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The Times They Are A-Changin’

A message to all our greatly-valued Courage members and supporters

by Jeremy Marks

The year of 2012 heralds a significant milestone for Courage and for me. As I pondered on how I was going to write about some major changes that lie ahead, the title of Bob Dylan’s famous song: The Times They Are A-Changin’ came to mind. Published and recorded in 1963, his title brought a prophetic-sounding message (lyrics appended) to Western society, then facing and starting to undergo, hitherto unimaginable social and cultural changes, during the "swinging sixties". As Christians, when we become aware of God’s prompting that major changes are ahead for us, sometimes we just have to begin to make a move, whilst having little if any idea what developments might lie ahead, or what form they may take.

In August 2012, I shall have just passed my 60th birthday and 25 extraordinarily challenging years will have elapsed, since I left employment as a director and chief photographer for a family-run publishing company, Woodmansterne Ltd. Well-known in 1987 for its wide-ranging catalogue of excellent quality 35mm colourslides, especially of cathedrals, stately homes, royal events, and anywhere of interest to lecturers and tourists, the company is better known today for publishing a huge range of superb greetings cards. Whilst working with them for over 11 years, I had been privileged to enjoy a most interesting career, travelling all over the country visiting and photographing some of our most outstanding landscapes and places of cultural heritage. One of the greatest highlights for me, was to be appointed official photographer for St Paul’s Cathedral at the Royal Wedding in 1981. I had formerly been a chorister there in the mid 1960's.

In resigning my job, I had no idea how developments would unfold. Whilst I did have the prayerful support of close friends at the time I left Woodmansterne, I certainly never imagined founding Courage in February 1988. I had little to go on, other than knowing I was responding to God’s call. As things turned out, the new ministry that was formed could hardly have been more different from my previous work, as I reached out to help support Christians who were struggling with homosexuality in the context of their faith. All I knew in September 1987 was that I was going to work for a few months with Love in Action, an ‘ex-gay’ ministry in California. I don’t need to go into anymore of that story here.

A couple of my favourite verses from the book of Proverbs come to mind:

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."   Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

"A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?" Proverbs 20:24 (NIV)

 

PRAYER and taking time to seek the mind of God for the future is the first resort for the Christian who wants to be prepared for the changes that must come. Speculation and rumour is the way of the world.

A year has passed since I first became aware of God speaking to me about the future. First I shared my thoughts with my wife Bren, who has been my greatest supporter since we began going out together in 1990 (we married in October 1991). Next, I shared them with Brian Longman, who has faithfully worked with me on a voluntary basis, giving excellent admin backup in the office, for almost ten years now. Later, I spoke to a number of close friends and mentors, as opportunity presented itself. More or less all have concurred with what I felt God was saying. One or two expressed concern about the vacuum that would be left if Courage no longer operated. Another made an astute observation about my ministry style—of befriending and pastoral care—which would surely never come to an end, as this is so much a part of who I am as a person! His comments have been quite key to my ongoing thinking, as borne out in the rest of this article.

This is the first time I have written anything to announce that significant changes lie ahead. There is still much we don’t know, and I believe it is vital that we allow the coming year to be a time to wait on God and see how He reveals what the future holds. So I remain cautious at this stage, not to race ahead in my thinking.

My process of thought and subsequent consultation began in August last year, when I was suffering with a bout of pneumonia. Being so ill ensured that I had plenty of time to pray and think about the future. At that time, it occurred to me that a milestone lay ahead in 2012, so I began to think about what might lie beyond. For some time I had been asking the Lord how long I could or should continue with Courage as it is? There were a great many questions in my mind.

As I prayed, it became clear to me that this milestone would mark the end of my role leading Courage and that the time had come for something new. . .

 

NEW FOR ME !

My first thought was that next August, we should mark the end of 25 years with a special service of celebration and thanksgiving to God for 25 years of Courage, as a fitting conclusion. It is not yet clear what we will do for this.

We normally have a Courage Retreat in September, always a very popular event in our diaries, but I did not feel right in myself about extending the date a further couple of months, as the aftermath of such an event continues some weeks and would take us into October. However, we have now planned a Final Retreat for 15th - 17th June 2012, when I shall reflect on the lessons learned over the past 25 years.

Somehow it really felt important to me that on Friday 31st August 2012, I could close the door to the Courage office for the last time and walk away, knowing that I had completed the work to which God had called me, as a new season beckons.

In sensing God prompting this development, I should add that at that time He gave no hint whatever of what might lie ahead for me. In my experience that is not untypical of the Lord’s way of doing things. It may be the case that God has some completely new work in mind for me that I still know nothing about. However, talking to close friends and colleagues, the consensus of opinion seems to be that even if I finish running "a ministry" under the name of "Courage", with 25 years of experience behind me, I could well find a lot of new interest emerging from Churches, media and all kinds of people who might want to talk about that experience—wanting to understand why and how the ministry has evolved and changed over those years.

