I’ve been reflecting recently on what it has meant to me to be a part of Trinity Cheltenham over the last dozen years or so, and the one word to sum it up would be ‘inspirational’.
While at theological college in Durham, I was shocked how fashionable it was to knock big churches, and was surprised to find myself consistently being the lone voice providing the other side of the argument. Frankly, I don’t care how large or small a church is, as long as it is a place where people can experience the presence of God and encounter Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, a church like Trinity can be a beacon for an entire region, breaking worn-out stereotypes of what church is, and showing by example what it means to bring the gospel to all sections of society. Big church can be inspirational church.
Take, for example the Easter Baptisms at Trinity… there had been so many wanting to be baptised in March that another service had to be laid on, and as with each of them, the church was packed. It is so exciting to hear individual stories of how encounters with Christ have led to transformed lives. One person may have struggled with depression, another with addictions; one person may have had everything they’d wanted but felt completely empty inside, another may have come only to stop the wife badgering them; some have had dramatic encounters with Christ, others have had an ongoing journey for years; but each unique story is a testimony to the power of Jesus Christ.
Large churches can also host big events. One of the most amazing took place last Friday evening, when former world super-middleweight champion Nigel Benn came with his wife Carolyne, to give their life story. I think most of us there were expecting to hear boxing tales – but instead we heard about how their lives had been turned around completely.
Nigel Benn was someone who appeared to have everything, having literally fought his way to the very top, along the way earning the sobriquet “The Dark Destroyer”. Yet he fell into drug addictions and had many affairs. One of these hit the papers, and led Caroline almost to despair. One morning, after dropping the kids off at school, she found herself going into an empty church where, for several hours, she wept. She left feeling that she had encountered Christ and announced as much to Nigel – who thought she was cuckoo.
Nevertheless he went along for the ride – but somehow an older Baptist pastor and his wife were able to reach into him. The turning point was when he realised that he needed to confess to his wife all the times that he had betrayed her – and he knew that he needed to do this to be free from the bondage he’d found himself in. But it wasn’t just one or two affairs – it was many. Carolyne was so angry that she threw everything at him that she could lay her hands on. For six months or so they were separated while Nigel lived with the pastor and his wife. But we could see before us the reality of the transformation in their lives since then. That, ultimately, is why Nigel Benn was far more eager to share his passion for Christ than he was to talk about boxing.