It was quite a step of faith for me to head off to Cheltenham for Ablaze UK ( we used to know it as the Penygroes convention) this year celebrating a hundred years since the founding of the Apostolic Church UK.
We were in celebratory mode. Balloons and cakes and the joy of meeting old friends, and then settling into the main hall where thousands of us gathered for wonderful times of worship and hearing from God.
If you are into technology you can hear the ministry on line. Gone are the days when Pastor Frank Parker would write a report, illustrated too, for the Riches of Grace, and though we had attended we loved to be reminded by reading it over again. Once Frank retired I would type out the notes I had taken and send to missionaries etc who could not make it. But this year it will only be titbits, since often I cannot read my own writing because of my ‘shoogley (shaky) shoulder’.
So here I am, home with my (usually) friendly computer, and I would like to reminisce a little.
No, it was not Penygroes, but even when we were still in Penygroes, people would say, ‘Oh, it is not like it used to be.’ I used to think this, even if I did not say, it, until the Lord convicted me. When I first came, back in 1956, I thought the convention week was heaven on earth. Fast forward to 1981, now married to Joel, I met a couple there for their first time, and they were as thrilled as I had once been. Through them, God was showing me, it was I who had changed, not God. I realised that if we come to meet God we will never go away disappointed.
So now, a (comparatively) elderly lady, in these excellent premises of the conference centre at Cheltenham, we raised our voices in joyful worship and had those quiet yet powerful times of worship and singing in the spirit that had so thrilled me in the Temple in Penygroes all those years ago. Maybe we did not have a surfeit of prophetic ministry that had so thrilled us in days gone by, but God still speaks to us, for it is always through his word.
It was those times of holy worship which have kept me through times of spiritual dearth in the church, times of dryness and recession, times of loneliness and when it seemed my prayers would not be answered, and I know the God of the Mount is still with us today.
I had such an experience on Sunday night. I had been thrilled as I first arrived, first to meet Joyce, from Ghana who became such a dear friend when living in Ilford, and then yes – I met a party from Papua New Guinea. No, not anyone I knew, for I left there back in 1972. But they were so delighted to meet me and I told them, ‘You must be my children, for the people used to call me ‘the little children’s mother.’ Oh! Oh! Big photo shoot. So many selfies. Joy abounding! But my strength was ebbing away. Maybe I should not have come.
What a joy to meet up with the family of Pastor Jones Williams, who together with pastor Dan had been a pioneer in the church. Now his children had met up for this special celebration. We had been together in the Barking/Ilford assembly when we first came into the church and such a joy to meet up now. We were booked into the same accommodation so had some special breakfasts together.
In the convention we found Ilford much in the news. Bryon Jones, their pastor, led the worship and told us of the expansion which has meant them leaving the church we had seen, or even helped to build. I found Byron’s workshop on Worship to be a special blessing, and noted it was several of us ‘old originals’ from Ilford who were making contributions here.
I didn’t get to all the excellent workshops. I no longer feel I have to get to every event, but it was such a joy to meet up with so many faithful souls who have prayed for us over so many years and lovely to have time to chat. Look out for the magazine we brought home with us bringing us up to date with news of Action Overseas, as our Missionary movement is now called.
Though much was made of us reaching our centenary, in no way was it suggested that we had reached our goal. ‘A Missional People’ was our theme, and we are still looking for the 40 nations and reminded of our calling to ‘belt the globe.’
Pastor Emmanuel Mbakwe welcomed us – he, with Helen, has been such a humble yet powerful leader, and godly example to us all, but now he was passing on the baton to Pastor Tim Jack, God’s gift to us from Australia. By the way, the baton which had been taken around all the churches in UK now completed its journey by cyclists from Hereford, who had brought it the last 30 miles.
Pastor Alistair Matheson gave the opening ministry, ‘Just say Yes.’ – how Peter always had to say yes – eventually, and we have to say ‘Yes,’ for God’s will to come to pass. Abraham had to say ‘Yes,’ and his yes meant doing something about it for Sarah to conceive.
Sunday night we had an amazing testimony as Todd White presented the gospel. Often mistaken as a Rastafarian, he was not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ – though much appreciated by those present from Teen Challenge.
