Last Saturday in Howick

It is with some nostalgia that I awoke this morning. Its Saturday and our last one in Howick. The Manse is beginning to look empty as we get ready for our move. Today we will collect my desk and books from the study at the church and clean up my toolshed at home. I’m not much of a handyman – kind of missed out on that from the family gene pool. My dad and brothers were both engineers. I think I inherited the philosophical side from my mum.

Last Sunday’s farewell service at church was amazing. I had given my 38 favourite hymns to the musicians and they chose 16 of them, grouping them to fit with the progress of the service. I had not wanted the service to focus on us, nor on our ministry here, but rather to give glory to God for the way He has moved in the congregation. Each ministry and some individuals were recognised for their faithfulness to God’s calling. At the end we had everyone come up on stage – I told them that it was for a group photograph but I really wanted to say to them that THEY were the church, not the one who stands in the pulpit each Sunday. I think that everyone got the message …. Will post photos when I get them.

I received the following email this week from one of the members of our congregation. He is a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in South Africa and retired Professor from the Theology Faculty at Rhodes University in Grahamstown where most of our student ministers train. Calvin was the Interim Moderator at Upper Umgeni at the time of my Call and also Moderator of the Presbytery. Here’s what he said:

Dear David,

As you will discover, this chronicle has been compiled between the 4th and 30th June.  It does not cover the time in Presbytery before I withdrew from regular attendance at Presbytery in which you eventually cleared the difficulties associated with Mpopomeni.  So it is about our extremely positive experiences as members of the congregation under your leadership.

1. Thank you for your handling of this morning’s ‘fraternal’.  That it would be your last put pressure on a plan I sketched awhile ago of setting down how I’ve benefited in the nearly three years we’ve been in the UUPC congregation.  As I said at the Fellowship, there is no telling how God may use a ‘Fraternal’ when they are showing unity, and also that there is something deeply dysfunctional in a community where ‘brethren’ (and these days ‘sisters’ as well) do not meet with one another for the four great Pentecostal pillars: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.  UUPC’s initiative here makes it so easy for newcomers to meet their colleagues.

2. To arrive in Amberglen and within a couple of weeks of applying for membership to receive a visit from elders who not only talked with us but also read scripture and prayed was a heartening introduction.  The visitors showed that they were ‘not ashamed of the gospel’ and were willing to share it with a retired minister and an elder of 33 years’ standing.

3. To come into a congregation where home groups were functioning has helped the process of settling immeasurably.  I’ve battled a reputation of being ‘formidable’ and the group was prepared to accept my request that I was there to learn how ‘autodidacts’ (as my father was) hear the Word from the words.  Since two of the group have since been elected to the eldership, another’s son was featured in your recent ‘Cutting edge conference’ and the leader of the group (Neil Murray) has wide ranging experience of the Spirit’s working, the group has had an immensely beneficial experience in helping me understand many things about the NT: how ‘narrative theology’ can lead into therapeutic, and why so much is written in Koine and not in classical Greek.  This would facilitate a world mission to those whose home language was not Greek.  Translators the world over are free for local idiomatic translations for contemporary use.

4. It has been such a blessing to have attended your Wednesday Bible study.  Your careful preparation (including the use of IT to keep up to the minute in scholarship) has been hugely profitable.  I have been thrilled to watch how members have grown bolder in their participation through both prayer and comment.  This ‘boldness’ is surely one of the marks of the Spirit at work in deepening koinonia.

5. Similarly with the ‘Music group’.   In so many ‘choirs and places where they sing’, an underlying competitive spirit opens the door to the demonic. Here the ‘musical group’ gave such a warm welcome to this new member who wanted to learn the new language of praise they used.

6.  We were so intrigued about Sunday lunch that we came to see how it ran.  Fiona and Joy Anderson were just leaving the premises and offered to share with us the portions they were taking home!  Here was somewhere we could help: I had earned meals at Princeton as part of the kitchen team in the Calvin Warfield Club.

