At the same service as Nick Mercer’s sermon, tributes were given by Paul’s children. This is Benjamin’s tribute.
Pastors Under Pressure is the title of the book I have chosen to comment on. How do pastors deal with pressure? Many years ago, there was a church-goer among my father’s flock who vitriolically attacked my father over a number of exchanges. Driven to exasperation, my father theatrically confided to one of his assistant ministers “I could practically wish that man dead”. Within 36 hours the man, who had until then enjoyed every appearance of good health, did indeed drop down dead. This was entirely co-incidental.
Providence, however, is not always so accommodating. When I was in my teens my father was appointed Principal of Spurgeon’s College which had taken him on to transform and modernise the college and to help it develop a more outward-looking perspective. This he undertook with the enthusiasm and vision that you know him for. However, many people are resistant to change. A clash of personalities with certain faculty members (such as they had personalities) made life difficult for my father. His subsequent treatment struck me at the time (and still does) as shamefully unjust.
I mention this not to focus on the injustice, but rather the impossibly forgiving and noble attitude that my father took in turning the other cheek throughout this episode. He refused to seek reparation or vindication for himself at the cost of the college, its mission and the wider church. I vehemently disagreed with this at the time. I now believe his acquiescence and forgiveness provide an unparalleled demonstration of my father’s conviction that we are justified not by what others think but rather by a higher calling. And I’m very proud of that. Leading a church, or any institution, can invite conflict but it’s with delight that I say that Central Baptist Church has provided a net abundance of support, rather than pressures, for my father. Thank you for that. I appreciate that his initial move of saying, “Let’s tear this church down and build a superbly expensive one in its place,” may not have been the most obvious first step to win that support. But generous support came nonetheless.
What pressures there have been at Chelmsford have mainly been those of time and energy. Ever since I can remember my father has used small Baptist Union diaries. Instead of the back of these diaries having country dialling codes and metric/imperial conversions, they doubtless have tables to work out how many minutes it takes to fill a baptistery of size x with a water flow of rate y. His diaries have always been fuller than any EU Working Time Directive could possibly anticipate. One of the things that our family has always appreciated is that my father has always, at the drop of a hat, crossed out and rearranged commitments whenever we’ve wanted that. While his future diaries will be far from empty, I hope he enjoys the extra white space that his retirement now gives.