I am travelling home today after 5 days of a powerful visit in Southampton. I learned from a friend of long standing that a Pastor who was my first contact with the true Gospel, Pastor Ray Graham, pastor of Litchfield, Welshpool, and finally Eastwood in Nottingham. He moved to pastor the Assemblies of God Church in Eastwood in 1978, and I had my first contact with him in 1979.
I was only 13 at the time, wandered into the Church one weekday morning admiring the mural in the main hall, of a fountain. He came behind me, startled me in fact, and I was expecting to be asked what I was doing. There was something about this pastor, who was different, immediately asked me what I liked about the mural. I remember he offered to take me to Walker Street School in Eastwood, which no longer exists. I also remember that his driving was a little erratic, getting an angry horn blowing from an oncoming car. But this was to add to the mystique about this pastor.
In 1980 I managed to get to the Church to speak to him, as he had been instrumental in bringing some kind of peace in school. I had caused some controversy, having heard the call of God, but not knowing what it was, came across to my fellow classmates as a Messiah figure. Oh how the immature mind complicates things. He spoke to me in his vestry that Sunday morning about what had gone on in his input into the school, saying that something was going on, which he was going to visit me at home and speak to me. However I beat him to it, and he said he knew “God’s hand was upon me”, his phraseology. This confidence in his voice shook me at first and he led me in a prayer, which I can only say I was transported to a celestial place.
It would not be until 1986 that I joined the Church, raring to go to the mission field, him holding me back from many of my dreams, saying I needed to settle a little and grow. It was in 1987 that he sent me out to ACE Teams and supported me greatly through that year. In 1989 he supported a move by the assistant pastor to work with the Church for a year. I spoke to him before, saying I had been praying and God had spoken to me, and he would reply that it would be impossible, I mistaken in the belief it was he who could open the door, when he was accountable to a leadership.
Going with him on visitation is going with him in his passion. He lived to visit the believers of the 250 strong church. He seemed traditional at times, and yet at others, it seemed that Jesus entered that joyful face and he would go to some very problematic homes and diffuse very complex situations bringing love and grace wherever.
It has been almost 26 years since I had some personal contact with him, just before I left the UK to live in Portugal 15 years. The one thing I remember are those car journeys with him, the jokes, the counsel. The one thing I can truly say is that he was a true and rare pastor. One that could be your friend, and your leader and never confuse those boundaries. May God give him peace and rest from his long labours!