Winnie Gordon’s Valedictory Service at Unitarian College Manchester

It was good to see several other people from “Winnie’s congregations” at the Valedictory Service – three from Kingswood, where she shadowed Rev. Ant Howe in her first year of training, four fromShrewsbury, where she did her pastorate this year, and one from her home congregation ofBirmingham. Many of her family members were also present, including her daughter Xaymca.

Winnie showered with gifts
photo by Nicky Jenkins

After greetings from the General Assembly by President Rev. Bill Darlison, we sang the first of three hymns from the Purple Book, The Flame of Truth is Kindled. Then we shared an alternative version of The Lord’s Prayer, which had been written by Alison Patrick ofShrewsbury at our Midland Unitarian Association Spring Training Day! Alison hadn’t realised that Winnie was using it, so it was a good surprise!

Then came our second hymn, When Our Heart Is In A Holy Place, which was followed by two very appropriate readings, one about discovering a vocation for ministry, and one about being yourself when you’re being a minister. But the highlight of the proceedings was undoubtedly the address, by Rev. Ant Howe. Ant had chosen the title Being Prepared, and used the examples of Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. The example of Moses showed that the “years in the wilderness” before the call to ministry are never wasted because you can use your prior life experiences in ministry, and that the call to become a minister is a call to leadership – you will be leading people to the Promised Land, like Moses did. John the Baptist also came out of the wilderness, and called on people to repent, because the Kingdom of God was at hand, and Ant explained that ministers are called to have a prophetic voice and to preach a message – to ‘comfort the afflicted, and afflict the uncomfortable’, as the saying goes. Finally Jesus is first seen in theTemple at the age of 12, and is next seen at the age of 30, so he had to undergo 18 years of preparation for three years of ministry! This showed that you need to take the time for training and ministerial formation – it is not something to rush into headlong. The model for ministry includes leading the people, being the prophetic voice, preaching, teaching, healing and trusting that miracles are still possible. He said that ministry is about vocation, and that deep study and preparation are required.

He then spoke to Winnie directly, saying that she had done years of preparation for ministry training; that she had allowed others to discern that calling in her; and that she was now called and trained “and that calling shines out of you.” He commented that it had been a pleasure to walk that path with her. He reminded her not to neglect her own spiritual life, and to nurture the possible spark of ministry in others, and concluded by saying that she has friends and colleagues that love and respect her.

After this, Winnie gave her own Testimony, looking back over her years in the Unitarian movement, including the welcome, encouragement and support given to her by Unitarian New Meeting; and the love and support she had experienced during her two placements at Kingswood andShrewsbury. She then described what her training had been like – two years of tears and jubilee, of being knocked down and built up, of caring and sharing, laughing and loving. She commented that it isn’t supposed to be easy, and it wasn’t. The training at Luther King House had been a period of formation, of learning and understanding about herself, about living with others, and learning to be in community. It had been an experience that had shaken her up to form her, and then caught her and held her in loving hands. She saw the heart of ordination as a minister of being a process of partnership and assent.

Winnie’s hand was then shaken by Rev. Alex Bradley, UCM Principal, Rev. Bob Wightman, College President, Rev. Ant Howe, Guest Preacher, Jeff Teagle, Chair of the College Committee and Rev. Bill Darlison, President of the General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches, as she was welcomed warmly into Unitarian ministry. Winnie then made a Declaration to which the congregation responded. We finished with a final rousing hymn We Laugh, We Cry, followed by a benediction from Rev. Alex Bradley.