Today’s question is – why do we find ourselves at St Paul and St Stephen, Gloucester.
The answer to this goes back at least to 2012. In March 2012, I had an interview for a job in Gloucester. I felt excited about the job, but a little daunted. I didn’t have the inner city experience that one of the other candidates had, so I was not completely confident.
After the interview my wife and I met up for a coffee in town. We were mulling over how we felt about the job, and about Gloucester. I was pretty sure that I would take the job if I was offered it, but there was a little bit of doubt at the back of my mind. I said “what we need is a white van with a sign on the side to come round that corner.” Literally at that very moment, a white van went by, and the sign on the side said “Evans Preservation!”
We looked at each other and though – what does that mean. It could be that we would be preserved by not getting the job, or that we would get the job and it would be OK. Whatever it meant, we felt that God was looking after us.
As it happened, I didn’t get the job. I came a ‘close second.’ (I did get another job at a church in Hertfordshire very soon after, but that’s another story).
Anyway … the whole point of telling this story is to say that although I didn’t get the job in Gloucester, we felt an affinity for the city as we wandered round on the day of my interview. So when I was coming up to retirement age a few years afterwards, we remembered how much we had felt drawn to the city, and started looking for houses in Gloucester. (How we found the house is also another story).
So here we were, in 2018. We moved in on May 15th, and straightaway started thinking about church, and where we would worship. Although not brought up in the Church of England, we had been worshipping in C of E churches for 30+ years, and I had been a vicar for 20+ of those! So we trawled round the Anglican churches within a mile or so of our house to see what they were like.
Being a city, there were quite a few to choose from – in all we visited 5 plus the cathedral. None of them actually felt like ‘home’ which made it hard to decide. There were three within a 20 minute walk of our house, so any of them might have worked from a practical point of view.
On Sunday 5th August, we were at the church closest to home- St Paul and St Stephen. As the one closest to home, we had been there a few times. Ruth, the vicar was talking about the Gospel reading in John chapter 6. Jesus had done the miracle with bread and fish and fed a crowd of people, but still they didn’t seem to get him and his mission. They come looking for him and asking for a sign. So he said to them ‘What have I just done for you ? And what MORE do you want ?’
At that moment we both independently thought that this was God speaking to us. It was as though God was saying – ‘Look at what I have done for you. You’re looking for a sign to help you decide where to worship. You wanted to live near a city centre, and you’re 15 minutes walk away. You wanted to live in a Victorian semi, and that’s what you got! You wanted to be able to walk everywhere and you’ve got a doctor’s surgery just round the corner. There’s a garage round another corner 2 minutes walk away. So you can get your health problems seen to, and you can get the car fixed without going more than a couple of hundred yards. What more do you want ? Why are you looking for a sign ? WHY WOULD I NOT ALSO GIVE YOU A CHURCH ON YOUR DOORSTEP ?!
And logically that was absolutely true. Going to this church would give us the opportunity to worship right in the heart of our community, which we have done for the last 20+ years. So we took this as a sign from God that this was where God wanted us. Looking back on the last two years, we know that it has been the right decision. That’s not to say it’s always been easy. Apart from anything esle it’s hard going from being the vicar to being a member of a congregation. As a vicar, when you move to a new church, everyone knows who you are – you have a ready made community, and you’re immediately a part of that community, as well as being the vicar.
As newly retired people, we came to St Paul and St Stephen almost anonymously. No one knew us, no one knew all the things we had experienced in life and in church life. So in some ways it’s been hard. But that Sunday in August nearly two years ago reminds us that we had a definite call to this parish, and so we continue to seek God day by day as we live and serve in this community.