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Contact webmaster Banbury Methodist Circuit Pastoral Letter From The Latest Circuit Newsletter - Thoughts from Jeff


My name is J I Smith and I was born in London on 8th February 1945, went to school in east London and went on to study at Cambridge University.  I worked for twenty-five years in the nuclear energy industry (research, plant management and then international marketing) until I responded to God's call to the ordained ministry of the Methodist Church, where I have now served twenty-four (almost twenty-five!) years.     Those are the basic facts.     


One of my abiding interests is ancient, especially medieval, buildings, so I was rather pleased when I was appointed to Norfolk, which has probably the highest concentration of such buildings (mainly churches) in the world.  Exploring one such church I was somewhat shocked to find the gravestone of -

J SMITH, born 8th February 1945, died 1952

It made me think - what sort of life did he have?  Born the same day as me in rural Norfolk; lived barely seven years; what did he do and how did he die?  How did I qualify for such a rich and varied life when he barely had the experience to think what life was!  It really did make me think.


When I was in international marketing, I travelled a great deal (every continent except Africa & Antarctica) but mainly in Europe, especially Germany and the Netherlands (where we had factories and research establishments).  Arriving at Schiphol Airport one day I was stopped at Passport Control, escorted by two large policemen to a small office and questioned for about three-quarters of an hour.  They never actually told me why I had been stopped but I missed my connecting flight!  Thereafter, almost every time I went through Schiphol I was stopped and questioned.   I was never told why, but on one occasion the policemen had a large book in front of them and, reading upside-down, I saw they were mainly interested in a "J R Smith, born 8.2.45 in India" who had an outstanding 40DFl (about £10) fine for some minor motoring offence.  A policeman-friend told me that in such cases they put great store on birthdates; any other details may have been mis-heard, misunderstood, etc but dates were usually copied from documents (e.g. passports).  The problem only stopped when I was part of the UK Government delegation to a meeting and was questioned in the presence of the Chairman, a very senior British Civil Servant (and I have always wondered what happened afterwards behind the scenes!).  It made me think - I know almost nothing about J R Smith, nor he of me, but he gave me a year of great inconvenience, annoyance and worry; in fact, he nearly gave me a criminal record!  A single, perhaps unthinking, act of his caused me a year of problems and difficulty.  It made me think.


Just a few weeks ago I went out of our front door and walking past was a teenage boy, in his school uniform, absent-mindedly on his way home.  The thought shot through my mind that sixty years ago that could have been me!  It made me think.  When "that was me" I could not have dreamed all the things I would do, places I would go, how my life would be.  I wondered what would happen to him and, indeed, whether I (or he) could even imagine what the world would be like when he reached my age (I certainly did not imagine what today would be like when I was his age!).


What brought this all together was thinking about Jesus talking about the future (e.g. Mark 13).  Traditionally the Church has always interpreted his words in terms of the "imminent-Apocalypse".  No doubt this was the understanding of the first Church and reflected the intense opposition, persecution and suffering they faced.  The only solution they could see was that God would step in and end it all!  Two thousand years later that still has not happened.  Reading Jesus' words more carefully it strikes me that what he actually said was simply that we have no idea how things will turn out -"Nobody knows the hour or the day…" (Mark 13:32).  We do not know what will happen tomorrow, or even in the next hour; where we will go and what we will do; what events might befall; what effect - good or bad - we have on others and vice-versa, even people we perhaps never meet or know.  All that we can do is to live this life as it presents itself, ever mindful that at some point - whether seven or seventy-plus years down the line - we will be called to account.  That means living day by day trusting God and trying in all things to do what is Godly and good and to do no damage or harm.  It made me think - perhaps it has made you think too.  


Blessings, Jeff Smith


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