Meet the Moderator: My Life and Faith Journey
By Revd Dave Herbert Interviewed by Ian Buchanan, Assistant Editor
IB: Dave, can you tell us about your early childhood and growing up in Huddersfield?
DH I had a very happy childhood, son of the manse, youngest of four children, spoilt rotten I’m sure! I grew up in a very mixed community: Afro-Caribbean and Pakistani mainly, which I loved – especially all the different foods, music and cultures. I enjoy South Asian classical music concerts at The Sage to this day.
IB: What were your interests growing up? Were you a rebellious youth?
DH Music – listening to it and trying to make it, reading and writing. We were a very close family. Still are. Nearly eleven years between my eldest sister and myself. Yes, I was a bit of a tearaway I’m afraid, in a very quiet, polite sort of way, and probably hastened the onset of parental white hair, but was extremely thankful for the Church’s constant evident inclusion of me even when I was at my most … experimental.
IB: How would you describe yourself as an individual, what drives you and what lights your fire?
DH: I’m a glass half full, thankful, sort of person I think. My mum was very much like that, so her genes take all the credit. I do enjoy good humour and see laughter as a great medicine. I have a bias to the underdog, always. I devour travel to off the beaten track places, and new experiences, and find being out of my comfort zone both stimulating and refreshing. I like a clean and tidy environment at home, I am content in my own company, but also enjoy having the people I love around me. I am very much a facilitator, enabler, and see myself as having a collaborative approach to life. Like all of us, I guess I’m full of contradictions and inconsistencies which when I was younger would have troubled me, now I just laugh at me and keep working on my integrity!
IB: When did you become a Christian?
DH I was born into a Christian home, and so cannot think of a time without seeing life through the lens of faith, but there have been times when I experienced deepening faith: around the ages of 10-13, then again around the age of 19-21. I remember the moment my vocation to be ordained ceased to be an option and became an imperative as final year undergraduate.
IB: How did that feel?
DH Electrifying and liberating. An inner struggle came to an end and I found a certain peace rooted in the rather crude contract of ‘I’ll keep saying ‘Yes Lord’ as long as you get me out of any consequent messes, because remember: this was your idea, not mine!’
IB: What called you to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament? Did you consider any other career?
DH: It was vocation, pure and simple, and definitely from without, and not from within. I came within a cat’s whisker of being a Probation Officer, which I had trained to be and looked forward to being. In fact, because I didn’t feel old enough, mature enough, good enough, sufficiently Biblically literate, and a few other things too. I really hoped the Church in her wisdom would suggest to this particular 21 year old to ‘Go away and get some experience and come back to us in ten years’. Instead they kept stroking their chins and saying ‘Mmm, you’ve got a strong vocation!’.
IB: Can you tell us about your Ministry since Ordination?
DH: I have had the joy and privilege of an extremely rich and varied experience of ministry: profoundly urban and profoundly rural congregations; mixing with some of both the wealthiest and poorest individuals in the north of England; with chaplaincies in the army, industry, hospitals, school, Debenhams, town centres and shopping centres. I have had a phase of ministry as a community chaplain when I have spent more time in mosques, temples and gurdwaras than in churches. I have held other people’s hands during the most critical moments when mere words could never be enough. I feel to have been to some very dark places, very occasionally even dangerous places, and then again to beautiful and numinous spaces too, an interim ministry in Fiji was wonderful where I learnt that ‘being’ was just as important as ‘doing’. I am blessed and honoured to have experienced so much alongside some amazing people in sometimes intense situations.
IB: What makes you the Minister you are?
DH: The people who have loved me in life: they are the ones who have constantly helped me experience and comprehend the transforming power and very source of love and mercy. A key text in Scripture for me is ’God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them’. (1 John 4:16). Many have helped me see God’s love in action, the ones who have made the simple moment shine, and helped me appreciate God’s glory in the ordinary. I’m talking about family, close friends, and sister and brothers in Christ within the URC and many other traditions along the way, and in the congregations I’ve been called to serve.
But you know, I still feel very much out of my depths on occasion, and I’m very aware of what does not come naturally to me. But then I come back to my vocation, and understanding that we all have a part to play and that God often uses the most unlikely of people. And after all, we’re all unfinished business, letting the knocks and dents of life fashion and chisel us into the people God would have us be, like a divine sculptor working on a block of the finest Ferrara marble. I’m a work in progress, far from the finished product, have been all my life, and will continue to be so to my last breath. It’s no cause for complacency, but keeps things in perspective.
IB: Can you tell us about the role of Moderator and how you have tried to manage it?
DH: People say it’s an impossible job, so if ever I’m overwhelmed and not keeping up then it’s OK because it’s an impossible job. I do not find that a complete help though. All ministry is challenging and every minister needs to dig deep and nurture resilience, self-awareness and spiritual wellbeing. I guess we all do that and in different ways. It is a marathon relay race, and not a sprint. The one thing I can bring – and believe me I’m mindful of the many things I do not carry in my tool kit but the one thing I feel God wants me to bring (and I feel I can bring) is encouragement and hope to congregations and individuals struggling with being Church in rapidly changing times. We are living in betwixt and between times, when models of church and patterns of ministry are stretched between what has been and what is to come. These are uncharted waters, three is no blue print we can take off the shelf, and that can be stressful ,but you know, it’s also exciting too. We are being afforded glimpses of what is to come, standing on the cusp of changes the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Church since the Reformation. It’s like nearing the top of Mt Nebo and finding occasional panoramic views of the promised land beyond. Please don’t think I’m getting Moses syndrome though! Finally, most importantly, I am but one among a large team of very gifted and committed servants of the Church within the Synod Team and among all the Synod’s Committees, and many others besides, without whom nothing much at all could ever happen.
IB: What have been the happiest times in your life and Ministry?
DH: I have loved every chapter for different reasons, and couldn’t possibly choose between any of them.
IB: Any funny episodes?
DH: I remember when a young minister 33 years of age bouncing up to the head teacher of the Duchess’s High School in Alnwick, Mr Roy Todd, in a church vestry just before a school/community service. Roy was standing next to and talking with the Duchess of Northumberland, who after I’d moved on, tentatively asked Roy if he allowed all his pupils to address him by his first name!
IB: Have you ever had a crisis in your faith?
DH: I almost wish I could say yes to give hope to others who I know do, but no. I have sometimes gone back to God and asked are you sure you want me doing this? Sure you haven’t anyone better suited / qualified? But by God’s grace, mercy and love I hang on in there. It’s certainly not down to any innate self-belief on my part. I am always more mindful of what I am not managing to do than what I am managing to do.
IB: What are your dreams for the Synod
DH: That the household of Northern Synod might be like an inclusive joy-filled giant big top or tent, always ready to be re-pitched if needs be, with the sides rolled up so people can never be pigeon-holed as insiders or outsiders but can move freely in and out of the tent in safety, with affirmation and dignity, knowing they are precious in God’s sight and loved more dearly than they can ever imagine. All the people milling in around and beyond the tent make up a community, a network, of healing, reconciliation, peace, and wholeness, a community of love, reaching out.
IB: What message of encouragement would you share with the Church?
DH: The Church is not dying, but is in transition. The Gospel addresses the human condition as perfectly as it ever did. We already have all we need to be the people of God in this place. God’s promises are true, all we need do is trust and obey.
IB: Anything else, that is important that I have not asked you?
DH: Yes, Huddersfield Town is my favourite football team (my apologies to you Ian 😊)