Celebrating 60 years of the Ordination of Rev Ray Vincent
Ray joined our fellowship following his retirement from full time ministry in May 2002.
To celebrate his ordination Ray posted reflections on his Facebook page this latest one was posted on 31st October
CHOICE OR CALL?
The Continuing Call One of my favourite books is the Journal of John Woolman, an 18th century American Quaker who was very much ahead of his time. He opposed slavery at a time when even some of his fellow Quakers owned slaves. He was deeply concerned about inequality and about the environment. Towards the end of his life, he was invited to visit Quakers in England. After a while he was disconcerted to find that sometimes, having arranged to speak at a meeting, he felt empty and had no inspiration. As a Quaker, this meant he was unable to speak. Reflecting on this in his Journal, he says: “I have been more and more instructed as to the necessity of depending, not upon a concern which I felt in America to come on a visit to England, but upon the daily instructions of Christ.”
I have long felt that this is true of the call to the ministry. Having, as I said in an earlier posting, hesitated for years about whether I was really called, I find this doubt coming back from time to time, but in a different way. I have come to realise that the call to ministry is not a general call that happened a long time ago. It is always the call to minister here and now. When people ask me, “have you ever felt like leaving the ministry?” I sometimes answer (a bit tongue-in-cheek), “Yes, every day.”
My first three years in the ministry were exciting. As an assistant chaplain to students at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, I was surrounded with lively-minded young people, listening to the preaching of a well-known and controversial minister, and meeting all kinds of interesting people. This was a short-term appointment, but when the time came to move on, I was offered a post with the Student Christian Movement as their Travelling Secretary in Wales. This meant I would be back in my home country but still working with students – the best of both worlds.
However, the SCM in Wales turned out to be mostly dull and conservative, very different from what I had seen of it in London. I soon began to find my refreshment and inspiration in an unexpected quarter – Merchants’ Hill, Pontnewynydd, an exceptionally open-minded and forward-looking church in the valleys. I began visiting it once a month, and after two years became its minister. My ten years there were very happy, but the church gradually became a victim of the general decline in churchgoing. The members were getting old, the finances were getting short, and I didn’t seem to have the energy or imagination to turn things around. I was beginning to feel disillusioned with churches generally.
The one exciting thing that did happen was meeting the people at Siloam, Upper Cwmbran. This village was the original Cwmbran, high up in the hills above the new town. It was a close-knit community, and Siloam was a warm family church that had held on to its young people. They invited me to be their minister, and the two churches came to a sharing agreement that provided Siloam with pastoral care and eased the financial pressure on Merchants’ Hill. I suddenly found myself, once a month at least, surrounded by lively young people again.
In my four years there we had numerous baptisms and quite a few weddings. However, I still felt a need to move on. Merchants’ Hill was still declining and Siloam, being a small congregation mostly of very young people, could not make much of a contribution to my stipend. In addition, I felt very drawn to academic life, and so when I saw an advert for a bursary for Nonconformist ministers to have a year of study in Glasgow, I applied for it. I felt it would give some respite from church-based ministry, time to reflect, and possibly open the way to a new career as an academic.
The year in Glasgow was a rejuvenating experience. I worked for the MTh in New Testament studies, and, unlike my earlier research, it was successful and gave me back some of the academic confidence I had lost. It also gave me a new, unexpected vision. Reading about the development of early Christianity and why some sects died away while the mainstream Church survived, it struck me that the essence of the Church is in a sense its randomness. It was never meant to be a society of kindred minds, or a sect that turns its back on the world, or an intellectual discussion group. In essence, it is a random gathering of ordinary people of different classes, ages, and types who have in common their attraction to Christ and a need to get on with one another. It is a kind of laboratory to test and work out the gospel. After all, if the gospel doesn’t work in a random group of real people, how can we say it works at all?
With this insight, I realised I would never find a perfect church, nor could I be an active Christian without a church. And so I felt the call to church-based ministry more strongly than ever. This led to twenty-one happy, challenging and exciting years in Leytonstone United Free Church in the multi-cultural community of East London.
Then, after retiring and coming back to South Wales, I found myself working with students again, but in a different way. That is yet another story.