"Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised."
Many years ago, just before we got married, we lived in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK. Martyn had begun teaching and Linda was still at college training to be a teacher. We had both found out via different sources that was a need to help out at an Anglican (Episcopal) church in Cheltenham called Holy Trinity.
The vicar had died suddenly and a retired missionary couple, Lawrence and Annette Totty, had offered to help out by organising the Sunday services. We prayed about it and felt good about approaching them to offer our time and energy into the situation.
We probably hadn't considered the enormity of the task that would lie ahead of us! We ended up leading the youth club on Friday nights, organising the Sunday school on Sunday mornings, running the bookstall and attending PCC meetings! We thought that we were filling in for a period of time while the patrons of the church appointed a new vicar. What we didn't realise was that, in fact, the Bishop wanted to actually close the church. Evangelical Anglican churches in the Gloucester diocese were few and far between at that point in time. The Bishop's desire however, was to close Holy Trinity but it was our hope that it could be kept open.
So, what we initially thought would be a year or so of filling in and waiting for a new vicar to arrive actually turned into five years of extremely hard work.
Thankfully, we persisted and really felt that we should pray and stick in waiting for the situation to change. After four years the diocese finally agreed to appoint a new vicar and so in 1977 Rev. John Risdon was duly appointed as the new vicar of Holy Trinity Cheltenham.
Now, what about patient endurance?
Were those years tough? Absolutely!
Did we ever feel like quitting? Most Monday mornings!
But there was something inside us that made us keep on going. There was a growing sense of injustice about what the system was doing and a realisation that we needed to devote ourselves firstly to the Lord and then to pursue his Kingdom until we saw the situation change.
We've often said that it was our experience at Holy Trinity that kicked us into full-time ministry! One thing is certain and that is that we began to realise that if you want to change the system then you have to be prepared to get involved in it.
Even during our period of training for the Anglican ministry there were times when we wondered if we had done the right thing, but the Lord always gently spoke to us and encouraged us forward - often with the perspective that one day he would lead us into a wider situation.
Now, fast forward to this last weekend. We had been at a conference in Milton Keynes for the weekend and decided to take a nostalgic trip back to Cheltenham on our way back home. We also decided that we would attend the evening service at the church which is now simply called Trinity Cheltenham.
We have been back there before but this time it felt really different. Keep in mind that Trinity Church is now one of the largest charismatic Evangelical churches in the whole area. Their worship band frequently lead worship at the New Wine event in Somerset and it is now a large, thriving church with a heart to impact the whole of Cheltenham and the Cotswolds.
We're not looking for a pat on the back or for anyone to say "didn't you do well"! This is more about the Lord anointing and empowering a young couple (yes, we were young once!) to persevere even through the hardest of times. We couldn't have learnt what we did without going through those difficulties.
Yes, in the midst of the trials there were times of joy – especially seeing children and young people being touched by the Lord. We had the joy of seeing lives changed and people being given hope.
We simply want to say, "Thank you, Lord, for being with us and strengthening us with patient endurance".