An Induction in Leicester

Saturday gone (January 26th), I was at the induction of the Revd David Dean to the pastorate of Christ Church United Reformed Church in Leicester. Viewed from the outside, Christ Church can easily fool one to expect a dull and cold interior. But we were pleasantly surprised to discover, a charming and exceptionally well refurbished/kept interior, movable chairs, warm colours, and a pleasant blue to both set and match the mood and ambience of all we met and the occasion of the induction.

Leonora and I were delighted to be present for David’s induction as we knew David, Martha and their daughters from our Birmingham and West-Midlands ministry. Together we are members of that growing and wonderful gang of Diasporan people, from various corners of the world, who have found a home in the United Reformed Church.

It was a very well attended service and there were familiar and unfamiliar faces. These occasions remind me of an extended family gathering: we would have at least heard of each other, even though we have never met! Among the surprising moments for me was when a friend (from Guyana) – the Revd Leonard Bhagwandin – whom I had not seen for many years, came over to greet me before the service. Surprising things do happen on these occasions, but this was pleasant and unexpected! It was through the maverick ways of a Presbyterian colleague and I that Leonard got excited about ministry and eventually candidated for full time ministry in Guyana. Besides, his journey also took him to the United Reformed Church. The URC is indeed a home for many diasporan wanderers!

It was evident that much thought and care went into the planning of the service. It ran like clock-work, though always at ease, especially with the very gifted and light touch of our presider (the Revd Peter Meek – Synod Moderator). The music and choice of hymns were exceptionally brilliant and the choir sang beautifully (This is the Day by John Rutter). I later learnt that the organists of the day (Tom Moore and Stephen Moore) who grew up in the congregation are the directors of Music at Wakefield Cathedral and St. Matthews (Northampton) respectively. Their parents are active elders of the congregation!

David had asked me to preach on the healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10), especially on insights I can discern for the new and continuing shape of ministry at Christ Church. I noted the following:

  • The importance of context and location for ministry (the Centurion knew his very well, especially the people) and the urgent challenge of re-orienting ourselves to re-read the complex texts of our lives and those around us. This asks us to invest in developing together the habit of attentiveness motivated by the generous heart of God in Christ.
  • The need to be open to the mischievous movement of God’s Spirit, and the surprise and mystery of faith. In the case of the centurion, faith is that which throws itself at the mercy of and into the arms of grace (not that which feeds on self-constructed arrogance or human capability), recognises its own unworthiness, and sees the humanity of people before dogmas, right belief, the affirming of theories of salvation. Like the centurion we must be willing to take risks and to be vulnerable.
  • The necessity of investing in relationship in spite of the ambiguities in and around us. The centurion did just that and the impression one gets is that of a person for whom “a generosity of spirit” poured out. And it must have been a costly line to walk, given his role and the related power dynamics. Whether the centurion was aware of it or not, his actions, perhaps influenced by the best of the faith of his neighbours and subjects reflect the way of Jesus in his valuing people who are not like him, who do not look like him… who are different. No wonder Jesus was amazed at his faith!

Always enlightening at inductions, are the stories (or statements) of the process and journey to the point of the call of a new minister. From the statement of Christ Church (by Martin Dixon), I was touched by his observation of how prepared the elders, along with their interim moderator (Jenny Theairs) were to continue ministry as a team during the interregnum. I was also gripped by David Dean’s telling of the story of his call to Christ Church, the multiple impulses and very diverse ways that a variety of events and encounters brought him into contact with Christ Church (and vice versa). These were full of the surprising movement of the Holy Spirit!

Indeed, the mood of celebration, generosity and movement of God’s Spirit overflowed into our delightful conversations and fellowship over tea and sandwiches!

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