Joshua (1)

Looking back, it seems quite normal to have been born “about” twenty-four years of age. But in another sense very little changed. I had all the memories of the first twenty-four years of life, but now I had the realisation of God’s presence; God was well and truly part of my life. Indeed a relationship with God was no longer a distant hope, it was now a reality. Having said that, I can’t really remember when exactly it all happened—and I know that’s a common experience. All I know was that “about” the age of twenty-four I was born into God’s kingdom.

Now to start with very little changed. Yes, I got the urge to worship God, and on a regular basis. I also found the need to learn more about him. But much of my life continued on as though nothing much had changed. Indeed work continued on as usual, and my relationship with my family and friends didn’t change much either.

However little by little things did change. Because bit by bit I became increasing dissatisfied with the work that had previously engaged me so well. Indeed I loved work—it was the thing that kept me going; working as an insurance broker I found engaging and fulfilling. And that was particular so in an age where the old practices were falling away, and where new innovative ways of providing cover were coming into favour. Nevertheless slowly but surely I began to lose interest. Furthermore, my interest in climbing the rungs of success with the company that I worked for, slowly ceased to be a priority.

Now although I cannot pinpoint a particular day or time when this all happened, I can look back and acknowledge that it did occur. Looking back now, the change was obvious. Church became far more important than work, and a relationship with God became far more important that climbing the rungs of success.

It’s not surprising then to look back and to remember getting into the habit of attending church every Sunday without fail. And indeed, even though I was probably too old, joining a youth group, that met in the Rectory on Sunday nights, so I could get that additional teaching.

However, about twelve months after having become a Christian, I returned to what had been my homeland for a four week holiday. It was Christmas time, and it was the one time of the year that my mother was likely to see one of her siblings. As a family we had never seen much of our uncles and aunts. But this particular Christmas we visited an uncle and aunt who lived at a Theological college, where my uncle was a lecturer. Now my family had visited them there on several occasions, and the college had always intrigued me. So much so that I had always wanted to go on a tour of the college, but each time had always gone home disappointed.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this particular year—either on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, I can’t remember—I was invited on a personal tour. Not the rest of the family, just me alone. I was delighted. But as we went around something happened. Indeed I noticed the feeling of how at home I felt in the college. So much so that when we got to the chapel, near the end of the tour, I knew where I was going and what I was supposed to be. Not necessarily at this theological college, but at a theological college. My work was not to be insurance, but as an ordained minister of God.

So early in the new year, I returned home not knowing how it would happen, or where it would happen, or when it would happen. But I did know the distinct direction that God intended me to take.

To be continued …

Posted: 12th August 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (2)

On my return home, I was offered another job—a promotion, with the further incentive of a company car. But to take it, I would have to move again, and to another city. Now I wasn’t ready yet to plunge myself into theological studies, and so I kept that a secret. But I did consider that this promotion might solve the sense of dissatisfaction that I had been feeling. As a consequence it seemed an offer to good to refuse. So I took it. Indeed at the time I don’t think that the ramifications of being a Christian had really clicked, so I grabbed on to the one tangible thing that had come my way, hoping that was the answer.

Of course the change of location, also meant a change of church, and for a while I went to the closest church to my new home—right next door. But I quickly found that church unsatisfactory, and began looking further afield until I found one I was happy to call home. And there I would have probably stayed, except I was informed that my job was about to end.

I was told the company that I worked for was rationalising their business, and there would be retrenchments offered around the country. However, they didn’t want to lose me. So they offered to pay the costs involved in return me to the original office, and they offered me a job with the same salary and conditions.

Now this was when I started to seriously question the direction I should be taking. Was it work, or was it college? The thought of theological college was at the very forefront of my mind, and I wondered whether this was the time for the break. I even pursued this line of enquiry by getting as much information as I could about colleges and costs. I also discovered that there was one college in particular in the city to which I had been invited to go.

The problem was, even with all this information, I still didn’t how it could all be possible. Apart from all the transport costs and the costs of setting myself up in another city, there were the course fees, and I still had to eat. But just a few days before I had to respond to the deadline for the transfer, a solution was suggested.

Indeed, I plucked up the courage to talk to my boss about the dilemma I was facing. And to my surprise it was he who came up with a solution—one I hadn’t even considered. He suggested that I take up the company’s offer, and study part-time in the evening. That way I could test my call. So that is exactly what I determined to do.

