Sunday, 8 March 2015

Remembering Lesslie Newbigin

Introduction to at talk given while I was in Vellore to a group of ministers ......  I want to reflect with you on the theme of leadership.  As ministers of the gospel we are called to do and to be many things.  How do we create the vision that will inspire us to achieve the ministry to which God calls us?  We are called to be pastors – to care for our people.  We are called to preach the Word and to conduct the Sacraments.  We are called to be teachers, helping our people understand the depths of the Christian Way and what the Bible says to us.  We are called to engage in mission – to tell the good news to those who don’t know it.  In England we often talk of the role of a minister as a facilitator, enabling others to play a full part in the life of the church. 
But the word I would use to sum up all of these is the word ‘leadership’.  We are called to be leaders.
When we try to think of what it means to be a good leader, it is helpful to look for examples of people we might follow.  In a conversation I had yesterday evening, I was reminded of a link I have with this part of the world which goes back way before I had any involvement with the link between Cambridgeshire Ecumenical Coucil and the Diocese of Vellore.  Many, possibly all, of you will know the name of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin.  Some of you may have met him.  When Bishop Lesslie finally returned to England after all his service in South India, he became for a while the minister of a tiny inner city United Reformed Church in Birmingham, in an area called Winson Green.  They were going to close that church until Bishop Lesslie said it mustn’t happen.  He offered to become the minister and, despite advancing years, served there through much of the 1980s.  I was not the next, but the one after that, minister of that church, serving there from 1994 to 1998.  Bishop Lesslie, of course, loved the ideas of unity that he saw formed in the Church of South India – and his hope had long been for that congregation to unite with the local Church of England congregation to form a single church.  I am delighted to say that his vision became reality during my ministry.  In January 1997 Bishop Lesslie, then living in London, came back to Winson Green in Birmingham to preach at the service at which we signed a covenant to become one.  Exactly a year later, and just days before Bishop’s Lesslie death, we did exactly that.  We closed the United Reformed building and became one church, worshipping together, doing everything together.  Sometimes, as in that example, it takes a long time for the vision to become reality – but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep working on it.

Bishop Lesslie was a great pastor, a great preacher, a great teacher, a great evangelist – and so a great example for us.

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