I am a 97 year old cradle Methodist.
Many years afterwards my father told me that at my christening he dedicated me to God and I haven`t been able to get away from that.
As a boy I was taken to a village Wesleyan Chapel, long since closed. There was nothing in it for children, I was the only one but I was never bored.
I could always count the artificial pipes on the American organ, squint through the coloured glass in the windows, watch the butterflies woken up by the singing and the warmth of the tortoise stove.
One preacher though did grip my attention. Perhaps it was his funny walrus moustache, but he told the story of Jacob and his dream of a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels going up and down it.
Even at that tender age I must have wondered why angels needed a ladder, I thought they had wings. Jacob called that spot Bethel, the House of God and often came back to it. “Everyone needs a Bethel” the preacher concluded.
I discovered the truth of that for myself as a student when I went to the Albert Hall, Nottingham. They were great services with a congregation of over a thousand.
One Sunday evening I found myself walking right down from the gallery to stand at the front in response to an appeal and to the strains of “Who is on the Lord`s side.” Nothing much came of it for three or four years but then it caught up with me.
It was at the outbreak of war. I knew what my immediate future had to be, I would have to join up, but what could I do when it was all over?
My uncle was a missionary in Dahomey, now Benin, and he said that there was need for teachers out there so he arranged for me to have an interview at the Mission House.
I had applied for jobs before and knew what to expect. Don’t call us, we will call you, but this was so different.
The Rev Walter Noble (one day to be President of Conference), actually came out of his office and walked along the corridor with welcoming smile and warm handshake that completely won me over.
He talked to me like a father; they could not make any promises as things were so difficult on the mission field, perhaps I could try again when the war was over.
Then he shot his bolt. “You know you could do your best work if you were ordained.” What me? I wasn’t a member let alone a Local Preacher.
Never been to communion. Out in the streets of London, in the crowds of people hurrying past I glimpsed the anxious looks in their eyes in those days of what we called the phoney war.
Then the words seemed to come clearly to me: “And seeing the multitudes he was moved with compassion for they were as sheep not having a shepherd.”
I knew what I had to do. I went to the nearest telephone box and said that I wanted to be a Methodist minister.
I was immediately put on the Plan and rushed through all the candidating procedures, took various exams and at the 1940 Conference managed to be put on a list of approved candidates.
By now I was in the British Army which was to be my lot for five years, eight months and twenty-three days, stationed in London during the blitz, and then for 4½ years in the Middle East and Italy.
All the while I carried with me a cutting from the Methodist Recorder “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” and that was how it was.
Looking back, although I was denied the normal years of study and probation, it was a real preparation for my subsequent ministry, getting alongside all sorts of people, seeing the best in them.
The chaplains were so helpful and sometimes I was able to take services. It was an experience I have never regretted.
Eventually S/166386 Sjt Garfoot J was demobbed and I had an all too short course at the war-damaged Richmond College.
It didn’t seem to matter that there was no central heating and rain dripped through the roof. So then to my first Circuit, Weardale. I had to look it up on a map to see where it was.
Then after four years to East Anglia, where I have been ever since, serving at Wisbech, King`s Lynn, Wymondam, Ely and Swaffham. I had seventeen years as a Superintendent Minister, eight years as Synod Secretary and was privileged to go on preaching for seventy-three years.
I cannot begin to express my debt to all the wonderful people who have been my companions on this long journey as together we have walked with God.
(Rev John Garfoot)
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With many peaceful blessings