Firstly a huge thank you to all who supported Stella and I (with our friend Mark) through sponsorship and prayers and good wishes for our bike ride from Ludlow to St David’s. Enjoying stunning views along the way, we completed the ride of 159 miles with 13,900 ft of climbing over 2 days. Ruth Henley was with us for the first day, doing extremely well despite having had little time to train.
We were blessed with superb weather – dry but not too hot, and a very welcome North-Easterly wind, confounding the wisdom of those who thought we should have gone in the opposite direction!
The climbing on the second day was very hard and really slowed us down. Time and again we climbed steeply and at a snail’s pace (occasionally, it has to be said, on foot!) out of one village, only to face a fast descent to the next village, ready for another climb.
At one stage I was quite sure we wouldn’t make it to our destination, especially when locals wagged their heads in disbelief when they learned where we were heading, and the news came that the Youth Hostel would close at 9pm. But after one more particularly arduous climb, the ride levelled off and we were able to take advantage of the wind to make real progress, finally arriving at the hostel at 8.55pm, after 12 hours cycling. God is good!
Could this be an image of our life and journey of faith? There are stiff climbs and scary descents, low times and doubts, times when it’s hard to see a way out. We might think we oughtn’t to feel that way – that we should mask what’s going on inside, adding guilt to our feelings of despondency. Scripture doesn’t airbrush those times out. There’s a passage in John 6 when Jesus’ teaching is too hard and many disciples desert him. Jesus wonders whether the Twelve too would leave and Peter responds “Lord to whom shall we go?” (hardly a ringing endorsement!), adding “We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.” (John 6.68)
Sometimes we may want to give up, take the train home, retreating inwardly from anything else that might challenge us. At those times we need to just keep pedalling, not listening to the voices of doom, but believing and trusting in the Holy One of God who is still there even though we might have lost sight of him.
It’s nearly four years since the pantechnicon delivered the Stilwell family and other animals to 12 Bitterley Close. It has been a time of rich blessing for us. Methodism’s practice of itinerancy for its ministers (presbyters) means that we’ve needed to consider whether there should be another move in 2020, or whether an extension to the appointment should be sought. I have shared with Church Council the reasons that we have decided to ask for a 3 year extension, whilst being very clear that if the churches feel it’s time for a change of leadership, we would, by the grace of God, be fully respectful and accepting of that wish. We eagerly await the result of a consultation process taking place in the affected churches.
The Methodist system has numerous advantages – churches knowing they never need to be “stuck with” a minister who is a bad fit; a regular fresh look with new eyes at each church’s vision; ministers never being too comfortable, and becoming stale. The system has its costs too which sometimes family members have had to bear in the wider interest of the work of God in the church. The church is very good at doing all that it can to mitigate this, but sometimes pain cannot be avoided.
I am reminded of a recent service at which our Chair of District, Rachel Parkinson, preached on the subject of the call of the first disciples. James and John left everything and followed Jesus. Zebedee, their father, was left behind in the boat with the hired men – no doubt his plans of passing on the family fishing business to his sons were broken in that moment. The disciples’ (later the apostles’) lives were to be anything but settled and comfortable. Their security was partly in the support they received from one another and from those who joined them, but mainly from their confidence in following the Christ to whom they belonged. For him they could leave everything, and hopefully Zebedee would understand, respect and accept their decision, perhaps in time rejoice, whatever the outcome for his business.
As we read in our studies in Colossians “we pray that you may live a life bearing fruit in every good work, strengthened with all power and having great endurance, sharing in the inheritance of the saints” (Col 1.10-11, abridged). For all of us, there are many blessings in life for which to be thankful – but there may be a need to let go of them in order to “bear fruit in every good work”, to be in the place God wants us to be, where the inheritance of joy, peace and fulfilment rather than security are the reward.
May God help us all to know his wisdom and to be ready to accept and follow.