Before I went, though, I had some very important conversations. I talked to the rector of the church that I had been attending about what I was planning; I also talked to my previous rector. Both were very encouraging. Indeed, both suggested that before I went, I should talk to the Diocesan bishop about being considered as a candidate for ordination. And I took up their suggestion.

Needless to say I was very nervous when I approached the bishop’s door for our meeting. But as it happened I had no need to be. He was very gracious, and before what seemed no time at all, I was leaving his office knowing full well that if all went well in my first year of part-time study, and if I still felt the same, I would be accepted as a candidate for ordination.

So ten months after having accepted promotion, I was off again. And a new adventure was about to begin.

To be continued …

Posted: 14th August 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (3)

My return to the big smoke was in many ways a bit of a culture shock. I had returned to the office where I had started when I first moved to this part of the world. But the office had since been relocated to another part of the city, and the technology used was very different to that used in the other offices. The feel of the office was consequently very different to what I had expected. But my interests had changed from when I had worked there before too.

I found a flat close to where I wanted to study, and only a short tram ride to work. I then enrolled myself in two units of Old Testament studies. Tuesday nights was Old Testament 1 and Thursday nights was 1 & 2 Samuel. Now, apart from Sunday School stories, I knew nothing about the Old Testament. But the lecturer brought his subject alive, and I became totally enthralled in this new learning.

Not surprisingly, old temptations came my way; temptations to revert to previous practices. And it was complicated through not being able to find a church I could call home. Nevertheless I felt God’s hand steering me in the right direction. Work was difficult too, but only because I found myself marking time—ticking off the days—until I made the expected change. But, finally, the first year of studies was over, and exams completed, and it was time to reapproach the bishop regarding the ordained ministry.

Now I never expected it to be easy to be accepted as a candidate for ordination; indeed I expected there would be large hoops to jump through. But to my surprise that didn’t happen. I flew over for the meeting, talked with the bishop, and an hour later our meeting was over—and I had been officially accepted. Furthermore, although it was quite normal at the time for ordinands to complete only two years theoretical training, I asked if I could do three years—so that I could include some of the practical training that was being offered too. (After all, I had only been a Christian for a short while, and had not done many of the things that others had done prior to going to college. So it seemed sensible to me to do an additional and more practical degree at the same time.) To my surprise the bishop agreed. Indeed I became the first to do the three years, which I am happy to say then became the standard for future Ordinands.

A couple of months later, then, I resigned from the job that I had once loved so much, I moved in to the college, and sat down in the lecture room as a full-time student. It was about three weeks before term was about to begin, and it was time to immerse myself in Preliminary Greek.

To be continued …

Posted: 3rd September 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (4)

To suggest that I was on a quick learning curve at college is perhaps to point out the obvious. I had not been a Christian long, and my experience in church had been limited to little more than being a pew-sitter. Nevertheless with the start of college I accepted the new learning with relish. Yes, I had difficulty in feeling comfortable in the churches I attended, but in regards to theological learning, I could not have been happier.

But perhaps, in that regard, that should not have come as any surprise. After all, one of the things that had engaged me as an insurance broker was what seemed to be the infinite number of solutions to the needs of my clients—and I was allowed to be creative. So pulling apart the bible, and trying to make sense of it, was something which engaged my imagination.

Now it is difficult to remember exactly what units I did in which year. And as I was primarily doing a two year course over three years, with extra practical subjects mixed in, that part of my story has become a little muddied. However I do remember that my first full year of college was engaged in mainly doing “Part 2’s” of subjects, rather than “Part 1’s.” So that meant in the first year I completed the “Part 2’s” of Old Testament, New Testament, and Church History, whilst leaving any study of Greek New Testament or Theology for another year.

Now the effect of starting full-time college, having already completed the first year of Old Testament, I believe, made a significant mark on my Christian journey. Indeed, in a world (and to some extent the church) which has largely dismissed the importance of the Old Testament, I learnt very early to have great regard for the books of the Old Testament. As a consequence, over the years I have increasingly grown to recognise its importance, particularly regarding teaching on the nature of God, the value of God’s rules for living, and the necessity of a good understanding of the Old Testament in order to understand the New.

At the end of the first year, then, I was hooked. As far as I was concerned I didn’t want to leave; I could have spent the rest of my life in college, learning about myself and about God. I’d learnt a lot about the faith. I’d also learnt that in order to pass the obligatory exams a lot of extra reading was required. And that was particularly true in Church History. After all, it wasn’t just me who was enthralled about something—the lecturer was. Indeed, the lecturer was so enthralled about Martin Luther that he spent more than half the academic year just on that subject alone. As a consequence there needed to be quite a bit more extra study on the other topics that made up the period from the Reformation up until the current day.

