My parents-in-law were also two of my dearest friends. Last Sunday morning we received the news that Lorna’s mother had died.
As I write this, Lorna is with other family members in North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom to share in that rich time of memory, goodbyes, thanks and celebration which is uniquely Christian. I too have my memories and have written my appreciation for a service I would love to be physically present for. Lorna’s father died six years ago.
I went to the UK in 1966 as a young singer having been offered a contract by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was an exciting time full of new opportunity and challenge. I didn’t know a soul in the UK. Angus MacLeod was the minister of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church at the time. Oxford Terrace was my church family. Angus, a Scot, told me I should meet some of his family and gave me the address of the branch that lived closest to London.
One day I was driving through the town of St Albans and decided, in good Kiwi fashion of the times, to call on the MacLeods. Lorna as a 16-year-old answered the door. Her parents were not in but she said she’d tell them I’d called. She did, and the MacLeods became my friends. Lorna went off to university so for several years I knew her parents much better than I knew her.
This was an important time for me, formative in so many ways, new career as a singer, aged 23, away from home and a fairly sheltered Christchurch, Christian background – in London in the swinging sixties. It was the place to be and I was working in the hub of the music industry. I was forging a career in classical music, but saw Tom Jones in the BBC canteen and was surprised to see how small he was. I sang with Pink Floyd and other pop singers of the time.
I was given wonderful hospitality by the MacLeods. Romans 12 is a Bible passage that I go back to often. Verse 2 speaks about God transforming us into a new people by changing the way we think, with the very important by-line – then you will know God’s will for you. My thinking was changing and I had a desire to know God’s will. Those who gave me hospitality were an important part of that transformation process. (They most probably didn’t bargain on the fact that at some stage it would mean passing over a daughter to be my wife, when she was really far too young, only half way through medical studies!)
I appreciate the picture Paul gives us in Romans 12 of the body and, like 1 Corinthians 12, the accompanying gift list. Norman and Lottie, my parents-in-law, encompassed a number of the gifts Paul writes about between them and I was one of the beneficiaries.
There were a number of others. In verse 6 Paul speaks of leadership ability and taking the responsibility seriously. My father-in-law had that in spades and he took it seriously, and part of it was the way he mentored young people. He also encouraged and was generous. Lottie served and was kind (verse 8). She made great meals which for me, as a 23-year-old, went down well. They were a great team.
Why do I write about this? Because it’s important. It would have been very easy for me to have drifted as a young Christian at that time. I was meeting and working with some very attractive and successful people. After several years I was aware that music was great, many things were great, but I started to think seriously – if I married, what sort of wife did I want?
Lorna’s parents modelled something I admired in their family environment. Lorna certainly caught my attention in a different way when I saw her back from university. I wanted to know God’s will in this area of my life. Lorna was catching my attention – was it God or hormones or maybe both. I decided to do something about it and the rest is history.
My debt of gratitude to God, to my church that called Angus to be the minister who subsequently put me in touch with his family, to Lorna’s parents who became my very dear friends, and of course to Lorna herself is huge.
We have a Gathering coming up in Christchurch. It’s significant because it is in Christchurch. It’s going to be an expression of who we are as family of the Lord Jesus – that we mourn with those who mourn as well as rejoice with those who rejoice, that we stand with each other at times of severe testing. But we also have a significant guest and a significant theme about the quality of faith that is shared in the home – Mark Holmen, “Faith begins at Home.”
Our hope with this Gathering is that it will be a milestone in terms of our countering the drift of young people out of faith and church in their early 20s. I really hope you will join us if you can, that churches will send teams so that we can work together to see our homes become genuine places of discipleship where we are experiencing that ongoing God transformation and learning and living his will.
The MacLeods, my dear friends and parents-in-law, were early adopters.