IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE VERB
I HAVE served in ordained ministry in the Church of England as a parish priest for 28 years. I have had the privilege of laughing and crying and experiencing perplexity and joy alongside many people from all walks of life. If there is one quotation that encapsulates this period of time, it comes from Rev’d Dave Tomlinson’s 2012 book, ‘How to be a Bad Christian…. And a Better Human Being’. In the book Dave writes: “I think that the word ‘Christian’ is much better thought of as a verb than a noun. Jesus didn’t call people to wear a badge or join a club. He called them to follow him: to join him in spreading love and healing in the world. When we treat ‘Christian’ as a verb – a ‘doing word’ – instead of a noun, it changes everything. We stop saying ‘I am a Christian’, and start looking at how we can behave in Christian ways. The Christian faith is then seen as a spiritual practice rather than a belief system.”
As a Christian I have to admit I have inherited and passed on some incredible nouns over the years – our worship,
preaching, and prayers can easily be filled to bursting point with them. And yet, when I look back, it is probably the
times when I have dared to express my faith as a verb that remain with me most vividly. These are the times when I have
come to understand the wonder of such inherited Christian language as, ‘Incarnation’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Reconciliation’ or
‘Salvation’. No dictionary on Earth could ever do this for me in quite the same way.
Perhaps now more than ever, being a Christian verb (as opposed to being a verbal Christian), is the one gift we can offer to an anxious, broken, beautiful world. That is the thought I take with me as I move on to become chaplain at the College of St. Barnabas, Lingfield. A place where I am eager to learn from the residents and staff what it means
for them to be Christian verbs. Together in community, my prayer is that we may enrich one another’s vocabulary of
daily service and servanthood in Christ.
And that is also my prayer for all of you who make up the churches, schools, and communities, of Caversham (plus
Heights, Lower, and Park), Emmer Green, Thameside, and Mapledurham. It has been my privilege to know many of you through many roles, groups and committees, for over 21 years, (far too many activities to list here!).
As a new chapter unfolds for all of us after the global events of the past 18 months, a new, personal chapter is beginning to unfold for Hayley and me. There are not enough words to encapsulate everything I wish to say to you, or any of those we leave to continue God’s work in this part of God’s Kingdom. Therefore I will leave the final words of this, my last ‘Talking Point’, to a Hobbit, created by the Christian author and lecturer, JRR Tolkien, from his work, ‘The Lord of the Rings’:
“The Road goes ever on and on
down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
and I must follow, if I can,
pursuing it with eager feet,
until it joins some larger way
where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
With sincere gratitude for your fellowship.
Derek Chandler was the minister at St Barnabas Church Emmer Green