Today I was at District Synod. A few things happened that directly involved me, the most noticeable of which were a) I spoke in a Synod debate for the first time, speaking against a motion that my own Superintendent minister, a legend in his own lifetime within many Methodist circles, had proposed, and b) the short Presbyteral session of Synod at lunchtime, without me in the room of course, voted unanimously to allow me to continue next year as a Probationer. On both occasions I could easily have asked myself, as I took a deep breath, “What am I doing here?” or “Why am I here?” To answer both requires a reference back to last night, and then further back in my story.
Last night I drove the 110 mile round trip to Cherriton Bishop near Exeter. I drove it to meet with fellow Members, including my parents as it happens, of the Iona Community who live in the South West of England. Part of being a Member of the Community is a commitment to regularly meeting with other Members, both as a whole Community, and more locally in what are called Family Groups. As part of our meeting together last night we were working through another of our shared commitments, that of accounting to one another for the use of our financial and earthly (ie, carbon) resources. None of these relate directly to those earlier questions, except if it wasn’t for my membership of the Iona Community I wouldn’t have been where I was today.
One of the reasons (it’s not the only one) that I would always be uncomfortable with claiming the label “evangelical” for myself is that I have no real sense of conversion in my life. I have, to all intents and purposes, always had a faith of some kind, in both God, and in Jesus as God. Part of that faith has, since I was 10 and went there on family holiday for the first of many times, been Iona, and the Iona Community. And whilst I claim no conversion moment, I am happy to suggest that Iona was the scene of a “heart-warming” moment, as John Wesley experienced on 24 May 1738 – not conversion but a conviction – a moment when I truly felt and knew myself to be wholly loved by God.
In the period running up to my divorce I had not been on Iona for three or four years. Then, in the aftermath of that experience, I felt I had to go back, that it was the only place I could begin to truly heal from the wounds inflicted by the failure of my first marriage (much of it self-inflicted as by anyone else, such as my first wife). And I remember the feeling of release, the sense of over-whelming peace that came over me as I stepped from the small ferry onto the island’s jetty. In the week I spent there a number of experiences, including worship, work, prayers and conversations reminded me deeply of God’s love for me, despite all that had happened.
Looking back I can directly trace the journey from that step onto the jetty 10 years ago last month to my stepping up to the microphone at Synod earlier today. My time on Iona on that occasion convinced me I should join the Community. To join, the Community insisted I recommit to the institutional church from which I had wondered. My healing from the divorce also put me back in touch with the now Mrs Nomad, who is responsible for my moving from Anglican to Methodist. My reconnection with the institutional church left me open, unexpectedly, to the promptings of God for me to explore ordained ministry. And now I am here!
I have always called myself a Christian, but it was that moment of release stepping onto a small island off the West coast of Scotland that freed me to make this amazing journey with God that I am currently on.
Whether your journey feels one of freedom or one of chains, may you travel as well as you are able.