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Where you go, I will go

In recent months there has been a string of events and TV programmes marking the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.  Pundits have reflected on the whys and the what ifs.  Historians have reviewed the social changes which happened in those years 1914-1918, and so many families have remembered how that terrible conflagration touched so many towns and villages and engulfed so many lives.

But the remembering took on a particularly personal note for me when I was invited to attend a special celebration. 1914 not only saw the outbreak of war, but also the establishment of the United Board which was to oversee the appointment of Baptist, Congregationalist and, later, other ministers as chaplains in the British armed forces. Of course, there had been ministers and clergy from other denominations serving as chaplains before 1914, but the routes to this particular ministry were closed to our own forbears until that momentous year.

I’ve tried to choose my words carefully – we mark the centenary of World War I, but we celebrate the centenary of Baptists and others serving as military chaplains. Those of us who gathered in the chapel of the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre at Amport House, near Andover, offered prayers of thanksgiving - not only for those chaplains who had lost their lives in the course of their ministry, but for all who had served faithfully.  We listened to the stories of those who had served courageously under fire and had embodied the love of God in extreme situations. It was a particular delight to meet up with some of my former students who are now serving chaplains.

But what sticks with me most is the bible text from which the preacher preached, for it gave me a new perspective on ministry and the call to serve. The text was from the book of Ruth, where the widowed Naomi encourages her widowed Moabite daughters-in-law to return home and not travel with her as she leaves their country.  Ruth replies, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried.’

I remembered all those brass plaques in countless chapels where I have worshipped and preached. Lists of names of young men who never came back, let alone those not listed who did return and who were changed by what they had endured. And then I thought of the ministers who saw their youth group lads volunteer or eventually be conscripted. There were those who said, ‘Where you go, I will go – in the name of Christ’.

This is incarnational ministry – in 1914 and in many situations of conflict and danger since then. It is relational and it is inclusive, in that it is offered to those of faith and those of no faith. It is God-centred at times and in places that many may describe as ‘Godless’.  Please pray for all those who engage in this ministry as they say to our young people, ‘Where you go, I will go.’
Chris Ellis
If you want to think more about worship with Chris, then visit Let's Talk about Worship where you will find a series of interviews with Chris and some great linked resources for small group study in your church.
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