By Tim Stevens, Youth Encourager
Twelve months. It seems like it was only yesterday that I wrote our first “diary of a new vicar”. But upon sitting down to write this, our last diary entry for The Link, I’ve realised how much has happened in this little town, and how much God has taught us over the past year. There is also, always I think, a lament that perhaps more hasn’t happened, but maybe more could be written on that topic at another time.
Since I last wrote I feel like God has given me a crash course in some of the harder aspects of small-town ministry. While it would be easy to write a cheery account of life up here on the border, the editor of ‘The Link’ has instead asked me to write the following to give you some insights into what can be hard for a vicar in the bush. Now, don’t hear me wrong, the benefits of small-town life are abundantly clear. No traffic. Quiet nights. Open spaces for our kids to play in. A ministry with lots of time for people, because there are fewer programs to run etc. But just as the benefits are excellent, the difficulties can sometimes seem heavier, and often come at times of crisis. God is always teaching us things, but some lessons are harder to learn.
The first lesson that I’ve learnt in the last couple of months has been about funerals. What I’ve discovered is that small-town, country funerals are hard. Just like many of the vicars in our diocese, I am the only minister in Mungindi. This means that I’m involved in every funeral that happens in town, which is an excellent opportunity to care for people and to let the gospel be their comfort at such a difficult time. But it also means that I take all the funerals, which means that after some months, I have been heavily involved with the death of many people. Which, I have to say, is particularly exhausting.
Before entering into ministry, I trained as a nurse, which meant that I had experienced the death of a person before. But in a medical setting, you are somewhat removed from the holistic effect of someone’s death on their family and friends. I have found in this role of Vicar that I’m caring for people in a very different way to that of a medical practitioner. So when there was a funeral in town recently, where over 800 people attended, and there was another one out of town where people fainted at the church and graveside, both of men who you could say “died too young” it left me exhausted. Please pray for those of us who are working on our own, being the go-to-person in town for all things emotional and spiritual can be very difficult.
The second lesson that we’ve learnt recently has been about doing ministry as a young family. It’s exciting to let you know that since I wrote last, we’ve had our second child, Edward Donald Stevens. He’s a great kid, and we’re all loving getting to know one another. When we had our first child, William, we were living and working at St Peter’s Tamworth, where Rod Chiswell was terrific and gave me lots of time at home as we adjusted to being a family. But this time we weren’t so able to ease back into things, because of the above funerals, and the daily running of the church still needs to happen. So the lesson that I’ve learnt has been that there are seasons of life, and this season just means that we’re more tired and less able to drop everything at a moments notice.
The final lesson that we’ve learnt is about our family and friends. One of the strategies I’ve had for getting through the first few months of having a newborn was to have a few sermons up my sleeve that I’ve delivered elsewhere, that I could easily preach again. This was in the event of a stressful week, where I hadn’t had much time to prepare a new sermon. For those funeral weeks, it was beneficial! This meant that for four weeks in October, we spent some time in our Sunday sermons learning about wisdom from Proverbs. We were taught about the source of true wisdom, making wise decisions, and speaking wisely. Though it was the week that we thought about being a wise friend that cut particularly close to home for us. This is because the Proverbs teach that good, long-term, and faithful friendships are the best.
“Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” ~ Proverbs 20:6
Sometimes in the Christian life, we need to hold, what seems like, two opposing truths in our hands at the same time. Those two realities look like they’d naturally cancel each other out, but the Christian is able to hold them together, and with some give and take, the two realities, instead of cancelling each other out, actually help each truth grow and flourish. In one hand, we love living and ministering in Mungindi. We have so many things to give God thanks for. The ministry that I have been involved in is a gift from God, as he has been pleased to include me in His work of introducing all people to Jesus and helping them home to heaven.
But even though we love being in Mungindi, the truth that we hold in the other hand is that for us to be in Mungindi, we have left our families and long-term friends behind in Sydney. In a sense, we’re still very new to all this. It was only two years ago that we were living in a city of five million people. And at the moment we’re trying to work out what it looks like for us to keep growing our friendships with our closest friends. We’re very conscious of the problem that many people have that they never really have any close friends. But, God’s wisdom is to be a good, long-term, and faithful friend.
So we need to somehow, even from 8 hours drive away, make sure that we continue to grow our friendships with our friends and relationships with our families. To give our little boys a chance to spend time with their cousins, and grandparents, aunties and uncles. To give us time with our long-term friends, who we’ve known for years, and who actually encourage us to keep working hard in our little town, to make Jesus known, so that many people in our small town will be saved when Jesus returns. And in this last point, I’ve uncovered, what I think is the most challenging thing we’ve had to work at since we left Sydney. Though I suspect we’re not the only ministry family that have to deal with this. While I haven’t asked any of them, I believe that if your vicar isn’t from the town that he’s currently ministering in, his family is probably trying to work this out for themselves too.