Celebrating 60 years of the Ordination of Rev Ray Vincent
Ray joined our fellowship following his retirement from full time ministry in May 2002.
He has been an important part of our family and he continues to lead worship occasionally for which we are extremely grateful.
To celebrate his ordination Ray posted the following reflections on his Facebook page and has allowed us to share them here.
Posted on Facebook 9th October 2023
This week sees the 60th anniversary of my ordination. I am thankful to God for the gift of health, which means that it is quite a busy working week. I want to mark it by offering a few reflections on ministry. So, here is the first.
CHOICE OR CALL?
From a very early age, I said I was going to be a minister when I grew up. The motive was pure ambition! In the Nonconformist South Wales valleys culture in which I grew up there was no more important person than “the minister”. People patted me on the back for it and praised me.
One day when I was in town with my mother, we met the minister of a large, very prestigious local church. He knew my mother slightly and stopped to chat. My mother proudly introduced me to him and said, “He’s going to be a minister when he grows up”. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “My boy, stay out of the ministry if you can”. My mother was rather shocked, but I think even then I sensed something of what he meant.
Being a minister is not something you choose because you like it: it is a calling. Having gone through an adolescent phase of going off the idea and doubting the Christian faith altogether, I reached a point where my eyes were opened to the reality and the thrill of the Christian message.
Christianity was no longer just the tradition I had grown up in – it was a personal experience and conviction, and immediately I started unquestioningly assuming that I was going to be a preacher. Then the old question of “calling” came back to haunt me. I kept hearing ministers talking about how they had resisted the promptings of the Holy Spirit until they could resist no longer and finally found themselves dragged kicking and screaming into the ministry.
Did the fact that I wanted to be a minister disqualify me from it? Still with this doubt, I went through the process. Having done an arts degree in Bangor, I went on to Regent’s Park College, Oxford, to study for a degree in theology. I did quite well academically, so I was offered the opportunity to go on to postgraduate study. Part of my reason for accepting this was to give myself more time to find out whether I was really called to the ministry. Academically it was a failure, though it enriched my life in other ways.
The first effect of the decision was that, because I was staying on in the college, I was able to take up an invitation during the summer vacation to serve the Baptist church in Pershore, Worcestershire, which was temporarily without a minister. I was hosted by one of the church families and took the Sunday services, visited the sick, helped in the youth group, and did all the things a minister would do. It was only for one month, but it was the turning point. By the end of that month, I knew without a doubt that this was the life I was meant to live.
Not all ministers are called in the same way, but when the call comes you just KNOW
Roll Of Honour
Posted on Facebook on 10th October 2023
When I look back over my 60 years in the ministry, I can compile a “Roll of Honour” of the people who have helped to make me who I am.
It begins with my parents who brought me up to regard the Christian faith as the basis of life, and who sincerely lived it.
Then came Bethany Baptist Church, Six Bells, its faithful Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, and the Christian Endeavour movement that was very strong at that time and encouraged its members, whatever their age, to study the Bible and to pray and speak in public.
A big influence in my life was my elocution teacher from the age of 8, Peggy Newell-Lewis, who inspired in me a love of language and poetry and introduced to me the joys of amateur dramatics. But more important was that she was an active member of another local chapel and a lay preacher until she eventually overcame the gender prejudice of those days and became the minister of my own church. It was she who helped me to work out whether I was really called to the ministry. She constantly supported and encouraged me, and we remained good friends until she died at the age of 103, by which time I was in my 70s.
During my training for the ministry, the strongest influence on me was Dr Gwynne Henton Davies, the Principal of Regent’s Park College. He was a Welshman, a passionate Baptist, an Old Testament scholar, and above all a teacher. Like most of his students, I couldn’t always agree with him, but it was his lively, dramatic lectures and sermons that gave me that love for the Bible that has been a main theme of my ministry.
My first post after ordination was as an assistant at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, working mainly with students. There I was working with another Welshman, Dr Howard Williams, a preacher who could express the most radical ideas in a very down-to-earth and pastoral way. At a time when people were reading “Honest to God” and talking about “religionless Christianity”, Howard Williams helped me to deconstruct and reconstruct my faith. He could sometimes say the most outrageous things, but at least you could be sure that he was saying what he really believed and not what he thought he was expected to say. I don’t think I have ever quite attained his level of honesty.
In my pastorates in Pontypool, Cwmbran and Leytonstone there were so many inspiring characters – encouragers, constructive critics, and self-effacing saints – that it would be impossible to count them.
After retirement, I became a Chaplain in the University of South Wales, and Vaughan Rees has been an encouraging, generous, and challenging friend.
I have also been blessed by the warm, open and inclusive fellowship of St David’s Uniting Church in Pontypridd.
Even in the past few years I have made new friends who have supported me, including those who have criticised me and kept me on my toes, and the “nuisance” people who have sharpened my pastoral skills! That is my very incomplete “Roll of Honour” – and I haven’t yet mentioned any of the books that have helped shape my faith. Every one of us is unique, not because we are isolated individuals but because we are a unique combination of the innumerable people who have made us what we are.
An Odd Profession (Part 1)
Posted on Facebook on 11th October 2023
During the year I spent on study leave in Glasgow, one thing was a great relief to me. When people asked me what my line of work was, I could just say, “I’m a minister”.
