Church Army Chief Exec in bid to oust Nick Clegg
From Brother Ivo:
Brother Ivo finds himself somewhat conflicted at the news that the Chief Executive of the Church Army, Mark Russell, is currently seeking the nomination as Labour Party Candidate for the Sheffield Hallam constituency, currently held by Nick Clegg.
Leaving aside all political considerations, Labour would be hard pressed to find a more suitable contender against a sitting MP with such a high national profile, and the kind of relaxed debating style which saw him win so many votes for the Liberal Democrats as a result of the leadership debates in 2010. Nick Clegg has his detractors and has made many mistakes, but one should not underestimate the scale of the task in trying to unseat an MP with a 15,000 majority. Furthermore, the UKIP wild card is at work, and considerable uncertainty may still be injected into every constituency race.
If anyone is built to unsettle such an incumbent, it is the charismatic Ulsterman, but his immediate election prospects are not primarily Brother Ivo’s concern. Even a good showing in Sheffield might increase Mark Russell’s prospects of securing a more winnable seat, and he has indicated that if elected he would stand down from his position of leading one of the Church of England’s primary evangelical and pastoral organisations.
He was appointed Chief Executive at the remarkably young age of 31. His profile on the Church Army’s website shows a man who has risen swiftly and secured the respect of both Rowan Williams, who appointed him as the youngest member of the Archbishops Council, and John Sentamu who said of him: "He has an infectious love for Jesus Christ and a refreshing commitment to evangelism that the church needs right now!"
It is that need which troubles Brother Ivo.
Having heard Mark Russell preach on various occasions, there is no doubt that he is an effective Christian communicator - quick, passionate, self deprecatory and unafraid to preach of Christ crucified: he touches young and old with the relevance of the Gospel message. You may see a little for yourself in the video link HERE and HERE.
It was partly as a result of Mark Russell’s influence that Brother Ivo’s own Church moved from the model of passive waiting for a congregation to show up, to one of actively reaching out; one of finding ways of 'making them come in' through a variety of strategies that broke down the reluctance of many who fear disapproval and therefore never think to set foot in such a place.
The advertising of Mark Russell as a speaker at an event ensures a good attendance, and those who have heard him preach and teach frequently tell their friends: “Come and hear." The Church needs such motivators, but so does Parliament, hence Brother Ivo’s ambivalence.
Although politically opposed to the party he seeks to represent, the arrival in the House of a no-nonsense Christian who is unafraid to speak of the Good News is an exciting prospect. Even where we might disagree on the answers, his recent work experience puts him in touch with the problems of those whom Jesus calls us to serve, and Mark could certainly be trusted to ask pertinent questions.
However, just as Mark was warned by David Hope that the bureaucracy of the Church would dull his edge, so might the Palace of Westminster. Parliament does have a number of Christians, but too many of them hide their lights under a bushel instead of standing tall and proud so that they might associate their public service and responsibility with the faith that underpins their core beliefs.
Much that Brother Ivo has seen suggests that one with a strong Church Army background would set a good example, and yet..
How often do we find our Members of Parliament sucked into the mire of the 'talking point' or following the 'party line' and the various persuasions of the Whips Office?
Mark Russell speaks in his Church Army video of David Hope interviewing him and warning that the Church of England might well drain him of his youthful enthusiasm. How much more must we fear for any Christian being reduced by the party machines once they enter Parliament!
On the one hand, a plain witness for Christ is much needed amongst our political leaders, and Mark has the capacity to shake others out of their reticence. But, on the other hand, the risk of losing his dynamism from the Church is a tough one to contemplate, particularly if he is dragged into the game of party politics. He would not be the first.
We cannot tell at this stage how this might end, and perhaps the best we can do is to place Mark before God in prayer so that he might use his undoubted talents in the way best suited to God’s plan.
Mark has used a very good closing encouragement to audiences that Moses was a stammerer, David an adulterer, Peter a coward, Thomas a doubter and Paul a persecutor, yet all ended up being of service God.
Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him into Jerusalem with the words: "The Lord has need." This secured His purpose. So Brother Ivo will comfort himself with the thought that if the Lord can make good use of a humble donkey, He will surely not make an exception of a potential Labour Party candidate.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)