I believe that full time ministry is more a function of practicalities than a calling. It is not a status or promotion, but a necessity when it is not possible to carry out what God has called us to without devoting more time than is possible while pursuing a secular job. Twice God had spoken to me about being in ‘full time ministry’; once when I was 9 years old and again in 1974 while leading a research team in a paediatric hospital. I mentioned this to Terry in 1978 in a crowded context. He did not respond so I assumed that he had not heard and I did not repeat myself. However, I was later to discover that it had registered, as we shall see!
Downs Bible Week
In 1979 God led us to launch the Downs Bible Week. Bible Weeks are peculiarly British events where thousands of Christians spend a week camping in some location and being built up in their faith through times of worship, teaching and fellowship. In that first year we gathered 2900, a large number at that time. By the time God told us to close it in 1988, when he told us to ‘take the Downs to the nation’, resulting in a tour of 16 cities with a conference entitled Enjoying God’s Grace (the EGG tour!), the Downs Bible Week had grown to 8500 across two weeks.
At the second ‘Downs’ the main speaker, Bryn Jones, a pioneer to whom we owe so much, exhorted Terry to consider starting a team ministry, an apostolic team (‘apostle’ was a whispered word in those days!), to share the growing demands upon him and to complement his gifting. Through the summer Terry prayed, a hallmark of his life.
At the end of August he wrote to six of us inviting us to work with him in this proposed team ministry. In my case he reminded me of the sense of calling I had told him about a few years earlier (so he had heard!) and asked if I would be his administrator. I can only assume that he was happy with the way I helped run the Downs! ‘I don’t know what an administrator does’, he said, ‘but I know I need one’. ‘Well, I don’t know either’, was my response, ‘but “yes”’. And so, in July 1981 I left my research post and, in November, my family and I moved to Hove to be near him. We joined the church Terry had helped Henry Tyler and David Fellingham to plant in 1978 as the Brighton and Hove Christian Fellowship which, by then, had been renamed.
The BHCF moved into a building in Clarendon Villas, Hove, in 1979 where about 20 people had been meeting as Clarendon Church. The building had been founded as a ‘mission to the poor of Hove’ in 1883 and had a substantial building in which 1000 people regularly met for prayer and Bible study. What a heritage we have! This continued until the mid-1930s, when the founder died. The children’s Sunday School outing numbered 1200! But sadly, by 1979 those heady days had long since passed.
Numbers grew steadily and by the time Janita and I joined in November 1981 there were 200 members. After sitting in elders’ meetings to serve Terry for several months I was invited to become an elder, a role I fulfilled for nearly twenty five years. (I was also chair of trustees for over thirty years). That eldership body was a wonderful team to be part of with great friendships and a lack of competitiveness, every person contributing to discussion out of their particular gifting. By the time I resigned (I was away overseas too much to be effective as an elder) that team had contributed over 150 years of eldership to the church!!
Next time I will reflect on the early growth.