“Minister” is the familiar word for an ordained person in the Church of Scotland. In England, and to some extent Wales too, it’s a bit more complicated. Titles like “Vicar” and “Rector” refer to official positions in the established Church of England and are not applicable in the Free Churches. Many in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are known as “priests” and addressed as “Father”, but the Baptist tradition to which I belong doesn’t favour the theology behind those words. Among Baptists, you can be pastor of a local church or informal group, but if you are fully accredited you are a minister.
The double meaning of this word once got me into an embarrassing situation. When I was in London, I had a young civil servant lodging with me who worked as personal assistant to a Government minister. This was in the days before mobile phones. One Sunday morning, just as I was getting ready for church, the phone rang, and a rather nervous voice said, “I’m speaking from the Department of Health. I’m sorry to disturb you, but could you help me to get in touch with the Minister?” Hearing the word “health” I instinctively thought of the local health centre and assumed someone might be ill, so I said, “Yes, I’m the Minister”. The caller sounded very surprised and confused, and then it dawned on me that she thought she was speaking to my lodger, who at that time on a Sunday morning was still in bed. So, to avoid confusion, when anyone asks me what my line of work is, I have to say, “I’m a Baptist minister” or, to avoid sounding sectarian, “a minister in the church”. Most people these days, even many churchgoers, don’t understand the legal and theological niceties, and I’ve long since given up the attempt to explain them.
People call me a vicar, a priest, a clergyman, and they address me as “Reverend”, “Father” “Pastor”, “Padre” and probably other things I don’t even remember, and I never correct them because I don’t think the differences are important. Some people, both on the Catholic and on the Protestant side, might vehemently disagree with that, but it seems to me that in the eyes of society today we are all basically doing the same job. But what is that job? That is a whole new question!
An Odd Profession (Part 2)
Posted on Facebook on 12th October 2023
In the days when most people went to some church or chapel either occasionally or every Sunday, the role of a minister was clearly defined. He (and it was almost always “he” in those days) took at least two services on a Sunday, presided over other meetings during the week, visited his flock in their homes or in hospital and prayed with them, conducted baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and was always available to support, comfort and help people when they were in trouble – and all these things were regarded as necessary. They were part of the “cure of souls”, founded on the minister’s calling as a preacher of the gospel. His job was to help people get to heaven. Priests and ministers still do most of these things, but in a very different context.
First, church attendance has declined. Not only young people but old people today have only ever gone to church for a christening, a wedding, or a funeral, and often not even for those things. There is no social shame about getting married in the registry office or living together without being married. Even funerals are now often observed without any religious content. There are more and more people who have never met a minister. At the same time, the work ministers used to do has been largely taken over by professional counsellors, mental health workers, social workers, community workers and so on. These people have been trained for the job, unlike most ministers who were only trained to preach and were finding an ever-diminishing number of people to preach to.
In the 1960s and 70s there was a kind of identity crisis in the ministry. Many of my contemporaries, having started out with a strong sense of calling, found themselves feeling their lack of professional qualifications and asking, “What is a minister for?” Many left after a few years and became teachers or probation officers, professional youth leaders or social workers. After a time, I too began to wonder where I really fitted into society. I warmly welcomed any newcomers to the congregation, but I never felt a strong need to persuade people to come to church. In fact, I felt more at ease getting alongside non-churchgoers in the reality of their lives than dealing with the prejudices and unreasonable expectations of some members of my congregation. Because full-time ministers were getting thinner on the ground, I was frequently called upon to take funerals for families that had no connection with the church. I didn’t see it as my duty to preach to them: I was there to befriend and support them in their time of grief. I tried to find out all I could about the deceased person, get to know the family, and tailor the service accordingly. This had everything to do with my faith but often seemed to have little to do with the church.
I remember the moment when, for me, the question “what is a minister for?” got its answer. It was the funeral of a man with family connections to my church but not a regular attender. He was a retired miner with no great education or distinction, but he had been a faithful, hard-working member of the Labour Party for many years. The church was packed. I spotted some familiar faces – the Mayor and other councillors, school head teachers, political activists and local community leaders. Suddenly, I felt nervous, thinking, “Who am I to stand up and address all these important people?” And then the answer came to me. All these people were successful and distinguished in their different fields, but I was there because I was trusted to understand and articulate their unspoken thoughts at this moment, so that they could go away feeling that their friend and colleague had had a worthy send-off.
From that day on I have never doubted that the ministry is a valid profession. In more recent years I think the recognition of the place of a minister has somewhat recovered. Despite the publicity given to some of the “bad apples”, ordinary people do value the contribution of ministers, not as figures with the mystique of holiness about them, but as friendly and helpful human beings.
In my present work as a University chaplain, I find that for most young people the Chaplain is likely to be the first minister they have met, so they don’t come carrying the baggage of the past telling them there are things too shocking for a minister’s tender ears. If the Chaplain is a friendly person and a good listener, they pour out their story in all its messy reality. This makes for a much more real and authentic ministry. People are also finding that there can be something formal, clinical, and limited about the help the professional agencies offer. There is after all no substitute for a caring human being whose qualifications are not certificates but the wisdom of experience