Service Above and Beyond

Service Above and Beyond?

Now does this title intrigue you?  I wrote this article during the time that we were considering the Holy Habit of Service.    So here is one fact and one question for you.

The fact - the Church Secretary has not always been called Church Secretary.  Until 1972 St John’s was a Presbyterian Church and in our Presbyterian history they were called Session Clerks.  In 1972, when we united with the Congregational Church to become the United Reformed Church, the title for the office became Church Secretary.

The question  -  What would you consider would qualify the incumbent of this position to have ‘served above and beyond the call of duty’?

10 years?    15 years?    more?  

Well what about 30 years?  That was the length of service of our very first Session Clerk, Alfred Malcolm Thomson Ireland.  He served until the day that he died (literally).  George Fairley was Church Secretary for 17 years.  Who do you think comes next? -  None other than our own Jackie Pasifull who has served a total of 14 years as Assistant and then Joint Church Secretary.  Her impending retirement is what sparked off the idea to write this article and mark her time as Church Secretary.

It would be fair to say that there have been many changes at St John’s over the 90 years since Mr Ireland first took office.  Mr Ireland oversaw the growth of our fledgling congregation from about 20 faithful followers to over 500 in his final year.  He served under two ministers and during his tenure our first women Elders were elected and our current sanctuary developed from being a vision to the reality of the wonderful building we have today.  As Session Clerk he would have been vastly influential in all aspects of our early church history and ministry.

In the short history of our current United Reformed tradition George Fairley stands as a veritable colossus as our Church Secretary for 17 of its 47 years (and he had already been a Session Clerk in Edinburgh before he arrived here in Orpington.)  Taking up office towards the end of Revd  Alisdair Pratt’s ministry, George guided the congregation through the  vacancy and served throughout Revd Michael Rees’ ministry, then once again steered us through another vacancy, culminating in the successful call to Revd Derek Lindfield.  During his term as Church Secretary George saw the re-structuring of the Eldership and the extensive refurbishment and enlargement of the premises giving us the amazing space which we currently use.

The increase of complex legalities such as those concerning the Charities Commission, confidentiality, vulnerable people, and copyright, to name but a few, all added to the remit of the Church Secretary and which Secretaries since have had to address.  Perhaps George’s greatest legacy was his involvement in, and enthusiasm for, virtually every aspect of church life.  George had a deep rooted faith which literally shone through in all aspects of his life but really came to the fore where St John’s was involved.

Finally what of Jackie?  It is a testament to her that she has continued to serve for 14 years in a culture which does not exactly encourage such longevity of service.  Over that time she has, unstintingly and with a happy disposition, overseen and accurately recorded numerous Elders’ and Church Meetings, guided us through our 5 year Local Mission & Ministry review (LMMR), completed annual returns, organised stewarding and communion rotas (no mean feat I can assure you), and, with her careful, quiet oversight of all that is going on in St  John’s, has kept our administration current and efficient.  The list is almost endless and I suspect has grown almost out of all recognition from the days of our first Session Clerk.  Jackie has done all this with a wry sense of humour and smiling throughout. 

I sincerely doubt that neither Johnstone Brown nor I could have begun to do the job without her wholehearted commitment and support.  Until I joined her as Church Secretary I was completely unaware (as I suspect most of you are) just how deceptively complex the calling is.  Having listed all the administrative competencies Jackie has brought to the job, we must not forget that alongside it all she has continued to demonstrate an outstanding flare for pastoral ministry both in our           fellowship and as a Street Pastor.  We are indeed blessed to have her in our midst.

Whilst we continue to be led by men and women who have a passion for St John’s which has been demonstrated time and again by those such as Jackie, George and Mr Ireland, we can be sure that St John’s will remain a beacon of hope and faith in a society which thinks it does not need God as part of it.  We can be sure that we are truly blessed by all those in our church family, and in particular our Ministers, Church Secretaries and Elders, who remain prepared to serve “above and beyond”, not only in terms of years but in terms of loyal and steadfast commitment.

Jon Henderson