Having completed my first year successfully, the second and third years of academia sailed past. I had completed Communications, the first of my practical topics, in my first year, but as the second and third years passed more practical subjects kicked in. The problem was that some of the subjects required being attached to a particular church, but the opportunities given very much depended on the whim of the Rector. Now this didn’t bode well for me for either the topics of Preaching or for Parish and Pastoral Work. Indeed I struggled to get to either a minimum of sermons preached, or the total number of hours required to be worked.

Now in one sense that was probably good training for me for the future, particularly as I would later have to work with others, doing two two-year curacies. However, at the time, it was a bit of a struggle. Needless to say I was mighty relieved when I was finally told that I had met the criteria to pass both subjects.

At the end of the three years, then, I had not only learnt a lot more about my faith, but I had some of the practical experience that I had hoped for to prepare me for life in a parish. I was not naïve enough to think that I knew it all, but at least I was prepared to some extent for the next stage in my spiritual journey.

To be continued …

Posted: 2nd October 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (5)

Whilst I had prepared myself, to some extent, theologically and practically, I very quickly discovered that parish life was not all it should have been. Having a good solid theological background was one thing, but it was very different to the beliefs of the congregation. Yes, there were a few bright lights in each of the congregations, but nothing like the number there should have been—particularly when considering the number of years that people had attended church.

Being the new assistant, I was given the principle duties (outside of assisting in Sunday services) of pastoral visiting, being chaplain to the local hospital, and teaching scripture in the various schools. However, I was frequently told that it was good of me to visit, but where was the Rector? And going from one school to another, it became clear that the children saw Scripture lessons as having time-out from school work, rather than as an opportunity to learn about the Christian faith. As a consequence, I very quickly found myself being worn down. So much so, that one particularly night at a bible study group, where I had been asked to do a presentation on the differences between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christian Faith, I very nearly walked out. Except for the fact that somehow I knew that I shouldn’t.

Being an assistant was not an easy task, particularly because I simply got handed the jobs that the Rector didn’t want to do, or didn’t have time to do. Nevertheless I struggled on, and at the end of my two-year curacy, it was time to move on to a second two-year curacy.

Unfortunately the transition to the new parish was not as simple as I would have hoped. Indeed my new Rector-to-be had had problems with his previous assistant. So he insisted on a formal interview before accepting me as his new assistant. However having passed the test, I moved, and again took up the main role of pastoral visitor, chaplain to the local hospitals, and teaching scripture in the local school.

Now I have to say here, that I have never considered myself to be gifted in the area of pastoral care. Because despite what others have told me, that’s just not me. For sure, pastoral care is more about listening, than talking, but a conversation has to begin somewhere. And that is what I had (and still have) the most difficulty with. I’ve always seen myself as a teacher, not a carer. As a consequence I longed for the day when that would be possible.

So I didn’t find my second curacy any easier than the first. And it certainly wasn’t helped when the Rector resigned to take up another position. Because in the interregnum there were those in the parish who saw an opportunity to change things to how they wanted, before the new rector arrived.

Now that is something that no assistant should be subjected to. And he/she certainly shouldn’t be subjected to a locum who is unwilling to stand up to such people, and who meekly submits to the pressure for change. But that’s what happened, and I was the one who was expected to implement the changes. So, once again, I wondered what I was doing, and whether it was really worth what I had to go through to be a minister of God.

However, despite that, I stuck to it, and having completed two two-year curacies, it was time to move again. And, as it happened, there was a parish not too far away that was in need of my attention.

Now the parish had been struggling: the people were few in number, there were no children, and there were no activities outside of the Sunday services. But before I accepted the position, I made it clear that I would only do so on the basis that the people were prepared to move on, that the ministry style would be refocussed on families, and that the parish engage in some sort of children’s ministry. To which I received general agreement.

Of course this was a very different style of ministry to what they had been used to. But they had got to such a low ebb that something had to happen. And, as it happened, family services were introduced, a kid’s programme was begun, and a youth group was established. It was a radically different approach, but one which embraced far more people.

Unfortunately help and support was very thin on the ground. Because whilst I received a great deal of moral support from the outside community, there was a distinct lack of support from where it really mattered (i.e. within the church). And it wasn’t just my own local parish that was the problem, I received little or no support from the Diocese either. Indeed despite the fact that the monthly family service attracted far more people than the communion services, I was told that I had to restore the communion service to every Sunday morning.

