John became a novice early in 2002, made his first profession in 2005, and his life profession on 4th April 2008, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King
How did I end up joining a Franciscan Community? It crept up on me and suddenly pounced. I was a Baptist for 25 years, a minister for half of them. From that tradition I received a love of scripture, a desire to communicate the gospel effectively and many other blessings. The civil rights leader Martin Luther King was my hero.
By exploring the retreat movement I discovered the power of silence to draw us deeper into God and stumbled across the realisation that there was a significant contemplative dimension to my personality that needed to be taken seriously if prayer and ministry were to be truly in and of the Holy Spirit.
The disintegration of my marriage and the accompanying recognition of guilt and failure prompted a lot of soul searching. Did God still want me to serve him, or to bow out gracelessly? Confused, I confided in a spiritual counsellor who accompanied me through the darkness and helped me to listen for my own inner voice. In my gospel reading one day, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57). My sense that this was what God wanted to hear from me engendered a mixture of profound gratitude and terror. Gratitude marginally prevailed. I consented, still fairly clueless as to where ‘wherever’ might be.
Jean Vanier’s classic book “Community and Growth” had sat unread on my shelf for years. I opened it, and was captivated by his descriptions of the call to community and the call of the poor. Both of these calls reverberated around my heart. Some vague memory induced me to read Brother Ramon’s ‘Franciscan Spirituality’. This template of discipleship, with its simplicity and itinerancy, seemed to fit me. It revealed a pattern that made sense of the broken jumble that was all I could otherwise perceive my life to be; it presented inspiring challenges; it resurrected my dreams.
Visits to friaries immersed me in liturgical catholic worship. This required adjustments and rethinking, but proved over time to be liberating, full of beauty and joy, not the superstitious straitjacket of my prejudiced imagination. Weirdly I felt I belonged in this strange territory. Step by step and under the authority and care of the brothers I made the transition to a new home. All of me came. Positive and negative life experiences. Grace and grit. All of me was received.
Six years on I have lived in and visited poorer places and people than before and hope to do more of this. I am still at home moving from brokenness to wholeness in the company of these lovely, infuriating Franciscan brothers and sisters, seeking to follow Jesus wherever.