‘Him who glories, let him glory in the Lord’ – 1 Cor. 1:31
It was probably in 2009 that Alex Macdougall first mentioned ‘Morton, a small church out towards Bristol’ to me. Then, information came about the then-held preaching rallies over the anniversary weekend in May 2010, and I, along with two friends from church, came down for the first time, when I met Fred Witchard, who had his moped out the front. After the meeting, Philip Chillcott spoke to me and I mentioned that I felt unready to take a pastorate, and I suggested another man. I came to preach a few weeks later, and I will always remember praying in the vestry with four deacons and the Pastor Emeritus, Peter Crowhurst. When I returned to a Rally in May 2011, I was shocked to learn that Fred had gone to be with the Lord, and that the number of deacons had gone from four to one. Philip asked me again how I felt, and the rest is oft-repeated history.
I will always remember my ordination and induction, with so many making so much effort to get everything done, and such a turnout of friends and supporters, it was a very happy day. It was a privilege to share it with dear Colin ‘The Collar’ Lewis, who is now with the LORD. His advice and help was of great value.
Firstly living in Cheltenham, it made sense to be based in Thornbury 2-3 days a week, and so the vestry began to be filled with my books, and I ‘made do’ with the various sticks of furniture that existed. Over time many things have changed in there, not least the volume of books. It has been a great trial to reduce my library again!
I tried to visit those who wished to be visited, starting with dear Nellie Sherman, whose tender heart I will always remember. I was thankful that I visited David Collins early, as we were all shocked when he unexpectedly went home to be with the Lord. Inevitably, funerals have featured often, whether of those in the congregation or those connected in some way. It is the way of pastoral ministry that you meet new people and make new friendships which last only a short while in this world!
My greatest mistake, if it can be called such, was to focus more on evangelism in those early days than on our identity as a church. I would always now advise other pastors to focus first on strengthening ‘the things that remain’. It is wonderful to have a heart for the lost, but if the church is not itself in good health, it won’t be a good home for new converts. Still, we pray for all the many Saturdays spent on the market, and for our presence at the Thornbury Carnival, and for the thousands of items handed out and delivered through local doors by several willing helpers.
Much of the ministry at Morton has focused on the pulpit, and I have spent hours, even days at the Chapel, seeing not a soul from morning to night. In the winter it has been common enough to arrive in the dark and leave in the dark too. I am profoundly thankful for the opportunity given to me to spend so much ‘time in the word’, and I hope that it has been a blessing to all. Our worship has been simple, but profound, and I am grateful for the willingness of the church to sing hymns and psalms unknown before. I hope that all will have encountered new ‘favourites’ in our book ‘Morton Praise’.
Despite the hidden location of the Chapel, it has been good to welcome folks to various events. I have appreciated those who have attended the annual church history talks I have given, and a particular highlight has been the three talks given by Professor Stuart Burgess, the first one especially being thronged. It has also been a privilege to continue the Church visits to Alexandra Way, for many years blessed by the musical talents of Gordon Ball. Since 2014 I have supported Clare in running ‘Coffee and Craft’, and we have seen many come in, but not following on with attendance at various events to which they have been invited.
Some of our midweek meetings have been particularly precious, especially prayer times. It has been good to vary our meetings, and those of us who have attended Men’s and Ladies’ Bible Studies have profited from each other’s reflections and prayers.
My greatest joy in these seven years has been to baptise Joshua Witchard upon his profession of faith, and the truth is that we have known more encouragements than troubles. As I have said many times, none would believe the number of kind words, notes and cards I have received over the years, not to mention occasional gifts which have always seemed to arrive ‘in the nick of time’ — the LORD’s timing, of course!
I have been helped and encouraged by many, and I am particularly grateful to Bernard for his faithful help and encouragement in the early evangelism efforts. A debt of gratitude is owed to Mary, Yvonne and Donna for all their musical assistance. Robert has served carefully and thoughtfully as Treasurer for many years, supported by Lana. And Philip has been my right hand for these seven years, doing so many jobs, and always able and willing to talk and pray over various matters. It would be wrong to mention Philip without honouring Marlene, who encouraged him and supported him to ‘go on’ when he was the only church officer. I will never forget her funeral, and one day we will meet again — as will we all, if we are one in Christ Jesus. I could name everyone in the church and mention something about them for which I am thankful, but let me just also mention Jean. Silently, uncomplainingly, efficiently—one could almost say relentlessly—she has completed a regular roster of small tasks which most would never notice—unless they were left undone!
For any area where I have fallen short, I can only apologise, please pray with me that the LORD might help me to do better! In any area where I may have done well, may God have all the Glory!
Everyone who has made Morton their spiritual home is precious to me, and this place, but more, the people who have met in it, will remain upon my heart all my days. I have learned a great deal, and grown spiritually, and I hope that one day I might be able to serve a church again as the LORD leads. Meantime, I will be concentrating on doing my best for ‘Go Teach’ Publications Ltd, based in Macclesfield, and living there also. We will, of course, join, and commit ourselves to the work of a local church, and I urge you to do the same. When we do this, we will have to lay some personal preferences to one side in order to support a gospel work. I urge you to do the same. We have to ask whether the fundamentals of the Christian faith are taught, and whether the gospel is being preached. Your precise preference regarding worship style, Bible versions and so forth might have to be laid aside for the glory of God.
Whatever you do in the days ahead, walk with Jesus. Trust Him, look to Him. Lean not on your own understanding. He only is Emmanuel, God with us. He only can bless and help you. No Pastor, or any human being, is your solution or help. Go on with the LORD, dear friends.
For the last time, with sorrow and with joy, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year.