The John Rylands Library on Manchester’s Deansgate is one of the great libraries of Britain and is full of wonderful treasures. One of its ‘jewels’ is Bodmer Papyrus 52, which contains the words of John 18.31-33, 37-38, and dated around 125 AD is the oldest piece of the New Testament in the world. On display too are a host of illuminated medieval manuscripts along with a 1476 William Caxton edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The library also hosts the archives of the Methodist Church and has arguably the greatest collection of documents relating to the birth and development of Nonconformity. Hence my pleasure when I was told that my book This is My Story: a story of life, faith and ministry (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon 2018 – and available worldwide through Amazon) had been “accessioned, catalogued, and added to stock within Special Collections”, for it is an “interesting and useful addition to our Non-Conformist collections”. The fact is that, as a retired Cambridge professor of modern church history commented,” the 20th century almost saw the demise of ministerial biographies and autobiographies, but they remain valuable sources for historians”.
But This is My Story is more than a resource for historians. As the cover blurb states, ‘This is a book for pastors – and for any Christian – who want the “inside story” of the pains and triumphs of a Christian leader’. In writing the book I had hoped that it would prove to be an inspiration and encouragement to ministers in general.
One surprise, however, has been the widespread appreciation of This is My Story by lay-people outside the Baptist denomination. A Crown Court judge wrote: “I have just finished TIMS with immense enjoyment – and profit. I’m not sure I have ever read a more candid, honest, frank and interesting account of a life and career in ministry. Quite fascinating!” The Master of my old Cambridge College said he was ordering copies for his family. The head master of my old school emailed to say he “felt so moved by God’s Spirit on reading Appendices 3 and 4 particularly”!
In addition, a lot of positive feedback about This is My Story has come from ministers’ families – their wives and their children. The wife of an independent pastor commented:
It is a masterpiece of learned wisdom shared with humility and grace acquired in the fiery furnace of affliction yet tempered with the joys of serving, studying and sharing life with a colourful collection of God’s people – some easy to love and some ‘slippery little suckers’ who were a challenge to greet with a brotherly kiss!
A bishop’s son wrote:
You and I inherited our vocation with our DNA, and you have been faithful to that in a remarkable way. I have hugely enjoyed ‘This is my story’: the standard you have set us, but also your honesty in sharing it.
I had some great comments from fellow ministers too, including a fellow Baptist author who wrote:
Your account breathes sincerity, honesty and generosity as well as being – the prime requirement for a memoir – interesting. Congratulations!
Yet, despite these kind comments and some remarkably positive reviews in Christian Today and the Baptist Times, I am only personally aware of some 270 copies having been sold (although perhaps at the end of the year I will be in for surprises once I receive the official figures). I am delighted that This is my Story is now to be found in many libraries – perhaps as many as 20. But I had hoped for a greater take-up by individuals. However, religious book-selling is in decline. There are fewer and fewer Christian bookshops. Christian publishers reflect the trend: for the most part their focus is on ‘big names’ and they tend to concentrate on a narrow range of text-books and of books dealing with contemporary ethics. Perhaps I should be young and trendy – although I am not sure that is much help for writing an autobiography! Alternatively, if I want to sell a book, I should deny some cardinal principle of the Christian faith or run off with the archbishop’s wife! Or maybe I should have written my autobiography while I was still the minister of a church – then all the members might have wanted a copy!
Still, the fact is that the initial inspiration in writing This is My Story was to provide a tale for my seven (now eight) grandchildren and to share with them my Christian faith – and in that respect I have succeeded. Nonetheless, if through this somewhat self-indulgent blog a few more copies were to be sold, that would be even better!