I had been struggling with my health and wondering if I had been wise to come, and now he called us to worship the Lord and reach out to him for healing. God heard my cry. I woke up with the same weaknesses as before, but I was a new Pauline. Before, when people had asked how I was, I would tell them, ‘Well my inner man is alright,’ or maybe ‘I walk by faith,’ but now I told them with confidence, ‘Oh, aren’t we being blessed?’ I was in no doubt I was meant to be there, and so grateful to those who had made it possible, for though I still drive, I don’t go that far.
We had a special centenary choir, led by Bryon’s sister – one of the Jones Family that used to sing in Penygroes, all those years ago. They were a great blessing.
Then there were meals arranged for all our overseas visitors, and retired staff etc. I was amazed at the logistics of such an arrangement. 5 huge buses to carry us to the school where they fed us, and then to get us back to our various lodgings. The wonderful ladies from Kennington were on the look out for any who were struggling with walking. I was so thankful for the beautiful ladies who would take me past the queue, seat me and t hen go to fetch me a beautiful meal. Some of the high lights for me – sitting on the bus with Dario, such a lovely clown from Italy; sitting with the whole Parker tribe for dinner, and then chatting with Alan and Sandra, from Malawi, on the bus coming back. And meeting the party from Ghana. Another photo shoot!
The logistics of organising the whole conference was amazing, yet all was done with love and grace, yes, and peace. What a privilege to be there.
- Well, just a few thoughts from my scribbled notes.
Sun. a.m. John Gass, spoke from Daniel, being tenacious in prayer. He spoke of Wilberforce, encouraged by Wesley not to give up and 45 years later, 3 days before he died, anti slavery laws were passed.
Monday afternoon there was Mission Cheltenham. The sun came out. The choir was there, and our lovely clown, while teams mingled and chatted and prayed, and at least one young man responded to the Gospel.(No, - I was not there!)
Dr.Aaron from Ghana gave a challenging message – that we are called as labourers, and God is saying to us, as to Isaac, when the enemy kept on filling his water supply with stones – ‘go dig another well.’
Pastor Dominic Bird took workshops on evangelism. He was so humble and joyful and didn’t put us under condemnation. But he spoke of Jonathan & his armour bearer – ‘Perhaps God would do something’ – he was willing to fail. If you don’t do it when you have nothing, you won’t do it when you have everything.
No nap Wed. afternoon. It was the big Ladies meeting – Embrace, (while the men had their own in another venue with a Danish pastor)
We had two inspiring testimonies, one was a middle aged lady who has been wonderfully used in personal evangelism, and then the struggles of a young pastor’s wife. Our speaker was Fiona Castle, thrust into ministry through the death of her famous husband Roy. With many commitments herself she challenged us sometimes to throw away our ‘to do’ list and not to be afraid to relax. (I had taken my latest poetry book with me. I was so blessed in being able to give them away, and this gave me the opportunity of a chat with Fiona.)
We were all sent home with a gift. I now have a tiny heart shaped blackboard with the name of my neighbour written on it hanging with my keys, so every time I come down stairs I see her name and pray for her salvation. Yes, we are a missional people.
As usual, there was wonderful provision for our children and youth, and we so enjoyed seeing them bring their contribution in the final session. Well done to our wonderful children’s and youth workers.
Our new President, Pastor Tim Jack, brought our time of blessing to a close with a strong word from the Lord, Not to be like the king in the O.T. who built ships – but they never sailed, but to rely totally on God who alone can quench our thirst and give us the Holy spirit in such measure that we will be a missional people, to carry the whole gospel to the whole world.
So now I am home, feeling I am convalescing. Well, even Jesus came down from the mountain, and it has always been so, only with maturity we understand that we do have to come down, and face spiritual warfare. But we have been obedient in making the effort to join with the great congregation to go up to the mount of the Lord. Our gatherings are still ‘Pen-y-groes’ – for the name means ‘ the head of the cross.’ And we look forward to that great gathering when from every tribe and kindred and tongue we will cry, ‘Salvation to our God and to the Lamb.’
I wrote the following sitting in my bedroom at the Premier Inn where I stayed:-
Further and higher is the cry
Eternity the reason why
E’en from our mansion in the sky
‘twill still be further on
So on we climb from day to day,
Upward, for we’re on the upward way
In Christ, the Truth, the Life, we say
It’s always further on
So onward, ever upward cry
No, not the grave but Christ on high
Each day his gift – ‘there’s more’ we cry
Yes, always further on
From every kindred, tribe and tongue
We’ll join to sing the glad new song
Of those, the blood washed, to the LambWith him, still further on