• Celebrating 25 years of Courage

    "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun”

    So wrote quoheleth (Hebrew for “Teacher”), opening the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

    The Teacher declares that there is a time for a beginning and ending to everything. Well this Saturday—15th September, will mark a very significant milestone in my life. My wife Bren & I, with many friends, will be holding a special service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for 25 years of the Courage ministry. (All are welcome.) This will also be the occasion to mark the end of Courage as it now stands.

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    I shall not be retiring as such, because the ongoing need for the pastoral care of LGBT Christians is immense, and not many people are available to offer that care, who have the kind of experience I have. As an evangelical Christian, but one who has moved from a strictly conservative view of homosexuality to a position where I can fully affirm committed same-sex relationships, with a good conscience before God, there remains a great deal of pastoral work for me to do. However, this Saturday’s service will be the final Courage meeting, as such.

    The background

    In August 1987, when I gave up my job working as senior photographer (latterly as director) for Woodmansterne Ltd., I knew then that a new season of my life was starting that September. But I was taking a huge step of faith, as I had no idea where my few months working with Love in Action would lead me. (LiA was an “ex-gay” ministry, then based in San Rafael California.) After four months working with LiA, I returned to the UK and with the encouragement of my local church fellowship (the New Life Church Harrow), I founded the Courage ministry, based on the Love in Action ministry model. This was in February 1988. So whilst Courage itself is in its 25th year, I have been working in this area of ministry for exactly 25 years now. Through the past quarter of a century, changes in society and even the church, regarding homosexuality, have been immense. Who could have imagined in 1988 that by 2012, the conservative government of the UK would seriously be promising to bring gay marriage into being before the end of this parliamentary session?!

    The story of how this ministry moved from a very traditional, conservative evangelical Christian view on homosexuality, to a fully affirming position, is well documented. More relevant to this month’s blog entry is to note that, probably, about halfway through this period I came across a fascinating little book called “The Jesus Style” by Gayle D Erwin. It is still one of my favourite books. In it, the author 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 was partly responsible for leading me to the conviction that, whilst the doors should close on Courage as it is now, it could be possible that God wanted to prepare the way for a “new” Courage. With this in mind, 18 months ago, I invited a small group of friends who have been an outstanding support over the years—men and women who share the same core values and the same sense of mission—to come together to discuss the future. Our purpose was to seek a fresh sense of the Holy Spirit’s direction and to develop a work with an appropriate mandate for the 21st Century. The result is the new “Two:23 Network” - see www.two23.net which I am so excited about. You can read all about the origin and significance of the name on their website. Their first meeting will be on Saturday 24th November in London, just two months away.

    (For the time being, our mid-month Sunday afternoon Bible studies, held in Clapham, South London, will continue for as long as its members are still keen to meet up. If anyone reading this blog is interested in joining that group, please let me know. )

    In John 12:24, Jesus taught his disciples this important principle: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

    My hope is that in laying down the Courage ministry, the long term fruit will multiply to become something far greater than anything I could ever have achieved on my own. Not that I have been entirely alone because I have had many friends supporting me over the years. In particular, I must acknowledge and give thanks for Brian Longman’s tireless and faithful support in the Courage office—for 10 years now. But I have never succeeded in enabling the ministry to grow beyond what I could manage to do myself. I’ve often felt that this is a big failure on my part, but I sensed God reassuring me recently that for the years since I began Courage, it was only possible to steer the work through such major changes by keeping it small in size; being in a position where I have personally been so dependent upon God for all the twists and turns on the journey, has forced me to be flexible in a way that would have been much more difficult if we had been a bigger organisation with staff to pay.

    Having established a new understanding as to what the Christian approach to homosexuality should be, perhaps now is the time for a wider network to begin and a greater harvest as a result.

    For me personally, I must admit to having found myself feeling a little ambivalent about this Saturday’s event. Whilst I know this is the time to finish running Courage, and I am thrilled about the Two:23 Network (www.two23.net), this will nevertheless be the end of an era in my own life. And whilst I shall continue working in this field of ministry for the foreseeable future, there is no doubt that things will feel different. I am hoping and praying that I can comfortably readjust to the change in my role and also be open to whatever God might have for me in the future.

    There is a right time for everything, in God’s plan of things, and even though we may have no idea what comes next, our lives and our hopes are in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Jeremy Marks

    12th September 2012

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