Ray is a former Moderator of the PCANZ and is back from a year away as he embarks on his retirement from full-time church ministry
Recently I returned to New Zealand after a year ministering in a Methodist Circuit in London. Consideration of further parish ministry was never on my bucket list when I turned 65. When I retired after nearly 40 years of serving the PCANZ in parish ministry I did have a plan for my retirement years. A friend and I had a dream of working for a third of our time, serving humanity for a third, and ‘playing’ for a third.
The call of God on my life to serve in ministry has never lessened. To be honest, it’s probably as great now as it has ever been. But not in parish ministry – even though I still consider parish ministry to be the highest call of serving God. Having served as moderator and being involved in both national and international ministry, it’s at the local level where most of us minister that really counts. And that is the hardest and most difficult and costly form of ministry. I salute those that faithfully fulfill a lifetime of ministry at parish level.
In my so-called retirement years I wanted to gift my time to the ecumenical movement and to the para church movement. I have become very involved in the World Council of Churches and Christian Blind Mission (CBM). I am also on Church Property Trustees and a White Ribbon Ambassador amongst other things. With these commitments the ‘play’ third of my time in retirement has been coming a sad last in my retirement dream.
Then came a call to go to England for a year and return to parish ministry. My initial reaction was, ‘no way!’ But I am so pleased that I did. It has been a fantastic year for many reasons. England is a great country overflowing in culture and history. In place after place we find layer upon layer of history. We were in Beckenham, South London. Kent is often described as the ‘Garden of England’. Beautiful scenery and many historic homes. As a city London has so much to offer. After a year we have only scratched the surface of what we would like to do in London and England. With Europe being so close, we were also able to visit a number of countries across the channel.
Serving in a Methodist Church and especially in the ‘home’ of Methodism was a good experience for one who has only ministered in the PCANZ. The influence of the Wesley family: Samuel, Susanna, Charles, John … has been enormous around the world. There is so much to admire in the legacy this family has passed on to the world. But for me, one of the special things is singing the faith. Methodists love to sing with gusto. In the church I served, it is their tradition to open the service with an introit and include 5 hymns/songs in the service. They employed a professional organist each week. The organist played a voluntary at the end of each service for four to five minutes. Often at the end people would applaud. They never applauded my sermons!!
I also discovered that Methodists almost surpass Presbyterians in the number of meetings they have each week. With both circuit and parish meetings, plus the fact that the church I served is doing a major building renovation, I quickly found that many evenings were taken up at meetings.
As with any church or ministry, people are the most significant aspect. We return home having made many new friends and I am sure that these friendships will continue. Indeed some have assured us they will visit NZ in the near future. As one from NZ a new experience for me was meeting and learning from people of many African nations: Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone … what sheer joy to be able to share in African led worship. They worship God with their whole being and such joy on their faces.
How, one may ask, did a Presbyterian kiwi get invited to serve in a Methodist Church in the UK? Two other ministers, Roger Wiig and Hamish Galloway have served in this Circuit previously. Both made such an impression and are still so well loved and respected that when the church could not find a local UK minister, a call was made to NZ. The people embraced Judy and me with the same warmth and love.
I would encourage any minister who is given the opportunity to serve in another country to grab the opportunity with open arms. If our experience is anything to go by, it will be a highlight of your call to serve God.
It was also a very good time for me to reassess my retirement years. When I retired in 2016 I took on far too much. I was as busy as I ever was in parish ministry. On return home I have stepped back from some of the responsibilities I had. One quickly realises that the window of opportunity to ‘play’ is short. I still hope to be very active at 75, but I know I may not be as able as I am at 65. These early retirement years are my time to give back to family and special people who stood by me, supported me and sacrificed for me, enabling me to serve the church through forty years.