Chairman of the Board

TERRY WAITE’S autobiography was a, ahem, much-awaited Christmas present in 1993.

It was one which I devoured, from cover to cover. It’s Kafka-esque style and tone described the life of a man who, through his commitment to Jesus Christ and compassion for his fellow human-beings, was forced to endure nearly five long years in captivity in war-torn Beiruit; much of it in solitary-confinement, some of it with torture.

His autobiography made a huge impression on me, and my faith; the news in October 1995 that Waite (pictured) was actually coming to Southend, seemed almost to good to be true. But there I eventually found myself, on a Saturday night in Clifftown United Reformed Church in Nelson Street…actually in the same building as Waite.

A man with a goatee-beard and a Midlands’ accent was introducing him to the audience, and I wondered what it must be like to share a stage with this giant-of-giants. I was to find out later, when I had the chance to actually speak to Waite himself – and found him to be an extremely self-effacing, thoughtful person.

Around three or four years later, and I found myself on a Thursday lunchtime, in the old Vineyard premises in Southchurch Road, at a meeting organised for local Christian office workers by the Customs’ Christian Union.

The man with the goatee-beard was there again, addressing the assembled workers, himself. I knew he was a clergyman, and I’d been aware that he’d recently endured some tragedy, in his family life. So his talk was all the more remarkable, as it implored us to trust in Jesus, with EVERY part of our lives. I hadn’t heard Stuart Kimber before, but I was told that he’d been very successful in his work with the church plant at Golden Cross, in the Rochford area. I made a mental note to listen out for him, in the future.

What was also memorable, was despite his success at Golden Cross, he wasn’t into ‘growing’ the local church. Not his, nor anybody’s. In fact, he spoke against it. Instead, he spoke out and implored us again…this time to go into all the world, not to persuade people to come to our particular church, but to tell them the Good News about Jesus Christ.

FAST FORWARD another six years, and I found myself inside the cool surroundings of St. Andrews’ Church in the Westborough Ward of Westcliff-on-Sea, talking to the man with the goatee beard. It was the weekend of Tony Campolo’s first visit to Southend, and on hot Saturday afternoon we’d left Tony and his wife Peggy to enjoy a scorching July day, in between his breakfast- and evening-speaking engagements.

It was around that time of day that they’d decided to have some lunch at Tomassi’s in the High Street, and where a number of diners had recognised him and come over to say hello…diners who read his regular column with CHRISTIANITY magazine, or listened to his ‘Across The Pond’ programme on Premier Radio!

Back in Westcliff, we’d popped out to a nearby corner-shop, to buy some milk, The Guardian and a few other bits. On the way back, it was pleasing to see St. Andrews’ church building simply open to the public…a rare sight, for a church to be open on a different day to a Sunday, these days, and as it was so hot, we decided to go in.

St. Andrews’ was celebrating it’s 60th Anniversary, and was holding an all-day Flower Festival as part of a full weekend of different activities and celebrations. A familar face came over to greet us and to welcome us, into the church.

By now, I was aware of a little of what the Rev. Stuart Kimber (main picture, above) had achieved elsewhere in south east Essex, and the smile behind the goatee and the glasses was to explain a bit about how he’d arrived at St. Andrews’ about four years previously, and how he’d began to influence life there – not least in the reappointing of the inner sanctuary of the church building, which was now a pleasant-looking cafe arrangement as you went in (with comfy chairs, sofas and coffee-tables) along with a designated ‘yoof area’; with the main seated-area for worship further down, inside.

We asked, among other things, if he would be going to hear Campolo that weekend; and eventually Stuart talked of how he’d been praying for the local churches (of all denominations) to come together in prayer and joint-action, for ten years before the advent of LOVE SOUTHEND, and how thrilled he was to see it come about, the way it had.

Our LOVE SOUTHEND logo was everywhere – on church posters, noticeboards, and literature – and was testament not only to his commitment to the cause, but to the truth that we’re all really, part of the much-wider family which is The Body Of Christ.

Stuart’s excitement would be matched by ours, eighteen months later, when he decided to accept the invitation to be the second Chair of LOVE SOUTHEND!

JONATHAN ULLMER, our former Chair, sadly stepped down towards the end of last year, to deal with a family illness.

With a tough act to follow, the Vicar of St. Andrews’ Church (which is also the parish church of the Westborough Ward – the fourth most densely populated council ward in England, illustrated above), Stuart Kimber has gained a reputation for having both a passion for, and the ability to bring Christians of all different shades and denominations, together – in joint-action.

His strategic and networking gifts have been seen in different guises, over the years:-

• He co-authored ‘A Prayer And Action Manual For South-East Essex’ (1996) and was sole-author of ‘Becoming The Church For The Third Millennium’ (2001).

• He’s also been on the Executive of the South East Essex Local Evangelical Fellowship (SEELEF), a grouping of some 35 local Christian churches and groups for ten years

• Been Chair of the Rochford District Christian Fellowship (14 different local congregations)

• Been Chair of the Chalkwell Group Of Churches (18 congregations within this part of Southend)

He is currently a member of the Steering Group of ‘Hope for Southend’, the cross-denomination forum of Christian Ministers and other Christians Leaders, that is working for Community Transformation in the town and which oversees the work of Love Southend.

He also has an interest in Mental Health and Spirituality. He was a founding Trustee, Director and latterly Vice-Chairman of Trust Links – the locally-based Mental Health charity (2001-2005). Since 2003 he has been a member of the Steering Group of the Essex-wide ‘Mind & Spirit’ network led by ‘InterAct’ Chelmsford, particularly helping to deliver Mental Health Awareness Training for churches.

STUART KIMBER attended a school with an Anglican foundation, and became a Christian at a Gospel Service in Kensington Temple, a London Pentecostal Church, during his second year at University. He met Gill, his future wife, in the Christian Union and they soon felt called to Christian ministry together. After ordination training, Stuart served as a Curate in Edgware, N.W.London, then became a Vicar in Cheltenham for 7 years before moving to the Parish of Hawkwell, near Hockley, in 1991 – where he led Emmanuel Church and then Golden Cross Community Church.

Stuart and Gill have been married for 29 years and have two grown up children, Matthew (24) and Jenny (22). Their eldest son, Andrew, died in 2003 at the age of 23.

He has been a Minister for 26 years, fifteen of them in south east Essex.

After a transitional, handover period at the end of last year, Stuart took over the reigns from Jonathan at the start of 2007, and his first public event as Chair, was to host a meal for 35 local church leaders from different churches in Southend – at ASK restaurant in the town-centre. After sharing his vision for the future of Love Southend, and some good food, he then accompanied them to the Odeon cinema nearby, where they watched the new Love Southend DVD Presentation and listened to top-US preacher, Tony Campolo (yes, him again!) at the Love Southend event FIRED UP! along with a packed Screen 4 audience of around 250 Southenders…and where nearly 100 people had to be turned away!

They say that you should never meet your heroes, because in person, they always disappoint. Well, I’ve now met three of mine, and they haven’t disappointed…I just can’t wait to meet Bono, next! Somehow, I wonder if a certain Westcliff clergyman will around, somewhere!

ALL LOCAL Christian leaders are welcome to contact Stuart, regarding LOVE SOUTHEND or general, town-wide interchurch matters. Brave man that he is, he’d love to share his vision for the Borough and for LOVE SOUTHEND and will be only too pleased to hear from you.

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