As my four-year course at Spurgeon’s Theological College was drawing to an end, I was looking around to find the kind of church situation that I would fit into. I visited several churches who were on the lookout for a new minister and then heard about a church on a council estate in a London overspill area in Kent. After visiting the church and going through the usual interviews and “preaching with a view”, we moved into temporary accommodation for six months, waiting for the new Manse to be built. All exciting stuff!
South Ashford Baptist Church – here we come!
On the 22nd September 1973, I became the pastor of the Baptist church at South Ashford in Kent. On the day of my ‘induction’, a rainbow appeared over the church, which we took to be a remarkable confirmation that this was of God.
In some of the significant times in my life, I have been accompanied by rainbows. It’s as if God gives us reassurance in some of the major changes in life, that demands His guidance and encouragement. I have seen God at work in small churches on many occasions. In my teenage years, my parents saw the rapid growth of a youth club started in their home and graduating to the local ‘Tin Chapel’ later to become Minster Road Baptist Church on the Isle of Sheppey. A lot of healthy foundations were laid in my life during that time. Now as the pastor of a church I was to learn, often the hard way, how to put the theory into practice.
Hatchems, matchems and dispatchems!
As a clergyman I was involved with the usual ‘hatchems, matchems and dispatchems’, and very quickly learned how things worked. One of my first baptismal services was a memorable occasion. I had never baptized anyone by full immersion before, so in the afternoon before the big service I practised on a local vicar friend! When I stood in the pool with my first real-life ‘candidate’, I was so anxious about getting him under the water and up again that I was a little too enthusiastic in my actions. As the man hit the water, an almighty splash hit both the organist and the piano player on either side of the pool. Three at once… not bad going!
South Ashford also holds precious family memories. It was here that Sue gave birth to our two children, Rebecca and Sarah-Jane. Both were born on a Sunday. The church secretary, Brian Whitehead sorted the services out for me on both occasions!
I was the pastor for five years and learnt so much during that time. How to develop a consistency in preaching and teaching week after week. How to cope with pastoral problems of all shapes and sizes. How to relate to both old and young alike with their different needs and backgrounds. How to introduce new ideas for worship, fellowship and outreach. Not every battle was won. Some tensions remained unresolved. Yet God did remarkable things in that place and we praise him for it!