At the same time, I have a network of many friends and contacts, who need ongoing pastoral care and spiritual direction, and I would never want to "drop" them simply because I had closed the office door. Of course I would want to be available to provide ongoing support for as long as I am able. Observing the experience of other full-time ministers of the Gospel, when reaching the point where significant change lies ahead, I have seen that many have tended to remain as busy as ever, but in accepting a necessary stage towards "retirement" they have become freer to be mentors, consultants, advisors, writers and speakers etc. For years I have wanted the chance to write more, but pressures of running an office, meetings, retreats etc, have prevented me from doing so.

God will make the future clear when the time comes, no doubt. But the question as to how I’ll make a living beyond the August 2012 cut-off point can leave me feeling a little bleak at times (there’s no pension at the end of this job!). So I am hoping that many of my present supporters might continue their support for me until the way forward becomes clearer. Besides, I’ve never managed to take a sabbatical over the past 25 years, two previous attempts having been sabotaged with other major events overtaking things. So I am hoping that the latter part of 2012 might provide the opportunity for something of a break.

In the meantime, one of my tasks for the coming year, as well as having a major clear-out, must include creating a portfolio of information about the Courage ministry over the past 25 years, to include articles, teaching materials, photos etc., in fact everything needed to leave a proper record of what we have done, for the benefit of future historians who want to research the developments and changes in Church life in this whole area of pastoral care. (I was reminded recently of the importance of doing this by one of our members, who has worked in the field of research and knows the vital importance of keeping records.)

 

NEW FOR COURAGE!

It also struck me last August that 25 years is a very long time, in today’s fast-moving world. Momentous changes have taken place in society and even the Church since September 1987 when I began. I recalled reading, some years ago, a marvellous little book—one of my all-time favourites—called "The Jesus Style" by Gayle D. Erwin. He speaks wonderfully of the fresh moves of the Holy Spirit in every generation and says, in his chapter "Prisoners of History":

"Here is a drastic proposal. Every religious organisation should have in its first constitution the irrevocable provision that it be disbanded and dispersed at the end of 50 years. For some this limit should be 25 years. This would free the constituency to be more constantly in touch with God . . . Such an approach would simply be recognising the manner in which the Holy Spirit works anyway. He keeps raising movements that are alive and in touch with him, while the older structures get huffy and kick the new movement out. . ."

This inspired writing led me to the conviction that, whilst the doors should close on Courage as it is now, it could be very possible that God wants to prepare the way for a "new" Courage. With this in mind, I invited a small group of friends who have been an outstanding support over the years, people who share the same core values and the same sense of mission, to come together to discuss the future. Our purpose has been to seek a fresh sense of the Holy Spirit’s direction and to develop a work with an appropriate mandate for the 21st Century.

In recent months, work has in fact already begun—seeking the Lord’s leading and preparing for something new. A group of ten wonderful men and women have been getting together—all enthusiastic, committed members of the present Courage who want to be involved in future developments. They are praying and working towards the possibility of something new. At this stage, it is too early to say how things will take shape, but be assured we will publish details of developments as soon as they can be announced. The work may have a new name altogether, or it may be a derivative of the present Courage built on the same core values. For now, we are referring to this vision as "Courage Two". It will certainly mean the creation of a totally new website. (The present website will stay live for awhile longer so that the resources remain available; and to announce whatever new initiatives have begun by then, with the appropriate links.)

I’ve made it clear to the new team that I will be available to help support a new venture in any way they need, and I will be involved to the extent that I am invited. But I won’t be doing it, nor will I interfere with its development, as it is crucial (I believe) that I keep out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the work.

In the meantime, for the coming year it remains business as usual for me, Brian Longman and the present Courage office. We have some great speakers lined up for the Friday night meetings. The popular mid-month Sunday afternoon Bible studies will continue. We have a fully-booked Courage Retreat this September and a lot of interest being shown in the "Final" Retreat next June (15th - 17th) 2012. There continues to be many new enquiries every week and a great deal to do as always. I have an average of 12-15 one-to-one appointments every week!

We will announce details of the final service of celebration and thanksgiving in due course.

We shall be most grateful for your continued support, beyond the autumn of 2012 if possible . . . at least until the picture becomes clearer, for instance if something new were to open up in with a source of income. If financial and prayer support were to dwindle now, it would become extremely difficult to complete the final year, without leaving us in serious financial hardship, especially as a number of people have had to drop their support recently, as they suffer the financial pressures of our times and other changes.

I would like to note here my heartfelt thanks to all those who have contributed and continue to contribute, with financial and prayer support, which has made the Courage ministry possible over the past 24 years. We shall be most grateful for your prayers, as we look to see what the Lord wants to do next.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (TNIV)

Jeremy Marks

31st August 2011

 

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Lyrics by Bob Dylan (Recording first released in Jan 1964)

 

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

 


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