A fond farewell to Paul and Sue Hills
Retirement celebration for long serving Regional Minister, Team Leader and his wife
This Sunday (8 February) marked the end of a chapter in the life of the Eastern Baptist Association, as people gathered at Burlington Baptist Church in Ipswich to give thanks for the ministry of Paul and Sue Hills.
Paul was inducted as an EBA Regional Minister (then Area Superintendent) back in 1998, and became the Regional Minister Team Leader in 2002. In that time the couple have been full and active members of Clare Baptist Church in Sudbury, Suffolk.
Joining them to celebrate their retirement and give thanks for their ministry were family, people from across the churches of the EBA, members from their previous church in Chippenham and Winchester, ecumenical partners, colleagues from other Associations and the wider Baptist family.
Opening the service, EBA moderator David Mayne spoke of the couple's many qualities.
'Paul, your decency and humility mark you out as a most precious gift to the Church. Your pastoral heart, wisdom and compassion have blessed many families, many ministers and many colleagues over the years. Your thoughtful leadership, commitment to mission and the way you create space for others to grow and thrive takes a special sort of leader to hold all that together with such grace; and you Paul have been one such leader.
'Sue, what a joy it is to know you - thank you for all your kindness, your patience, your administrative deftness, your capacity to keep things grounded. Your service to the churches and to our association is worthy of being marked in its own right.
'But we thank you also for keeping Paul on the straight and narrow, and thank you for letting us be blessed by his ministry – for all the time he spent with us whenever or wherever that was we are grateful to you for enabling that to happen.'
Opening words that captured the essence of the last 17 years of ministry within the EBA and the ministry within churches before that.
EBA Churches had been asked to bring an image of the ministry and mission in their church that they wanted to be thankful for. Some of these included special events that Paul had been involved in, such as the opening of a new building or a start of a new project that was still thriving. Some shared the life of these churches all working for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom.
Sue then brought readings from Hosea 11 and John 21: 15-25. And when Paul was welcomed to bring God's word, he admitted to feeling completely overwhelmed by the whole afternoon.
He started by acknowledging and giving thanks for the work of the original four county secretaries Terence Cooper (Suffolk), Shirley Lane (Norfolk), Richard Soar (Essex) and Keith Rawlinson (Cambridgeshire) whose work and graciousness built the foundation of what the Association is today. Their willingness to move forward together into a new thing has given the work of the Association a strong foundation to build on, he said.
He continued by saying each of us has an individual relationship with Jesus which is our responsibility to build and nurture - but this isn’t where it ends.
We need each other to grow, individuals need community, communities need other communities, churches need other churches to help them move forward to stand with them in their journey to stretch them further, to help when things get tough, to rejoice when things are good and to hold when times are difficult, he continued.
The service finished with a blessing, spoken one to another, and a symbolic passing on of a stick, a stick which Paul had brought to his induction as a regional minister 17 years ago. He passed this to the current regional ministry team Richard Lewis, Nick Lear and Simon Goddard (pictured) and prayed a blessing on them as they continue in the work and ministry of the Association.
Whatever else the service contained it was also primarily an act of worship, a time to praise the one who made us and acknowledge the faithfulness of the one who calls us to service, and to give thanks to the one who promises to uphold and sustain us in whatever that service may be.
The worship group led the gathering in singing and praise to God, drawing the focus onto Him. Prayers were offered for the world in which we live, the churches within our Association, our Union of Associations, colleges and churches and the work of connexions the group who exist to support spouses of those who are in ministry.
The afternoon concluded with tea and an abundance of cake, which had been provided by the host church and was thoroughly appreciated by everyone, and included a very special retirement cake for both Paul and Sue.