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My great great grandfather had a way with words. Here is one of his throw-away lines in Oliver Twist:
‘There are books of which the backs and covers are the best part.’
What young Oliver made of Mr Brownlow’s words remains to be seen, but I hope that it will not be your conclusion after reading this one!
I cannot claim to have inherited any skill in this department from my revered ancestor, but like him I have felt the clamour to write and to write from experience. By writing about the characters that lived in his imagination, he revealed much of himself that otherwise would have remained hidden. His personal story contained much that was painful and seared his soul. Unlike him, though, it is not through imagination but through the actual living that I write, with the ups and downs of daily experience. It is called Rainbows through the Rain because there is no rainbow without the rain. But the rainbow is God’s reminder that there is always hope. That has been true for me.
It is very different from the first part of memoirs entitled Green Shoots through the Concrete. In that I wrote about the twenty years living and working on the south bank of the River Thames in London. This one is the story of my life and work as a bishop; first in Birmingham, then in Southwell-Nottingham and after that back in Birmingham again.
While in Southwell-Nottingham I had an accident, damaging my back, and I am frank about the consequences that eventually led to my resigning and taking temporary early retirement. It was a difficult time, not only for me but also for my wife, Veronica, and our three adult children. All of them were superbly supportive during that period and I am very grateful to them for their love and very practical help in so many ways.
At the beginning of 1998 we returned to Birmingham without knowing what the future might hold. I had been given a sabbatical year to recuperate, after which the situation would be reviewed. It was a good year off with many encouragements and opportunities to learn new skills. When it ended in February 1989, the doctors declared me fully well and fit to resume some form of ministry. It was then that the Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer, invited me to become a stipendiary Assistant Bishop with a pastoral role alongside him and the Bishop of Aston, Colin Buchanan. Little did any of us know what was to change so dramatically within three months. The later parts of the book describe the outcome and the ministry that followed.
It has been several years before I could write the story as I needed some perspective that only time gives. Finally, I was encouraged to write about it and it has proved to be both cathartic and healing. Friends have been kind enough to say that it will help others who have experienced similar trauma. If that is so, for even one person, it will have been worth it. Much that is confidential has had to be omitted and many stories left untold for the same reason. All those mentioned have given their permission to include their names and stories, though one or two names have been changed to protect their identity.
I have written as I remember it from notes and dairies, but others may remember it differently. I hope that I have not misrepresented anything or anyone or offended any. If I have, please forgive me. It was not intentional, but at times my memory may have been faulty.
What I sincerely pray is that the reality of God’s love and care for each of us will be evident and encourage us all to trust in his goodness. There is no magic wand to wave that will dispel evil and suffering in this world, but what I know from experience is that he is there in the middle of the darkness with us, always pointing forward in hope.