So, once again, little by little, I began to be worn down. But I think I could have coped with that, except for the fact that it was compounded by an unfortunate coincidence of mental health issues—in the congregation, in the wider Christian community, and within my own family. So because of the lack of support within the church, I had to call it a day.

Despite that, I did receive some help from a Baptist friend, and I did get a visit from some local Jehovah’s Witnesses, who saw it as an opportunity to try to win me over to their cause.

To be continued …

Posted: 8th November 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (6)

Being on the outer, with very little or no support, was difficult—at least at first. Yes, I moved a short distance away from the church to which I had been attached, but the family mental health issues continued. As a consequence worship tended to swing from one church to another, and across a variety of denominations.

I began looking for work outside of the church. And several months later found myself being invited back to the industry that I had once loved. So I moved again to take up the position. Unfortunately, I quickly found that the company’s ethics clashed considerably with mine, and I was being asked to adopt some very questionable practices. So after three months, I was once again looking for work.

Despite that, bit by bit, I began to settle into a particular church, and into a style of worship that had previously been unfamiliar. Then, over time, I was asked to contribute more and more to the life of the church. Unfortunately, once again the health issue raised its head, and because of someone who should have known better, the whole situation came crashing down, and I had to start all over again.

In many ways I felt like I was wandering with Moses in the wilderness—but without the fire by night and the cloud by day. But some twelve months later, I finally won a job in a government welfare office, and moved again. The spiritual wilderness journey, though, continued, and did so for several years. In one sense I lost heart, but in another sense I somehow knew that God was with me. In many ways it was like the Theophilus years all over again. And it only really ended when I came to a decision regarding a personal relationship.

Now whatever others may say about relationships with God and other people, I was shown in a very real way that one affects the other. And as soon as I dealt with one, the other became resolved.

After that, I slowly returned to the denomination of which I had been apart, and after several months I became a regular. A short time later I left the government job, and went to work with a non-government agency helping the long-term unemployed. It was a rewarding job, but again I encountered some very unethical practices. At the same time, I began to feel God calling me back to the ministry. So I applied for a license, and found myself being invited to conduct services in a number of churches, and over a considerable distance.

Then, twelve months after having begun my new job, and having been encouraged by the many requests for help, a felt God leading me to resign from my job, and to trust that sufficient work would be offered within the church.

Almost instantaneously I was approached to do a full time locum for three months. That was then followed by a second locum for seven weeks. And when that was finished I was asked to do a third. The third was open-ended whilst they were seeking a new minister. But six months later, even though a new minister had not been found, I was offered a full-time position in another parish.

The years in the wilderness had been painful. I had wandered where I hadn’t wanted to go. Nevertheless God had seen me through, and I was about to begin a new phase in my life. And I couldn’t wait to see where it would go.

To be continued …

Posted: 10th February 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (7)

A new beginning signalled another move. So at the age of forty-eight I moved into my seventeenth home.

At the start all went well, but this was parish in which I had completed my first locum. So I must have done something right to be called back on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, after the usual honeymoon period, things started to turn sour, and I very quickly discovered the great gulf between my hopes and expectations, and theirs.

Now I had accepted the appointment on the basis that the people were willing to grow. Indeed, that they would let go of the past and try some new things to break the downward slide. Unfortunately, as time progressed, it became clear that there a group of very influential people were so wrapped up in their traditions and cultural expectations—and even their power—that the situation just wasn’t going to work. They may have told me that they wanted the parish to grow, but what they really meant was that they wanted more people to come and participate in the kind of church that they enjoyed.

So for me, the time that I spent in this parish was a bit of a spiritual struggle. There was me trying to uphold my view of God, and biblical values, whilst a small, but influential group were trying to uphold theirs. And the two views were quite different.

Fortunately for me, though, the parish was not all doom and gloom. For even in a dying church there is usually some spark of life. And this parish was no different. Indeed there were a few bright sparks who kept me going. And there were two specific things that helped me at the time.

The first was the knowledge that my ministry was about to change direction. In a sense that had begun whilst I was working at my third locum. Indeed, the idea that the bible needed to be rewritten or re-edited in some form to suit the twenty-first century reader had begun at that time. My preaching had obviously stirred some people to read their bibles from beginning to end. But invariably they got stuck half-way through the book of Exodus. So it became obvious to me, that people needed a bible they could read that included the whole text of the bible—not just a summary or a commentary—but was presented in a more twenty-first century way.

