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Sabbatical reflections:  discerning God’s will

Dear Friends,

When I went on sabbatical the theme that really caught my imagination was the issue of ‘discernment’– how do we know God’s guidance? What I would like (if I’m honest) is a neon sign.  And sometimes this happens (as when I married Suzanne).  But usually that isn’t the way that God communicates his will.  Usually it’s an unfolding journey, a mixture of answered prayer, scriptural insight, wisdom of friends/ co-workers, circumstance and gut-feeling. Often definitive clarity only comes in retrospect.  At the time of choosing, God’s will often feels like a leap of faith (which is, I suppose, what it should be considering that we are a people defined by our faith in God – Hebrews 11:6).

What my sabbatical did was to provide opportunity to prayerfully reflect upon my life, the experience of my family and church life at Christ Church.  My sabbatical gave me the time to ask ‘where is God in all of this?’ and ‘in what direction is God calling us (as a Church) and us (as the Buchanan family) to go in?’  I was struck by a number of points:

  • Development in Christ Church over the last two years – Changes in the composition our congregation mean that we are now a more diverse, healthy and sustainable community.  The development of leadership and the greater use of gifts (e.g. preachers/leaders). This was particularly in evidence whilst I was away.
  • Family circumstance – When I was away I became forcefully aware of the high cost to the family of living in the present Vicarage.  Two years ago the diocese announced that our present Vicarage was not a fit place to bring up a family (and we would have to agree with them).  Combination of local circumstance (lack of privacy/overlooked, violent incidents, constant noise) + accommodation (too small and falling apart). Returning home I became convinced that, after 7 years, this situation was no longer sustainable.  At the same time I was aware of the curious inability of the diocese to provide another Vicarage.  I say curious because, although the dioceses have problems with communication, they have not shown any lack of will.  I’m convinced that they would have bought a particular house on Lumley Rd if the independent surveyors report hadn’t made that impossible.

So, in the light of all of this, what is God calling us to do?  Whilst I was away on Sabbatical, with the time to pray and reflect on all of this Suzanne and I felt it was time to seriously explore whether God was prompting us to move – and the only way to do this was to apply for new posts.

And so pleading that God would give us discernment I applied for two posts, one in Jersey and another in Ruddington just outside Nottingham.  Although short-listed for Jersey, closer examination revealed that this just wasn’t the place for us, and so I withdrew my application.  This left St. Peter’s Ruddington.  I was called to interview and was offered the post.

I can’t tell you how much distress Suzanne and I went through as we tried to discern what we should do! On the one hand, we didn’t want to leave Christ Church, our family.  But on the other we knew that, if present circumstances remained the same, we couldn’t stay.  And it was as we prayed that a picture jumped into my head – that of a bird being pushed from the nest.  I suppose the analogy works both for myself and Christ Church.  Christ Church is my first experience of church leadership.  Here God has provided a safe place for me to learn.  But now it is time for me to leave the nest.  Also Christ Church is now no longer the new, tiny, fragile congregation that it once was – and my discernment is that God is going to take you new places (you are being pushed from the nest too).  I believe that, in his grace, God will provide a new leader, with new vision and a different spectrum of gifts in order to achieve this.  The text that accompanied the picture was from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

So, knowing that we couldn’t stay and believing that God was prompting us to leave, Suzanne and I decided to accept the post, that we believe God has opened up for us, at St Peter’s Ruddington.

Please be assured that the decision to move was only reached after much prayer and serious thought.  It wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration to say that we find the prospect of moving heartbreaking.  And yet, as we believe this is God’s will, this should also be a time of looking to the future with excitement.

I know that this is a lot to take in! Praise God we will still have Christmas together.  My last service will not be till the 26th Dec and I hope to be licensed at St. Peter’s on Mon 31st Jan 2011.

Yours in Christ,

Andrew Buchanan

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