Rev'd John Richardson who went to join the Lord today March 31st 2014I first encountered John Richardson as I took my angst to the internet, launching a blog in June 2008, One thousand, four hundred and eighty two posts ago.
John Richardson September 2013 'How the strategy goes Part 2": The pastor must lead and lead people into leadership...It's about deliberate, person-centred, goal-orientated, equipping and empowering ministry that produces people that in themselves have a ministry to others.
John Richardson quickly became a conversation partner of mine. I read and re-read his blog as I came to understand the more conservative evangelical position on women's ministry as I was discerning call to the Anglican church. Of course, on the way, I encountered his writings on diverse issues too.
I even sent John my first ever theological college essay draft and he wrote some wise words of guidance regarding its content and told me he would probably award it a pretty average 2:1 if he were marking it. This was indeed the mark it did receive.
Our relationship began to change as I found myself moving from a place of theological wrestling on the women in ministry issue to acceptance of the other viewpoint because it was expressed with such grace and conviction; such personal theological integrity, by John.
On Thursday 10th July, 2008, John admitted that I was the first to 'out' him on his blog - his news was that from a week Saturday, his 58 years a bachelor would come to an end and he was to be married. I was thrilled for him. We had both recognised ourselves in the cartoon that he had posted on his blog, which gave rise to my asking him whether he was married or not. See cartoon here.
That cartoon also revealed the time-wasting that can occur amongst evangelicals who become overly concerned by those differences between them on secondary issues, when there is just far more important stuff upon which to concentrate. It was this stuff that then began to characterise John's blog: Ugley Vicar, more often. The subsequent book he wrote, which launched a network and an Anglican conference, highlighted just how much he cared about the Church of England.
Once I entered ordained ministry, I began to realise that in such a broad church, people like John Richardson would become some of my most significant prayer and learning partners and when he wrote A Strategy that changes the Church of England, I devoured it hungrily.
In this book he calls Anglican evangelicals everywhere to set aside their own divisions and instead develop a strategy for converting the denomination into a tool for evangelism.
On hearing that he had launched AEJCC, I wrote to him and asked whether it would be appropriate for me to come and spend time with him and those with whom he connected on such primary issues. This was the Anglican Evangelical Junior Clergy Conference, which was rather a mouthful and became in turn JAEC (pronounced affectionately Jake) - Junior Anglican Evangelical Clergy. I went and at first I was the only ordained woman there. This photograph was taken.
On May 16th 2013, I took part in a consultation as a representative of JAEC concerning the future of CEEC at All Souls Langham Place, London.
I then went on to JAEC's next conference and was deeply impacted by John's delivery of the personal epiphany he'd had, that people are brought to Christ far more effectively through our pastoral care of them than through pulpit proclamation. This was a brave move for John and he expressed himself persuasively with that real fervour for a life submitted to Christ, that so characterised him.
(John's words on pastoral ministry: "It is not preaching, alone...that changes things. It has made me reassess "What is pastoral ministry?" It is not only about comforting people in their troubles.")
John had a huge impact on my faith and development as a minister. I remember on first meeting him, having known him only before in 'blog-land,' how graceful he was. He shook my hand with the slight tremor that even then made me worry for his health.
In October of 2013, he asked if at the next JAEC conference in 2014 I would speak to the gathered there about funeral ministry. I said I really appreciated being asked and would confirm with him this Spring, once I knew what my future held, coming to the end of curacy as I was.
John had challenged my thinking in those early days of my discerning call, he had then fed my appetite for engaging with scripture and then, here he was, just a while ago, showing such support for my ministry, asking me to come and share the little wisdom I have with other junior evangelicals at the September 2014 JAEC conference. He really was a pastor in the ways he describes in his talk above.
When I heard at the beginning of the year that he was unwell, I felt hugely burdened to rally prayer and did so through social media and also prayed for him when ever I could, asking others to pray too. I knew that there was something going on here for me too, I had not known him hugely well: I wasn't a neighbour, I hadn't visited his house at any time or become acquainted with his family, but this man had deeply impacted my faith and taken a general interest in my well-being and my ministry in the Anglican Church.
There was perhaps something a little father-like about him too, my own dad having the vulnerabilities of Multiple Sclerosis and a physique, age and beard, even, comparable to the Rev John Richardson. I am self-aware enough to know that I bring other things to my grief. I do nevertheless feel so sad today at the loss of this man, both for myself, and moreover, for the church. At the same time, I imagine the joy he now knows and the certainty he had about where he was headed. I hear the rejoicing in heaven that he is finally home and no longer an alien in this world.
I will forever be grateful to the Reverend John Richardson for the impact that he had on my life and faith.
I will end with some of John's words from the opening address that he gave at the first JAEC conference that he convened:
The Church of England is still viable. It still has thousands of minister and hundreds of thousands of members. Its parishes cover the entire nation and in some areas, particularly in the countryside, it is the only remaining visible Christian presence.
It is worth fighting for!
Evangelicals ought to be at the forefront of evangelism. It is only a ministry which seeks conversions that deserves the label ‘evangelical’. But they ought also to be aiming at nothing less than making the Church of England itself ‘evangelical’. If we are content to thrive in our small corner whilst the national Church remains indifferent to the task of evangelism, we truly care neither for our own beliefs nor for the people of our nation as a whole. In the words of Christ to the Church at Sardis, it is time to “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2).
Let us then endeavour, now and in the coming months, to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
11 July 2011