John and Jackie Marsh and Barrie and Elaine Cook.

And thanks to them that ten years ago this evening I was accredited as a Local Preacher. Believing I had kept my side of a deal with God I believed I was done. Isn’t it funny how whenever you think that…(God has other ideas). An itch. A divine disquiet. A yearning for more. A calling to something else grew within me. Something that could not be ignored. I remembered words from Andrew Roberts who all those years before who said “when you train” – not “if” but “when”. Noel Sharpe and particularly Barrie Cooke helped me to recognise which way the disquiet was leading.

And so I found myself in the presence of grace and Isaiah as I attended the Connexional Candidates Committee. A place where pride and ambition seemed to count for nought. I remembered those words from Isaiah: “woe am I, a man of unclean lips” and the angels asking who will go, and Isaiah saying “here I am: send me”. I remember praying that in the early hours of the morning the day of my final interview.

The word came back that I was to be accepted and after two years in college I found myself here in Wolverhampton. And it is only because of grace that I have been able to do anything here. The mediation of hope, comfort and blessing through the prayer at the bedside, with the weeping family at the graveside, holding the baby and calling them by name and whispering those words “all this for you”, to putting bread in tired worn out hands as food for the journey. None of that could be done in my strength – a man of unclean lips. But only in the grace of God can I stand and be used by God. And there is no other greater privilege.

There is a scene at the end of an episode of the TV comedy Rev. Adam Smallbone has had a crisis of faith. As he staggers out of the pub late at night (just to point out Adam Smallbone is an Anglican Priest!) he is approached by a policeman who takes Adam to a flat where an elderly lady is in her final hours. She wants a priest. He says he can’t go in – he just can’t. The policeman turns to Adam and says: “you’ve all she’s got”. By grace – he goes in.

That’s how I feel as I stand on the cusp of ordination. I can’t. But then it would be wrong to think that I could. For it is only through grace that I, unworthy as I am, can go.

And probation has opened my eyes to that and for that I thank the church for the privilege of probation! I also need to mention the wonderful people who been with me on this epic journey. For the wonderful folk of this district, my probationer colleagues, the wonderful friends I made at college, my circuit colleagues, especially David my mentor. The folks who have put up with me week by week in the churches I serve. And especially to my family and it is with profound sadness that mom won’t be in Liverpool. To them I say thank you and I thank God for you.