It happened that from 1970-73 I was a student at Queen Mary College, University of London. My going up to university came at a time when I was very religious and a member of the Plymouth Brethren. One of the things PBs did was look on with suspicion those “Christians” who weren’t PB, using as much as anything their measure of how one stood was how (doctrinally) sound that “Christian” was, which ruled out most. Even so, there was a grudging recognition that there were Anglicans who passed the test, which was just as well since the majority of the members of the college Christian Union, which I came to join, were Anglican.
One of the things some of my newly acquired CU friends did was attend the service aimed at students that was held every Sunday evening during term time at St. Helens, Bishopsgate Anglican church and they invited me to join them. It happened that a few at my PB assembly worked in the City and they were regular attendees of the midweek lunchtime talks held at St. Helens. So with their approval and along with the opportunity to hang out with my friends I became an infrequent attendee of the St. Helens Sunday evening student focused service for the two years I lived in London. My memories of what went on are these days somewhat hazy but I do have positive recollections. One was of the rector at the time, Dick Lucas, delivering Bible studies that were rich in meaning, thorough in exegesis, and relevant in application such that even the rather stricter leading Brethren around then would have deemed sound.
Since that time, other than being aware that it continues to provide an active witness, I have had very little to do with St. Helens. Moving on nearly fifty years, and having been around a bit church wise I am still holding to my PB roots but with less of the hang ups and am more sympathetic to the good stuff I have found elsewhere and realise having a good relationship with the Lord and His people transcends denominational affiliation. These days I associate less with the Plymouth Brethren and am a member of a Strict Baptist church. One City working member of my church goes along to the mid week lunchtime talks that are still held at St. Helens and he sometimes brings back positive reports as well as items of prayer when the church has an evangelistic event. Recently, he shared a link with me to the audio visual of a series of talks currently taking place on the Book of Ezekiel. My interest was aroused: besides being a connection to my past, it happens that right now I am leading a series at Bible studies at our church on the prophets of the Bible. We have done 10 weeks and haven’t yet got onto the major and minor prophets (to include Ezekiel). The man taking on the Dick Lucas teaching role is William Taylor. (Check here for the link mentioned above and more about what St. Helens is up to these days.)
I have just finished listening to the first two talks in the series, which are helpfully summarized on the website:
1. Ezekiel 33:7-22 – From despair to hope–the new voice: What hope is there when everything appears to have been stripped away and all we are left with is bleakest darkest despair? Where does hope come from in a world of unrelenting bad news? When it seems that God has acted to remove everything that gives cause for joy, how can God’s people find grounds for optimism? Ezekiel, that great prophet of the Old Testament, provides answers to these most testing questions.
2. Ezekiel 34:1-16 – Out of oppression: from abuse to care–the new shepherd: Leadership is something that concerns us all—especially flawed leadership. Whether in Westminster, Hollywood, the office or the church, we all hate hypocritical and self-serving leaders. So does God. The trouble is wherever we look, every leader has their ‘Achilles heel’. In the Bible God promises a different kind of leader; one who leads his people with genuine selfless care.
I confess, I knew nothing of William Taylor before listening to his talks and was bemused and apprehensive as to what to expect. But also I was intrigued and hopeful. Ezekiel is not a subject normally covered in church circles, although starting from chapter 33 which are the bits better known by those who do delve into this mysterious book and missing out the heavier yet dying to be expounded first 32 chapters I did find worrying. But in fairness he did provide a context which meant talking about the earlier chapters and the historical and cultural context of what was being discussed and it was quite evident the preacher knew his stuff and had researched his subject, even down to providing precise dates to key events. Chapter 33, which may be titled: “Renewal of Ezekiel’s Call as Watchman” is particularly pertinent for me, for while not wanting to exercise delusions of grandeur I take it also as God’s calling on my own life. Interestingly, Taylor relates the passage to many well publicized, disturbing events taking place in the world right now. While many of the bad things we are now seeing is related to the “progressive, secular, socialism” (to coin the preachers words) paradigm we live in, leading one to despair, there is hope to be had. As an aside, but relevant given the whole spectrum of political sensibilities had been challenged, one thing I picked up was Taylor’s criticism of sharp practice in the City, which I found heartening and in line with the role of a prophet, which I see as something we need today.
I thank my friend for his part in getting me to reflect and also to William Taylor and his team for faithfully preaching the Word. (As I checked out, they like many Anglican congregations are feeling the heat, as they withstand apostasy in their own denomination.) I pray God will bless their endeavors, for while rightly recognizing there is much around us that might cause one to despair they persist in sharing the message of hope which is also in the book of Ezekiel and which is pointing the listener to the God who Ezekiel served.