Graham Bartlett | Trainee Lay Minister

MA (Cantab.)

I was brought up on a South Manchester council estate in the 1950s, the eldest son of a former RAF navigator (with Bomber Command) from Kent, and a sewing machinist from Stockport, who knew how to make the best of post-war austerity by making all her children's clothes. I was blessed with an intense curiosity to see the rest of the world, but until the age of 18 I had never been abroad, had no means to travel, and didn't even possess a passport! My only assets were A-level certificates in four foreign languages, and I chose the two most different of them to study at university the following year - Spanish and Russian - which (though I didn't know it at the time) would literally take me to the farthest points of the compass, and provide me with a living for the rest of my life.

By the age of 21 not only did I have a passport, but it was full of visa stamps to all the Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain through working as a Bible courier during university vacations. I never fully explained to my parents why they saw so little of me during my four years of university study. I was an unlikely candidate for smuggling: I was not blessed with my father's keen sense of direction and map reading skills, but I loved to listen to and imitate Slavonic languages, so I could get by as we travelled from border to border. I was certainly naïve to the dangers of the work. I remember following the Russian tanks into Prague a few months after the crushing of Dubcek's Prague Spring in summer 1968. We did it for free, because we wanted to help our Christian brothers and sisters living under communist persecution. I got even closer in 1970 when I went on a British Council postgraduate scholarship to study Slavonic Linguistics at Sofia University under the worst regime of them all in Bulgaria.

I had become a Christian at the age of 14 through the influence of Christian friends in my school's Gilbert and Sullivan Society who put on a different opera every year. Although I initially resisted joining the "God Squad" as I called them, I realised that I needed what they had: not membership of a club, not theological knowledge, but a relationship with God through Christ. I have never regretted the decision I made over 50 years ago, and although I have faltered, God never has.

Following Bulgaria, I returned to the UK and worked in a language school in Bath where I met my future wife, Cecilia, a Venezuelan mathematician planning to do research in Britain. We were married in Worcester Cathedral in 1973, and then started our married life in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital and birthplace of our two children. Four years later we returned to the UK, when I took up a post teaching modern languages at St Olave's Grammar School in Orpington for the next eight years. In 1985 I was appointed Head of Spanish at Westminster School in London, where I spent the next 25 years teaching, and writing. I also pioneered student courses in Spain, Russia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile, to which I took students at least twice a year, and at the same time enjoyed fellowship with local believers.

We made our spiritual home at Christ Church, Orpington, where we were both involved in various lay-capacity roles. We spent many happy and God blessed years there until 2011, by which time we had both retired and moved out of Orpington to live in Badgers Mount. We were looking for somewhere we could be useful to God's purposes more locally, and John Benson gave us a very warm welcome to the Benefice, encouraging us to be part of the community of St Katharine's and St Margaret's. When the new course for Licensed Lay Ministry preparation in the Diocese of Rochester was inaugurated in 2012, John proposed me for a place on the course, and the two PCCs kindly sponsored me for the Foundation in Christian Ministry, which finished in March 2015. Before finishing the course to LLM I am presently under the Rector's training in pastoral ministry, taking assemblies in the two schools, and occasionally preaching and leading services in the two churches.