Words from our Minister

Ken Forbes
The Revd Kenneth M Forbes, Minister at Lion Walk Church, Chappel URC and URC Christ Church, Colchester

Our Minister, the Revd Kenneth M Forbes, retired on 30 June 2024 after nearly 21 years of service in Colchester and 40 years as an ordained minister. We will remember his ministry with love and gratitude.

Ken was called to serve at Lion Walk Church, with Chappel URC, in November 2003.  His ministry with the Congregational Union of Scotland had been in Hamilton and Blantyre; Annan; and Port Glasgow, as well as serving as Synod Clerk for Scotland through the time the Congregational Union of Scotland joined the United Reformed Church in 2000.  Between 1989 and 1994 Ken’s ministry had been in Zimbabwe.  In 2008, Ken was also called to ministry at Christ Church, Colchester.

Throughout his ministry Ken wrote a monthly column for our church magazine, Lion Talk. Here is his farewell article.

A few days ago –15th June to be exact – was the 40th anniversary of my ordination to Ministry and induction to my first charge. I still remember it well. It was a warm and sunny Friday evening in Hamilton, where we gathered at the Congregational church for the service led by the General Secretary of the Congregational Union of Scotland, the Revd Bob Waters. All my family and friends were there of course, as well as fellow students from the Scottish Congregational College and the University of Edinburgh, and members of my two churches in Hamilton and Blantyre.   After the service we all adjourned across the street to the local primary school hall for the buffet and speeches. So began my 40-year Adventure in Ministry.

Regular listeners to my sermons will no doubt have discerned a recurring theme: the presence of God’s Kingdom in today’s world; the involvement of God’s Spirit in even the most trivial of encounters; the opportunities for service presented by chance meetings; the surprising outcomes of serendipty and coincidence. Not that I’m thinking of a manipulative interventionist God who moves us around like pieces an a chessboard. Rather, a God who gives us the intelligence and ingenuity to recognise where the next steps might lead us on our journey of faith, and to follow that path as the disciples followesd Jesus, ready to face all the twists, turns and forks in the road.

1986 was the centenary year of the first Boys Brigade camp, held at Tighnabruaich. To celebrate, an international camp was held in Ayr, and I was invited to be one of the 13 chaplains. I found myself sharing a tent with Ken Swinton, the captain of the 16th Harare BB company in Zimbabwe. We became good friends, and a few months later I enjoyed a holiday in Harare with Ken and his family, during which I was introduced to their minister, the Revd Greg van der Lingen. As so often happens when one is on holiday, I thought this would be a marvellous place to live, and casually enquired of Greg if there were any vacant churches in his denomination. I wasn’t really serious about it, but a few weeks after my return to Scotland, a letter arrived from the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa giving a list of vacant churches in Zimbabwe! Was this the call of God? Or was it the lure of 240 days of sunshine every year? Either way, I had a happy and fulfilling five years in Harare, before returning to Scotland to take up the only vacant pastorate there was – in Annan, Dumriesshire, where I served from 1994 to 1999. Was this the call of God? Or was it the necessity of taking the only church that was available? Either way, I enjoyed the sedate life of a church in a small rural market town for five years.

Then came the United Reformed Church, and it was all change once again when in 2000 I was appointed Synod Clerk of the new Synod of Scotland and part-time minister of Port Glasgow URC. Part of my job involved deputising for the Synod Moderator when necessary, and for several months I had to attend the monthly Moderators’ meeting on his behalf. It was there that Lion Walk first hove into view, appearing on the vacancy list, then disappearing when an introducion was made, then reappearing again. Lion Walk and Chappel seemed to pop up regularly on the list, and I was intrigued enough to study the pastorate profile and speak to the Eastern Synod Moderator, the Revd Elizabeth Caswell.

Then one evening when my Synod Clerking took me to an international service in Drumchapel, I was trying to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish when it suddenly occurred to me that the time had come to return to pastoral ministry. And since Lion Walk and Chappel were on my mind at the time anyway, I thought I’d give it a go. Was this the call of God?   Or was it just a desire to do something a bit more relevant than worship in a foreign language? Either way, a few months later I found myself in Colchester where, after five years, Christ Church was added to my pastoral portfolio until its closure in 2023. And here we now are twenty-one years later having come to another fork in the road.

I still remember my initial interview with the Lion Walk vacancy committee, when it was noted that I had spent only five years in each of my previous charges, and was asked how long I’d expect to stay in Colchester. Of course I couldn’t give any definite answer to that, but I’m sure that neither I nor the vacancy committee expected that I’d be around for more than twenty years!

Serving the same pastorate for such a long time has been very different – in a good way and in a not-so-good way. At all three churches I have been made to feel very much a part of the church family. This has been important for me as a single person, as almost everyone I know in Colchester has some connection with one or other of the churches. It would have been a very lonely existence had it not been for the warmth and acceptance of the church family. Not so good has been the necessity to conduct the funeral services of many people I have come to know well as friends. Inevitable, I suppose, but hard at times.

Now for me, for Lion Walk, and for Chappel, it is all change once again. I have no doubt that, for us all, the Spirit of God will continue to shine through the chance encounters, the trivial conversations, and the coincidences of life as well as the services of worship and prayer, meetings, and formalities of future planning.

I am deeply grateful to Lion Walk, Chappel and Christ Church URCs for nearly twenty-one interesting and fulfilling years in Colchester. I will continue to read Lion Talk with interest, and look forward to following your continuing journey from afar. (Well, it’s only 426 miles. Visitors always welcome!)

May the Lord bless you and keep you.