It was a surprise to learn that John Chapman had passed away. I read the report just after we had arrived back in Sydney from conducting a Healing Mission in Florida. I realised afresh that he had a big part to play in my being invited to do Healing Missions in the Unites States between 1999 and 2012. How? He had supported Dean Lance Shilton’s recommendation that I be appointed the Leader of the Healing Ministry in St Andrew’s Cathedral upon the retirement of Canon Jim Glennon. He was among the first to congratulate me when the appointment was announced. Becoming the Leader of the Healing Ministry opened up new doors for ministry in the USA, and for that privilege I owe a big debt of gratitude to Chappo. It is probably true to say that without his support I might never have been appointed as Leader of the Healing Ministry. Nor had the privilege of ministering in the USA.
Everyone knew who John Chapman was. I first heard him speak when I was a layman in Brisbane Diocese. He came across to those of us newly converted to Christ as the jovial “Friar Tuck” of the Anglican church. His enthusiasm for the person of Christ, his obvious love for the Bible and his joyous demeanour certainly encouraged a lot of young fellows to seriously consider living and preaching the gospel that he preached. He was a true example of a gospel preacher, a real person without pretence, who loved the Bible, who loved Jesus and who loved people. When I moved to Armidale to be the Dean of the Cathedral it became obvious that he had made an incredible impact in that diocese during his ministry there. It was always a joyous time for clergy and lay folk when he returned to preach in the diocese.
I saw a different side to his personality some years later. It was during a Preachers’ Conference in Sydney. John with others was to teach on preaching and then do a critique on the sermons of 3 selected participants. I had been chosen to be one of them. I didn’t particularly relish the idea of being “carved up” in front of my peers. So I tried to do as much preparation as I could to lessen the pain. But some traumatic things took place in the days preceding the conference and I had little time to prepare a sermon. One was ministering to a young mother whose baby had died of brain injuries inflicted by the father. I will always remember the scene at the funeral at the graveside where family gathered in deep sorrow and obvious anger. It was deeply traumatic for all concerned. Another was getting ready for an appointment with a couple for a wedding interview when I desperately wanted the time to get a “good” sermon done.
As I preached that night at the Preachers’ Conference I shared some of the details of what had taken place during the previous week. It meant sharing honestly my deep humiliation when I discovered that the couple I didn’t particularly want to interview for a wedding were wide open to the gospel. Both of them gave their lives to Christ that afternoon. I shared too I had been deeply convicted that I had been more concerned about preaching a “good” sermon at the Preachers’ Conference than I was in spending time to meet the spiritual needs of a needy couple.
When the sermon was over I waited for the “carving”. Chappo spoke first. He said, “I’m moved. I’m deeply moved.” That was all he said. I was astonished. To my mind there was nothing special about the sermon. But as I later reflected on that evening I realised what a spiritual giant of a man John Chapman was, to be touched by a sermon from a virtual nobody. His attitude that night taught me a lot about true humility. John would listen intently for God’s voice as the word of God was preached through all kinds of human instruments. He was humble, always hungry for God to work through him to bring others to Christ. I recognised by contrast that I had been judgmental in my attitude to the couple seeking marriage, seeing the interview as taking up my “valuable” preparation time. The time spent sharing the gospel was never “wasted time” for John Chapman. It was his life. It led to thousands of others finding true life in Christ through his ministry.
Like thousands of others around the world I praise God for raising up a man called “Chappo” to accomplish incredible things in His church in Australia and overseas. Someone once said that the world has yet to see what God can do through a person totally committed to Him. He certainly did an amazing amount through “Chappo’s” dedicated commitment to Him. His courage in presenting the gospel encouraged many. His humility made many of us examine more deeply, our motivation and goals in ministry.
Blog No.099. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Monday 19th November 2012