Follow me - but where Lord?
How does it feel for a wife with two young boys, recently moved house and well settled in a community, to hear her husband say God has spoken to him?
his is my third go at producing a piece for 10,000 Voices. I knew I should write something about the moment – and it was a very clear moment – when God called me to leave one life behind and trust him with another.
Yet I have found it harder to do than I thought.
At one level it is a straightforward story - man known to be committed Christian leaves to become a priest.
But there are very different takes on that headline: how does it feel for a wife with two young boys, recently moved house and well settled in a community, to hear her husband say God has spoken to him? What do colleagues think of a man who seems to be throwing away years of specialist training and an impressive CV to become a parson? What do those who could never have seen this man becoming a vicar think of such an idea? What of the man himself, who was so passionate about scientists who were Christians seeing their work as a vocation from God? What do the in-laws and out-laws make of it all?
None of these aspects were in view on the evening of Tuesday 1 September 1987 at around 8pm when I encountered God in a way which would change everything so radically.
The facts are simple. I was away with around 70 teenagers in Shropshire for the holiday which the church arranged each year. The encounter occurred during a time of silence following some praise and worship but the experience is harder to describe. I don’t know how long the silence lasted but in that stillness God met me in a way which I can only describe as both exhilarating and terrifying. It was a voice, yet not an audible one. It was a call to leave one life and begin another and effectively the question Jesus posed to all his followers, “Will you follow me?” Though it was not precisely clear to what or where, in my heart I sensed it was almost certainly to ordained ministry.
On that defining evening with its complex mix of emotions my response was simply to say I was willing with one vital rider: God needed to make this as clear to Liz as he had to me! As you might imagine, returning home and sharing this with her was not straightforward… Conversation proved strained for a number of weeks if not months. Yet Liz sensed in her soul that God was in this call, however difficult it was to work through. We kept what was happening private, sharing only with a few key Christian friends, while I had to examine at 32 whether this was a somewhat premature mid-life crisis. All of this needed plenty of time for reflection and discernment.
Four years later, with a new addition to our family in Louise, Liz and I moved to a theological college and away from the church and the people who had been such a blessing to us. Hesitantly we began a new chapter of our journey with one another and with Christ. It was a huge and emotional step.
If the idea of my becoming a vicar had been intimidating for both of us, the thought of being made a bishop would have been even more so! Following Jesus is rarely an easy road to take but time and again we have found that God is able to do so much more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3: 14-21).
It is a truth that can only be discovered when we are on that road.
Lee Rayfield is the Bishop of Swindon
Where and when are there spaces in your life to allow God to speak to you?
Leaving one way of life and beginning another can be both terrifying and exhilarating. How might faith in God help us deal with moments of change?
Meditate throughout the day
On Maundy Thursday many priests and deacons across the world will renew their ordination vows, reminding themselves of their calling to be servants of God.
All of us are called by God, and sometimes it is hard going. Think of some of those you know may be struggling with their calling, whether it be as teachers, office workers, in the military, social work, medicine, or even the church. How might you encourage them practically and prayerfully today?