7. As an ‘alumnus’ of Amberglen’s Frail Care, I came to know how highly the staff appreciates Jenny’s Pastoral Teams’ visits.  That you took time out to visit me when you had so much else to attend to, was also a blessing.  At the time, you were coping with a major transition in your family’s lives.  This put my little visit to a foreign land into perspective.  By then I could appreciate the visits as coming not from ‘duty’ but from a precious friendship.

8. That the congregation had adopted (under your inspiration) Jesus’ foot-washing of his disciples was also deeply meaningful.  Every generation has to face this challenge for itself: on the way to the death of a slave, Jesus does slave’s work which his principal disciples had refused to do.  Here is the source that can cleanse all power from its otherwise inevitable abuse.  His subsequent command to ‘love one another’ is shaped by ‘as I have loved you’.  It is the test of the degree of liberation and hence the profoundest challenge to the ex-slave continent.

9. It was good of you to entrust that group of 8 yuppies to us in the last Alpha course.  It was a tightly knit group that met regularly and one of the disappointments was how it disintegrated after the course.  Yet we can all rejoice in the impetus it gave Alex and Tamlin Jenkins.

10,  Including us in your Cutting Edge Conference when you headed up the Church Growth Division of the Church was a huge plus.  Nearly all the other participants were ministers who had picked up their education from other sources than Rhodes, mostly through part-time study.  Once again, I learned much about what was practically useful in development and training.  A major disappointment at Rhodes was how little use was made of the beautiful chapel.   We always struggled to find a ‘convenient’ time for corporate worship in the residence.

11.  Then there was the prophetic mantle you tossed to Graham and me at the General Assembly through your role as Moderator’s Chaplain.  On reflection it seems that the church, being prepared as the bride of the King, has so much to learn about her bridegroom.  His will is that we should show the supernatural unity made possible through his life in us, the holiness which is his gift to us, the sweep of his universal rule, and our willingness to be sent to the oddest parts for his sake – which with due deference to your move, you have done.

Today’s post brought a registration form for the forthcoming Ministers’ conference.  The last Assembly gave evidence of how much repentance, healing, renewal and restoration is needed,  Where our communion liturgies have ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ it is easy to forget that the reference is past, present and future: think instead ‘with me in mind’, where we remember what he has done, is doing and still will do.

12. Isaiah 55 contains so many things related to prophetic ministry.  There are the wonderful certainties that once spoken, his Word will not return ‘empty’ but will accomplish the purposes for which it was spoken.  At the same time, there is the all too essential reminder of the difference between the prophet’s existence and the one who sends: ‘My thoughts (not yet formed into ‘words’) are not as yours; neither are my ways yours’.  Given our innate tendency to ‘take over’ from God, the maintenance of that difference is always indispensable.  How hard it is to remain consistently ‘a servant of the Word’ while at the same time also being the friend to whom he reveals all that the Father has given him.

Even after 7 months I am still coming to terms with the implications of my fall.  (The Fall?)  It’s been a gradual process, most of which has happened since our move here, and an accumulation of ‘losses’; physical handicaps that have affected other activity.  Your patient ministry to me under these circumstances has meant much and I sense that in praying for you during this time, I was praying for someone with similar commonalities: the drain of waiting for others to act, time in hospital, and the prospect of having to build new friendships with those whose lives have been markedly different.

Whether or not you feel that closeness is not so important – it may be another of the things God has done which he keeps hidden from the ‘doer’ for his own reasons.  But I want to put it on record by thanking you for your steady ministry that has given fresh meaning to the tough texts like ‘my strength is made perfect in weakness’, or ‘ I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content.’

13. Sunday’s service was one that will challenge even those headed for Alzheimer’s.  By associating us with what we were doing in the congregation as well as with what the congregation had been called to do, you showed where there were possibilities for further growth.

So dear friends, as you go from us, we shall remember you: past, present and future with thanksgiving.

My father often signed of his letters to me with the Spanish ‘Go with God’.  That’s the incredible, impossible and inscrutable possibility att the heart of our gospel – so Vady con Dios

With love and thanks,


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