We’re delighted to let you know that following quite a unique journey, Jon Thurlow was commended by webnet as one of our Regionally Recognised Leaders last October. Ordinarily we’d be asking Jon to share something of his story at the Summer Gathering and AGM, but as things are a little different this year we’ve asked him to share it here:
I’m not sure if it’s just me but when people ask me what I do as a job I always take a very deep and deliberate inhalation of breath and prepare myself for a somewhat blank face. Sometimes I say, ‘I’m a Regionally-Recognised-Leader-working-part-time-as-an-Associate-Minister-in-a-Baptist-Church-as-well-as-being-an-NHS-Physiotherapist.’ Other times I say I work bi-vocationally (a word no-one else seems to have heard of) most of my week in the NHS as a Physiotherapist, as well as working alongside a Baptist Church community in a leadership role. In reality, if you haven’t heard the term bi-vocational or the title Regionally Recognised Leader, you are in very good company. In fact, I’ve only ever met one other Regionally Recognised Leader and didn’t even realise (or should I say recognise) it at the time!
Some five or six years ago, whilst working as an NHS Physiotherapist I sensed a nudging from God to step out on a journey, not really knowing – to paraphrase Hebrews 11:8 – where on earth I was going, or quite what God was calling me to. My wife Sophie and I prayed about it, talked with friends who also committed to pray, shared with our church family, who affirmed this sense of calling, and over a period of time felt God prompting us to take some steps into an unknown future.
One thing I do remember clearly is being sat at an open day at Bristol Baptist College and seeing a poster for an event called, ‘Bi-vocational’ (I too had never heard that word mentioned before). Sat talking to one of the tutors, I tried to give a sense of the work I was currently doing as a Physiotherapist, supporting people living with long term pain conditions. I also struggled to articulate something of this nudging or calling from God to serve in an equipping and discipling ministry, helping people to discover for themselves what it means to join in the mission of God. I remember saying, ‘I really want to know what path God is asking me to take.’ She paused and then wisely responded, ‘why don’t you do both?’
Following that conversation, in one of those curious God moments, I was invited to join the Steering Group of a small Baptist church community in Pill (a village made famous by the Wurzels, who once sang the hit ‘Pill, Pill, I love thee still’). The church were looking for someone to come alongside them to explore what God might be saying about the future and to engage with the mission of God in community of Pill and surrounding areas. A Home Mission Grant paid for me to work a day a week, alongside my NHS hours, with a core group of people in Pill as well as Steering Group of people from other Baptist Churches in the webnet cluster. During the following three years we had the privilege of supporting an already existing Café Church gathering in a local community centre, developing discipleship groups and opportunities to build community through breakfasts and BBQ’s (something Jesus himself seemed keen to affirm in the gospel accounts), as well as partnering with the regular Sunday morning church worship and local ecumenical partnership of churches. I also attended, over those three years, Trinity College’s part-time Certificate in Theology, Ministry and Mission, to try and think theologically and Biblically about what God had called me to do.
So where am I now? Since January 2019 I have continued to be supported to work a day a week, through the generosity of a Home Mission Grant, with a growing church community much closer to home, at Cheddar Baptist Church. This day is enabling me to lead a new small home (currently Zoom) group of about 12 people. We spend time each week dwelling in the word, praying for one another and encouraging one another as we step out with God into our own frontlines. I also assist the full time Baptist Minister, Paul Spanring, in leading and preaching once a month, developing a Café-style family service, as well offering pastoral support and encouraging the church community in exploring prayer and opportunities to connect with the wider community of Cheddar. In many ways the term, ‘Regionally Recognised Leader’ simply means that the webnet Regional Team and colleagues have fully supported Sophie, Ed, Jess and myself through these past 5 years and affirmed what God seems doing in our lives and the journey we are all still on. And yes, the other four days of my working week I continue to work for Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, currently as the Locality Manager for Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy and Podiatry Services in Burnham on Sea, Minehead and Williton (another job with an excruciatingly long title I’m afraid). Given the current situation with covid-19, my NHS role has been a particular focus and frontline over recent months and it has been encouraging to see the opportunities God has given me to share something of my faith with others in the turmoil of all that is happening right now.
People still look at me blankly when I try to describe what I do as a job and I’d still love to find at least one other person within the wider Baptist church family who is working ‘bi-vocationally’ or have been given the title Regionally Recognised Leader, but what Sophie and I have learnt over the past five years, is, in the words of the Apostle Paul (and paraphrased by Eugene Peterson), ‘God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!’ Eph. 3:20-21