Billed as ‘An evening of wit and wisdom’ on Saturday 24 January, the Evangelical Free Church, Stony Stratford, hosted an evangelistic evening for the community with Bishop Wallace Benn and his wife Lindsey.
It was an interview-style event, conducted by Keith Plant, pastor of the church, who has known Bishop Wallace and Lindsey for many years.
The evening was in two parts, with a break for a buffet halfway through. The first half consisted of questions concerning Bishop Wallace’s early life and conversion, through to his time as the Vicar of St Peter’s, Harold Wood; and covered such subjects as the challenges and difficulties of ministry.
However, the evening was not without its lighter side, due to Bishop Wallace’s reputation as a practical joker, which provided some amusing anecdotes.
The second half of the evening focused on why the man, who had always seen himself primarily as a pastor/teacher, had accepted the appointment of Bishop of Lewes. His explanation was that, basically, he had seen an opportunity to continue to teach and pastor. But he also highlighted that clergy need support as well.
This part of the evening was particularly interesting, as he spoke of the great opportunities he had had for the gospel, as well as the difficulties and considerable pressures he encountered within the role.
Here, and throughout the evening, his wife provided insight into family life, speaking of the difficulties and issues there had been in the various moves, with two growing children.
One was left with a strong impression of teamwork and support both at home and work, which had been essential in both good and bad times, including during Bishop Wallace’s severe illness just prior to becoming a bishop.
However, the most poignant part came at the end of the evening with the question, ‘Why follow a vocation which led to heartache, criticism and even unfair accusations?’
Here Bishop Wallace spoke simply about the love of God and his offer of forgiveness for the lost, affirming the central place of the cross as a symbol of judgement and mercy, as the church’s message.
He highlighted throughout the evening that Britain as a country had moved away from Christian culture, and most people were suffering from very little understanding of the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice as a means for forgiveness. Yet, as the evening came to a close, he affirmed that there was no other way that anyone could find peace and reconciliation with God.
The message was reinforced by him, as he preached at the Sunday morning service from Matthew 16:13-28, on the subject of ‘Who Jesus is; what he came to do; what should be our response?’