Henry, how long have you been writing and how did you get started?
This is my first book, though I have written Bible Study notes for our parish Small Groups at Rainham, which underpinned a lot of our teaching there. I didn’t initially set out to write a book. My creativity is normally expressed in writing songs or painting canvases. So the idea came unexpectedly one day when I was sat down by the river in Rainham, spending time with God, as I regularly did. He planted the seed. He simply said, ‘write’. He would direct its course and I was to be committed to all He revealed in it. So I started to write and it just flowed. I found myself saying to Him ‘slow down, I can’t keep up’. I don’t know if that’s how it’s supposed to happen, but that was my experience – no fore planning or mapping out, just ‘write’. And I did.
Your book starts from the following premise – We are relational beings made in the image of a relational God – could you expand a little on what it means that God is ‘relational’?
We read in Genesis that when God created mankind in His image and likeness, He referred to Himself as ‘Us’ (Genesis 1:26). There is a sense here of God as community, which is reflected a lot in the things Jesus spoke about and taught; referring to the intimacy in His relationship with His Father and the empowering presence of His Holy Spirit in His ministry, which He would send upon His disciples for them to continue with His mission. An understanding of God who is one and yet embraces three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is more than how we might understand community or relationship from a worldly perspective. They are inseparable in that relational unity. I describe it in the book as a relationship where ‘there is no power struggle, no status to seek, no identity crisis, no hidden agendas or differences in opinion, purpose or will. There is just a heart that beats as one.’ I have expanded on that quite a bit in the book, because it underpins everything I believe we are created to be and the kind of relationships we are called to aspire to and be part of, both with God and one another.
I AM Relational records personal details of your own journey into discovering and understanding more about your identity in Christ – how did you find writing about these things?
Second nature really. My journey in life, (as is similar for all of us), is one of evolving development; of discovery and of transformation. I think it is not until we encounter and submit to the relationship with Jesus that we truly appreciate or even understand who we really are and the full potential and purpose He has created us for. Writing about these things and reflecting upon the journeys I’ve been on, has been quite a thought-provoking experience, especially when I start to ‘join the dots’ and make connections and see God’s hand upon things even before I knew Him. But it also has revealed just how far I’ve come in that relationship with Him, even though there is still so much more to discover, because I am still a work in progress…as are we all. It’s such an exhilarating journey when we say yes to Him and take up the call to follow.
What impact do you think the lockdown has had on our ability to relate as a society and to one another?
In an environment where social distancing has prevented us from the normality of gathering and interacting in our previous familiar settings, there is a heightened awareness of our need for one another in a social context. Our human resolve I believe, is to rise above these limitations and not be deprived of that which is most important to us – our human need for each other. It has not deterred us from engagement. I, alongside others, have experienced a greater warmth in people, having some form of contact, however limited, be it looking out for one another’s needs, using technology to stay in touch, waving to strangers across the street in daily walks, or going the extra mile in all kinds of ways. It all shows us that human interaction is vital for our health, wellbeing and future.
As a retired minister, do you think the lockdown experience will have a lasting impact on how churches meet and serve their communities?
That all depends on whether as churches we see ourselves as surviving or thriving in this crisis. I believe this is an opportunity like never before for really re-evaluating what our calling as the body of Christ is about. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticising what we did before. But what has come to light, that is being expressed by many in the church, is an openness in our communities where people are asking all kinds of questions about life, God, themselves and the nature of the world we currently live in. There are so many who are tapping into our livestream services and dialoguing with us over issues they would never have done before. What is that telling us? There is a harvest that is so ripe in this time. We will never have this again. God may not have caused this pandemic but He is certainly using it to speak to His Church and draw us closer to equip and re-envision us, I think, with a greater purpose than before. If we are willing to ‘step out of the boat’ and embrace these opportunities He is giving us, then we can really engage with the gospel and embrace new relationships in dynamic and creative ways, as well as maintaining the best of what we had. I don’t believe we will ever go back. I hope not.
What do you hope readers will take away from I AM Relational?
The sense of how unique and precious each one of us is. I find it mind-blowing to think that we are created in God’s image and likeness to reflect His love and His nature; to experience it and share it with others. Also I hope the book will enable readers to discover and understand a little more about the purposes God has for each one of us in the context of what Scripture shows us and that, as a result, they may want to explore further for themselves, their own experiences and journeys and how that might draw them closer to discovering who God is and who they are.
How did you find the publication process?
Really helpful. Not having written a book before, I don’t think I really appreciated just how much goes into it and how important the professionalism and expertise of the publishing team is and how invaluable their advice and shaping of this book has been. It would not have been half the book it is without their support and encouragement….and a lot of editing. Thank you guys.
Did you get input from friends and family for the book, or was it something you felt best to work on alone?
Input from others? Not really; not because they didn’t want to, but because I needed it to come out of what was stirring inside. That said, Sheryl my wife did get to read the first draft and made some helpful observations. I think the way it was flowing, meant it took on a life of its and so I felt I wanted to run with that and be absorbed with the process on a personal level. If anything it reflected my conversation with God throughout; that I suppose is where ‘other input’ came.
What one piece of advice would you want to give to a new writer?
Follow your heart. Let your passion do the speaking or writing. I never started out by deciding who I was going to write for or what style I would adopt. I just wrote what was inside and enjoyed the whole process. It is the same approach I have to writing a song or painting a picture. The outcome is not the focus, but the encounter in seeing something come to life. Have fun with it.
What are you working on now?
Another book, which I’ve called The Transformed Follower. It’s a follow up to I AM Relational and the second of three books the Lord has laid on my heart to write. It deals with our discipleship as followers of Jesus and how the effect of His call, ‘Follow Me’, unfolds in our everyday lives. I had in the past done quite a bit of teaching on discipleship with particular reference to the Sermon on the Mount and thought this book would be a reflection of that; but it has taken on a life of its own and gone in somewhat of a different divinely led direction. It follows a similar vein to I AM Relational, with stories about my own journey, ministry and teaching; so we’ll see how that develops. The third book will be called Walking on Pathways of Promise.
Finally, what is your favourite book and why?
That’s somewhat seasonal. There are so many books that have inspired me, I’m not sure I could pinpoint any single one. However, one that I have recently read and am about to read again, which is both inspirational and challenging, is Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church. It really does speak into this season and asks questions about how we do church and how the church in Acts operated. As well as personal testimony, Francis Chan clearly draws out some hard-hitting questions that evoke a re-examining of the mission God has called us to, with its demands and costs, and he gives us some practical ways forward to explore. I love reading books that leave me inspired and hungry for more.