I heard yesterday of the death of a special friend who has been part of my life journey since 1967. As a teenager whose life was all over the place I encountered the Rev Charlie Simpson. The result was my first raid into Carluke Baptist Church where I met several remarkable people. And maybe with their permission I'll tell you about them, and why they are landmarks in my own faith journey. One of them was Mrs Simpson, "the minister's wife". Jeanette Simpson and her husband Charlie took an immediate interest in me, despite my unenviable reputation in the town as a teenager. When I was converted on April 16, 1967 it was Charlie Simpson who spoke with me, prayed with me and led me to Christ. And amongst those from whom I learned the significance of hospitality, and I mean welcome into heart as well as home, was Nettie Simpson.
Down through the years of responding to God's call to ministry, my training, and my ordination and induction to my first church in Partick, Mr and Mrs Simpson (I never called either of them by their first names when I spoke with them- then or till now) they were supportive, encouraging and wise guides. When in 1979 Charlie died suddenly, aged 56, I conducted his funeral service, and we have remained close friends of Nettie all these years. Amongst my treasures are some of Charlie's books, including most of my P T Forsyth collection - something else I owe to these two wonderful people.
And so on Tuesday I will conduct Mrs Simpson's funeral, for me an act of gratitude, love and admiration, as well as pastoral care and support for her family. Nettie's time as a minister's wife coincided with a time of narrow exclusiveness in relation to the ministry of women in our churches in Scotland. But I would want to say that the two of them were God's gift to the church, and their ministry of spiritual nurture, open hospitality and willingly borne inconvenience, gave me time and space to grow into the reality of the decision I made. And I have never thought of them as anything other than ministers of God, whose love and understanding made the grace of God credible to me.
How can we ever second guess God? Or know where the road of our life together takes unexpected turns? That night, in a small vestry, on my knees, saying yes to Jesus and to a different future. And beside me the man who was my first spiritual director, and the one who baptised me - and in due course, this young upstart would become a minister, and take the funeral service for him, and thirty years later for his wife. I look on these two people as amongst those whose faith in me has give substance and reality to what I believe about the generous and persistent love of God, who believes in us and redeems us to the depths of our being.
I thank my God for every remembrance of them......