Before coming here in September 2016, I had no connection to Keynsham. I had been the minister of a church in Gloucester for 17 years. It was a good period, but towards the end I felt I was in a bit of a rut and that both the church and I could do with something new. At the time, there had been no minister at Keynsham Baptist Church for 2 years and one of our regional ministers thought that my wife and I would be a good fit; so we came to visit. Baptist churches are all independent and can make their own decisions about who becomes their minister. Thankfully, after leading services on a couple of Sundays and being interviewed by the deacons and congregation, I was offered the position.
My first job after leaving university had been as a secondary school geography teacher. I loved it, but found maintaining class discipline rather stressful. I then worked as a civil servant for nine years in HM Customs and Excise. This involved carrying out VAT inspections, dealing with enquiries, and eventually helping with staff training, which allowed me to continue using my teaching background and skills.
I had always had the desire to be a church minister, but it took a while to feel confident enough to take the plunge. For many years I was involved as a volunteer helping in churches. Then in 1994 I left the civil service and went to train. It was a part-time course over 5 years that placed you in a church so that you could put your learning into practice during the days you weren’t at college. My wife was working as a nurse at the time, and her income helped to support us during my training.
The church in Gloucester, where I was before Keynsham, served a post-war housing estate which was very different to the town centre location I am in now. The ministry I have now involves being a kind of chaplain for the premises. So much goes on in our church, including art and craft sessions, yoga, slimming groups, children’s parties and a Saturday morning coffee shop. A third of our revenue comes from hall hires, which helps to maintain our beautiful Grade II listed building. We run a toddler group on a Friday mornings during term time and we regularly get 60-70 children (94 is our record!). I am so grateful to the team of volunteers who make this such a success. For a year now, we have been running a messy breakfast club once a month (usually the 4th Sunday) in which we seek to introduce young children and their families to the Christian Faith. We had a Frozen theme last time. People dressed up; it was lots of fun.
I have been playing guitar by ear since I was teenager. I can’t say I’ve got any better; the guitar lives at the church and I don’t practice much! In 2005, while on sabbatical, I started playing violin. My mother plays, and she tried to get me to take it up as a kid, but it didn’t last. Later, I regretted this and decided it wasn’t too late at 46 years old to have another go. I borrowed a violin from a local music shop and went on to take exams up to grade 5. I joined a large orchestra in Gloucester and was able to hide myself away at the back of the second violins (there were 10 of them!). When I moved to Keynsham, I saw an advert for a new orchestra starting up in the Memorial Hall, Farrington Gurney. There were only three violinists to begin with, so my playing was far more exposed. I really enjoy going to the rehearsals every Thursday evening and it has been good for me to be involved in something that is not directly connected with the church.
Our church services are on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings. We have about 30 or 40 people on Sundays. On Tuesday, about 20 of us we meet café-style in the hall to allow more participation.
I try to get involved in other activities beyond the church building. Two years ago, I saw an advert in The Keynsham Voice asking for a volunteer to run the Tuesday Baby Bounce and Rhyme sessions at the library. This didn’t seem much different to what I was already doing at our church toddler group, so I said yes and went along to watch Lesley, the lady who was already doing it, to get an idea. There are two sessions; one at 10am and another at 11am, each lasting half an hour and each attended by about 10-15 babies with their parents. Lesley and I have since lead alternate Tuesdays and it’s great fun. Our library is brilliant isn’t it? Such a lovely building and so much going on there.
I also work a lot with older people, as do others in the church. A year ago, three of them – including my wife – began a monthly “pop-up tea”. The idea was to help an older person experience the pleasure of hosting a tea for their neighbours and friends by organising the transport and sandwiches for them. They just have to fill the teapot! It’s gone really well and now there are two teas a month. Once a month, I lead a service at Abbeyfield House as part of the Churches Together ministry to older people. Otherwise, I’m doing the usual things a church minister does: preparing for and leading services, visiting people in need, encouraging people to develop their talents, helping with Churches Together activities, organizing events, doing administration, and so on.