Whilst I was on sabbatical earlier this year I was sad to hear of the death of my first vicar, John Collie. I became a Christian as a teenager in Sheffield, in the mid-80s, and John was vicar of All Saints Ecclesall. My mum had already booked me on the church confirmation course, and inbetween her doing that and the course actually starting, God cornered me on a Sheffield bus (story for another time) and I started following Him in earnest.
My experience of church up to that point hadn't been great - a few dusty seasonal things like harvest festival, regular family services which we went to on scout church parade, which normally featured a wacky visual aid and a sermon from one of the lay readers. I still remember a giant pen-knife and one based on different types of fish. (The fish one I even remember the message, which for a 30-year old sermon is remarkable, well done Margaret Green). After my conversion, I went every week, and particularly loved communion as (in a big church) there was plenty of time to pray whilst everyone else was queuing up. Though I did have to ask what 'propitiation' and 'Hosanna' meant. Not everybody knew!
John co-led the confirmation course along with Vernon Blackmore, the then curate (last I heard he was working for Lion Books). After one of the sessions, about half way through, John kept me behind at the end. He stood right in front of me, eyeball to eyeball (we were about the same height when I was 15) and said something like "David, have you ever considered the ordained ministry". Quite a line for someone who had only been a Christian for a couple of months, but it lit the blue touch paper.
I'll always be grateful for Johns encouragement into ministry and leadership, and his confidence in me. I imagine there are lots of other people who could say the same. I'm sad that I never got to say thankyou properly - I regularly thought about writing to let him know how I was getting on, but never got round to it. I'm rather ashamed of that, if I 'don't have time' to be grateful to the people who've had such a significant impact on my life then there's something deeply twisted going on. Anyway, I wanted to register my gratitude to God for John Collie, I'll always be glad he was my vicar. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.