Tuesday, 7 September 2010

40 Years On

It only seems like yesterday, but 40 years ago on 6 September 1970 I was inducted as a member of the ministry team of what was then called the North Cheshire Fellowship. Never being one to do the simple and straightforward when something more complex was possible, the whole thing had its peculiarities. The service was also the closing service of the church building where it was held, which bemused the local press.

Leaving aside the question as to why anyone should have thought that I was a suitable person to be a pastor in a local congregation, there were things about the situation that were controversial in Baptist circles. Baptists organised themselves in individual (and often individualistic) congregations. A group of 8 congregations, one of which was Congregational, was too radical for some in the denomination. Through rationalisation, overcoming some divisive history, the group settled down to being 5 congregations, one of which was a Baptist/URC LEP. Team ministry was also too much for many devoted to the one man(!), one church model. When my Baptist Union probationary period came to an end, I felt that the committee interviewing me expected an apology for not being in the traditional mode. Of course, I didn’t make matters easier by saying that putting me as the sole minister of a church would be stupid.

It was the group and team working that had attracted as well as the context of the small post-industrial towns which had been absorbed into Greater Manchester. The early 1970’s were challenging times economically and socially. Ugandan Asians expelled by Amin arrived in the area. Local government reorganisation gave opportunities for ecumenical engagement with the emerging Tameside Metropolitan Borough. Demanding, frustrating, exciting - I would not exchange those five years for anything.

Looking at the Order of Service for the Induction, I am struck by the rightness of one of the hymns:

SING we a song of high revolt;
Make great the Lord, God's name exalt:
Sing we the words of Mary's song
Of God at war with human wrong.

By God the poor are lifted up;
God satisfies with bread and cup
The hungry folk of many lands:
The rich are left with empty hands.

Sing we of God who deeply cares
And still with us our burden shares;
God, who with strength the proud disowns,
Brings down the mighty from their thrones.

God calls us to revolt and fight,
To seek for what is just and right.
To sing and live Magnificat
In crowded street and council flat.

40 years on, I’ll still go with that.

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