And at this point, not only did I feel the need for someone to do it, but I felt that God was telling me that I was the one. The second encouragement was that God sent me a helper. Indeed a helper who would be with me, who would encourage and be with me no matter what.

So with the combination of a parish which was unwilling to move on and grow, and the realisation that my ministry was about to change direction, I needed to move on. So that’s what I did—I moved again. This time to a place where six months later I was to be offered another appointment. However this time the appointment was part time. And this time it was with a parish that really was looking for a future. Indeed they agreed to a process of review, and willingly signed an agreement committing themselves to the process.

Now the appointment was for a fixed three-year term, with no option for an extension (to obviate deliberate delays in the process). Yes, there were pockets of resistance, and the process wasn’t helped by someone in the hierarchy of the church. Nevertheless there was a solid core who were willing to participate in the process, and as a consequence the review process was completed within the three-year fixed term.

Regarding the writing … Well it became clear to me, that even working part-time the book would take too long to complete. Indeed, that I would need to fully retire from parish ministry to complete the job. After all, part-time ministry was fine, but what part-time meant was being paid part-time, whilst working far more hours than had been agreed. In any event, it had always been my intention to fully retire after the three-years were up. So at the conclusion of this ministry I did retire. I was then in a position to fully pursue this very different form of ministry.

To be continued …

Posted: 24th February 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Joshua (8)

Retirement came easy to me. It was something that I had longed for—and for good reason. Work had been fine, and there had always been things I enjoyed doing. But there had always been an element of things I hadn’t enjoyed, but was expected to do. And sometimes I just couldn’t see the point of what I was doing. My problem was that I was brought up to question everything. And when I did, it often left others scratching their heads, wondering.

So, another move, and I was free to pursue my change in direction—translating and writing those books. And this time, I could set timeframes and deadlines of my own choosing, knowing full well that it was now completely up to me whether I met them or not.

Now I must say, I had always enjoyed writing and delivering sermons—it’s what I’d liked most about ministry. I particularly enjoyed it, because I learnt a lot about God and myself in the process. So, what I found in translating the Bible, was that I learnt a lot more. Nevertheless, the time came when the first volume was finished, and I really wondered whether I had the inner-strength to publish it.

After all, publishing any work effectively says something about the person who wrote it—whatever it is. But was I confident that I had done a good enough job? So, I hesitated, and even perhaps delayed that part of the process for a while. But in the end, I knew that the whole point was to produce the bible in a format that the modern reader could understand. So, I went ahead. And I’m glad now that I did. Because I have since been encouraged by the number of people who have read it, and have been helped by it.

However, having completed one volume (of what should be a set of five) it was then time to get on with the second. But the more I wrote the more it occurred to me that I hadn’t really retired. Yes, I was doing something that I loved, but in doing so it took up a lot of my time. Indeed, it was like a full-time job, but without a regular salary. However, I knew that what I was doing was helping others—particularly regarding their journey of faith. And wasn’t that the whole point of the exercise? So, I continued on.

Now I may have given the impression that during this period of my life I was able to write the books completely uninterrupted. However, the reality is that in order to retire I needed to move house—and I have also moved once since. Furthermore, the completion of each of the books was interrupted by me doing locums (in official and unofficial capacities) in a number of parishes. In addition, I helped out in my own home parish, and assisted other churches as I was able. Indeed, there were several instances, where I needed to get ahead in my writing schedule, so I could accommodate the requests for help in the various churches and parishes in which I became involved.

Unfortunately, fulfilling these requests was not always as straight forward as it should have been. On one occasion the accommodation was sub-standard. And on more than one occasion I was rewarded with far less than the minimum payment set by the denomination’s governing body. Now, of course, that kind of abuse did not help my spiritual walk. And, indeed, it made me wonder why I bothered at all. After all, I had plenty of work to occupy myself without these other “distractions”. And it is probably because of this that I began to re-think where I was in terms of my own spirituality, and indeed whether it was time to move on from the church to which I belonged.

Now one of the complications of my home church was that it was some distance from where I lived. When I first went there, I knew that it was the place where God had wanted me to be. But now, I felt God was calling me to worship much closer to home. So that is what I decided to do. The complication, however, was that after having made the decision to change spiritual homes, I received two requests from parishes for help. And despite earlier disappointments in regards to the way I was treated, I accepted a part-time position as locum. It was a decision that I would come to regret, and it served simply to delay me from finding a new spiritual home.

Posted: 19th March 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis