One of the great things about life in Durham is the people on the course. We’re a diverse bunch, but there’s a great bond between us. I therefore decided to devote this blog post to the life stories of two of my friends here, my neighbours Tom and Andy.
Andy, who lives across the corridor during the week, served in the Army from the age of 19 until he started here, twenty years later. His career there included tours to Northern Ireland, Belize and Cyprus; a trip to Bosnia ended early when disaster struck: a truck he was in rolled off a mountain road, killing three of the passengers. Andy was one of those who was injured in the accident. Not surprisingly, this event shook him deeply.
He was brought up in the Church of England, but found a deeper connection with God through the Billy Graham crusade in 1984. Fifteen years later, while at a church in Colchester, his vicar suggested that he consider ordination. It was the following year when the calling suddenly became clear to him: an experience which for several weeks brought him an intense mix of feelings of fear, excitement and dread. Nevertheless this led to his beginning to explore this calling within the Anglican church. He moved from the infantry to the welfare division, and although he was accepted for ordination three years ago, he was keen to complete his commitments to the Army before starting training.
Tom, by contrast, was a freelance journalist, having spent nine years recently in South Africa. He wrote for the Sunday Times and Observer, and has two books published (here). Nevertheless his life was transformed by an experience he had while living in Cape Town. He wrote recently:
I met Jesus in a Township shack church in 1999. That’s ten years ago now. I walked into that church having heard the beautiful gospel music the South African women sang from the trains that passed the house I was staying at in Cape Town. I followed the singing into a church and something got me in the stomach. The radiance in the people’s faces, the gospel readings, the Sunday best clothes, the glorious praise singing. That’s where I discovered the Holy Spirit was the same thing as love.
Tom has the reputation around college of having a prophetic voice – his relationship with the Lord is one that is deeply experienced, and in his quiet, humble and articulate way he often challenges our cosier assumptions about what it means to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century.
Both Tom and Andy are more comfortable with high church, liturgical styles than I am – but they have both had encounters with the Holy Spirit that has changed and transformed their lives.