So what's the story?
Chris Sandy of the Southend and Leigh circuit tells of his first three years in ministry in the UK.
Coming to Southend and Leigh Circuit in August of 2016 was the reality of a dream come true but with a bit of trepidation and excitement at the same time. It was like going into uncharted territory not knowing what will unfold; but the initial support of the circuit team and the unflinching oversight of my Superintendent gave me the reassurance that it shall be well.
In no time, the reality of my new context started unfolding in a variety of ways; i.e. 'we do not understand your accent', 'you are speaking too fast or too loud', 'you have to be careful with your choice of hymns', or 'we were shocked to get a Black Minister, because we’ve never had one in the past', among others. As these patterns emerged all around, I became more self-aware with a stint of unhappiness and suspicion on both sides. The first six months to a year was tough but you know what! I resolved to press on towards the goal for the prize of my high calling in Jesus (Phil 3:14).
Relationship and Trust
I resolved to take a step back, reflectively analysing human behaviour and patterns, with a view to enhance my understanding of my congregations with their different characteristics. If I were to take them spiritually and theologically from where they were to where they should be, we would need to work together to build a better relationship and trust. We needed to explore and allow an enculturation shift from being inward-looking to outward-looking; from being self-centred to community-focused with an awareness of the otherness of the others, and from being carnally-minded to spiritual-mindedness.
Experiencing a paradigm shift from ‘we like it this way or we’ve always done it this way’ to embracing new ways and thoughts was not an easy feat, but we did it. Martin Wellings once surmised that, ‘when we understand our Methodist roots, we can better see where God is leading us'.
Challenges and Research
The challenges myself and the churches experienced became a causative factor for my enquiring mind to start asking questions leading to my PhD research project. I have started with the question: ‘how can the Methodist Church in Britain better prepare Black African and Afro-Caribbean migrant ministers to better integrate and serve in an all-White context and how can an all-White congregation better respond to the diversity and difference for a cohesive and inclusive church?’
Rowan Williams argues that ‘we don’t have a single grid for history; we construct it when we want to resolve certain problems about who we are.’ Understanding our identity and heritage is paramount, but being able to reflectively meditate and recognise what is happening in our church in the light of God’s mission is the key to telling our stories.
This is my quest, and this is my story, so help me God.