As I’ve got to know a few Methodist ministers and their families, I’ve wondered at what effect of the regular moving has on them. Here Dave Faulkner, a Methodist minister, gives us a window into the itinerant ministry – and how in the midst of it he’s found his home.
“Dad, I never knew there were poor areas of London. I thought London was wealthy.”
“Son, welcome to where I grew up.”
My son Mark was eleven. We had just got out of White Hart Lane train station, and were walking to White Hart Lane the football stadium to watch our beloved Tottenham Hotspur cause untold misery later that afternoon for Manchester United.
Tottenham Hotspur is my last remaining connection with my upbringing, a mile or so north of the ground in nearby Edmonton. I have no remaining friends or relatives living there.
That part of north London is nothing like Surrey, where I now live with my family. You can justifiably prefix much of Surrey with the adjective ‘leafy’: we are surrounded by heathland, making it a wonderful place to raise a dog.
Back home, you tried to find a good comprehensive school. Here, many people think nothing of sending their children into private education. ‘Is the Gospel against Surrey?’ asked one of my colleagues. Er, yes, I think it might be.
What took me away from urban London? Answer: studying Theology as a mature student, and becoming a Methodist minister. I infiltrated an Anglican theological college in Bristol to explore my calling, take my first degree, and run the Free Church Liberation Front. Having settled on the ordained ministry of the denomination in which I grew up, Methodism sent me to a college in a deprived area of Manchester for three years of re-indoctrination.
Leaving college, Methodist presbyters and deacons are ‘itinerant’. We are under the discipline of our Conference, which reserves the right to station us where we are most needed. So I have ministered in middle-class Hertford, the economically depressed Medway Towns, loadsamoney Chelmsford, and now – yes – leafy Surrey. Our daughter and son were born in Medway, but we left there when Rebekah was two and Mark was one. (Ask our children where they’re from, and they’ll give our current address, and add, “But really I’m from Gillingham,” even though they barely remember it.)
Itinerancy is justified on the grounds that Jesus and Paul had itinerant ministries, and so they did. But at the same time, we learn from Jesus the importance of incarnation. The doctrine of the incarnation is too important to be limited to Christmas. ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,’ writes John. It’s critical for Christians to be rooted in an area, where they are known and can be a witness.
What itinerancy denies me is that rootedness of incarnation. The congregations know we’re moving on after a certain number of years. It exacerbates an ‘us and them’ relationship. I don’t know where home is anymore. I think that’s why following my football team is still important to me: it reminds me of where I came from.
In ten years’ time or so, I shall be retired, and I look forward to the opportunity Debbie and I will have to put down roots together in a community. But I can’t be satisfied with that. Christians have a longing for what Augustine of Hippo called ‘the city of God’. And we have already come there, in one sense. For as the writer to the Hebrews puts it:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
The church, then, is meant to be a sign of what it is to be home in an ultimate sense. I wonder what we do to make sure that the fellowship of the church is home for us?
But until that day arrives in all its fulness, one more time: “Come on you Spurs …”
Dave Faulkner is a Methodist minister in Surrey. He is married with two children. He enjoys digital photography and creative writing. His latest blog project is at www.confessionsofamisfit.com.