….This led me to being accepted as a Local Preacher on the Full Plan, and my Superintendent Minister, the Revd Dr Arthur Atwell, refusing to accept my excuses for delaying ordination any further. I completed the candidate’s examinations and was appointed as a Probationer Minister in the Jeffreys Bay and Humansdorp societies of the Port Elizabeth West Methodist Circuit. Here, I ministered to many people in ‘mixed’ marriages, i.e. Afrikaners married to English speakers, where the former found the Anglican Church too ‘Catholic’ and the latter, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) too ‘conservative’. Being fluent in Afrikaans at the time meant that I was warmly received by both communities, sometimes even taking services in Afrikaans in the DRC. While here, I was invited to chair the local Peace Committee. This committee organised hustings and trained conflict resolution counsellors in preparation for the first democratic elections, where I was one of the Peace Monitors. Once democracy had dawned, I felt free to move ‘home’ to the UK, my minor role challenging apartheid now being completed.
I never imagined that the church culture would be so different in the UK and needed time to reflect on my calling, and so withdrew from ministry and was appointed Lay Chaplain to Oswestry School and eventually also head of History and Religion and Philosophy. The Church kindly took me under its wing again and I was encouraged to return to the fold and was ordained as a Minister in Sector Appointment in York Minster in 1998 (with Jenny Dyer). The great joy of this time was the birth of our only child, Gareth.
By this time, I began to feel very much more at home in the British system and began considering a return to Circuit ministry. But it was also a time of serious illness, firstly Meniere’s Disease which has left me deaf in the left ear and a pancreatic tumour leading to 11 hours of surgery and a reconstructed digestive system, in 2001. I was advised at the time, that Circuits would find it difficult to offer me an invitation because of my health condition, and so I continued as a Chaplain and teacher. By this time, I had moved from Oswestry to Oxford (The Dragon School) and eventually to Taunton School (a Congregational / Baptist foundation). Here I was needed to redeem Religious Studies that had not been examined for over 13 years, and to assist with the introduction of the International Baccalaureate (IB) with its Theory of Knowledge (ToK) (basic epistemology) and secular philosophy courses.
When I felt it time to move, the position at Loughborough became available and offered us the opportunity to give Gareth a multi-faith, multi-cultural understanding that is ‘normal’ (as opposed to my South African experience).
Apartheid, abuse, deafness and serious illness all provided me with the need to do serious theological reflection, because, on the surface it makes little (sometimes no) sense. During the lengthy recovery from the tumour, which thankfully turned out to be benign, I realised that much of the theology of my youth was seriously lacking. This is when I decided to read those with whom I thought or was told to disagree with. And the experience set me free to explore the wonders of contemporary as well as ancient theology.
While at Loughborough Grammar School I worked closely with the Headmaster, Paul Fisher (a liberal lay Roman Catholic), on a project entitled The Spirit of the School. This was based on the published work of Professor Julian Stern, and calls for an inclusive theology of education. The journey was both enriching and with the best practical results in uplifting the ‘spirit’ of the school. The programme is largely based on the principles of strong inclusion, where differences are celebrated rather than merely tolerated. The focus revolves around the quality of relationships, inspired by Martin Buber’s ‘I – Thou’, where all are treated as ‘thou’ because they are of immeasurable value as being in the image of God, and never ‘I – It’ where people are used to achieve some particular end.
And now finally, my work in schools is done, and I feel free to return to Circuit ministry. While I have maintained a regular circuit preaching ministry throughout my time as a Chaplain, I very much look forward to the privilege of sharing in the journeys of the people of God called Methodists in the Derby Circuit as we get to know each other pastorally, enjoy prayer and fellowship, study the Scriptures and share in the sacraments together.