For six years from 1998 to 2004 I was minister of Wetherby Methodist Church. For four of those years life was good, things seemed to be going fine, and then a bombshell struck and life became very uncomfortable for me and my family. Without going into too much detail, we left there in 2004 quite seriously disheartened and quite deeply wounded, and I have carried the emotional and psychological scars of our leaving since then.
I hadn't been back to the church since, and had had little contact with people from there, until last evening. Over the last few years the church has embarked on a major redevelopment scheme: removing the pews, opening up the entrance to the church, making more space in the gallery and remodelling the ancillary premises, and yesterday was the official reopening and rededication. We had been invited to attend a celebration service yesterday evening, and it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I returned to the church. It was not easy for me to go back.
I have to say that I was amazed at the transformation. Although the church appeared smaller there was in fact more seating available; the space at the front had been enlarged, and the whole building now looks lighter and more inviting. Hearing the story of the project, and my successor's involvement in it, it was clear to me that he had been the right person at the right time for that church: there was no way that I could have handled that project as successfully, and that for me was a great cathartic experience. To see the way that the church had grown - there were a number of new faces in leadership and in the congregation - and had united behind the vision of creating a base for spiritual growth and outreach and a flexible community resource, was a real encouragement to me. I was also heartened by the welcome that Judith & I received - though I must confess that putting names to some faces was a challenge at times!
I believe that a major healing has begun in my life and ministry as a result of last night: it is clear to me now, in a way that it hasn't been for seven years, that it was right for us to leave Wetherby when we did. Maybe the manner of our going was not quite how it could and should've been, but they have the right person leading them for this stage of their journey. Sheffield has been good for me, and it has always felt right for us to be here, but a significant part of my ministry here has been adversely affected by the effects of our leaving Wetherby. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." [Romans 8:28]
I'm grateful to God for the new start in the life of Wetherby Methodist Church, and wish them every success in this new chapter in their life, but I'm also grateful to God for the healing that has begun in my soul.