Farewell Interview with Pastor John Surridge

Farewell Interview with Pastor John Surridge

Sam O Davies, BUC Communication Director

In this article, we interview Pastor John Surridge, the outgoing Executive Secretary of the British Union Conference, as we bid him farewell on his retirement after 40 years of dedicated service to the BUC.

Introduction: Brief Bio

Pastor John Surridge is a fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist whose grandparents and parents served as missionaries in Africa. John spent his early years in Nigeria and then Ghana before returning to the UK for his secondary education. After an initial interest in science which concluded with a BSc in Electronics and employment in the integrated circuit industry, John retrained as a Seventh-day Adventist minister. John is married to Moira, a recently-retired Intensive Care nurse, and they have two grown-up children who are also both married. In addition to their children John and Moira have four grandchildren.

Sam D: Congratulations on your upcoming retirement. We want to acknowledge and celebrate your significant contributions during your tenure at the British Union Conference (BUC). In this interview, we aim to explore your work experiences, beginning with your first job as a pastor, and share your wisdom with those who will follow in your footsteps.

Sam D: Please describe your work history, beginning with your first job as a pastor.

John S: My early ministry was in South Wales, working in a five-church district as an intern under Pastor Neil Robertson. We got on well together, running camps, visiting members, and learning the practical side of church management. We were well accepted into the Welsh community, particularly because we both decided to learn the language. Our children went to Welsh schools and we made the most of the beautiful South Wales coasts, valleys and mountains. In 1996 I was called to serve as the BUC Communication director, which was as exciting as it was challenging, coming as it did near the beginning of the internet boom. Over the next ten years we developed websites, the BUC News channel – email and video, and a number of database systems. In 2006 we went back to Wales where I served as Mission President for a further ten years. Again we enjoyed South Wales, and one notable success during this time was the rebuilding of the Swansea church – made possible through a legacy and the generous support of the BUC. Finally, in July 2016 I was called to serve as Executive Secretary of Adventist Church in the UK and Ireland, where I remained until retirement.

Sam D: What inspired you to become a pastor?

John S: I’m a fourth-generation Adventist and a third-generation pastor. However, both my grandfather and my father were missionaries, serving in East Africa and West Africa respectively. My main interest has always been in mission rather than maintenance and I still believe that mission should be the priority for all pastors in the church.

Sam D: You began ministry with a background in electronics; can you share more about your transition and the skills you acquired throughout your work?

John S: From an early age I was interested in all things mechanical and electrical. I got an electronic construction kit when I was about 12, did Maths, Physics and Chemistry for my A-levels, and then got a BSc in Electronics from Manchester University. This was just prior to the rise of microprocessors and personal computers, but I managed to get some experience with them when I was employed by a branch of ITT in Harlow. I left the electronics industry a year later, but when I started in ministry I bought my first computer – a BBC micro. I learned more about programming and was particularly interested in databases. Over the years I was able to use these skills to develop a membership management system for the BUC, which has just been succeeded by ACMS, and a back-office system for pastors, which is still in use today.

Sam D: What were the most significant successes or accomplishments in your working history?

John S: Another programming project that I got involved with was the FreeBible website. We created an online quiz, covering the 28 fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists, and rewarded people with a Bible if they completed 10 of the quizzes. This was not a particularly easy task, as they would have to respond to 200 questions with 1,000 possible answers. However, over the years, thousands of people have completed these quizzes and some of them have become church members as a result. I would like to think that many of these people, even though they may not have joined the church, are still impacted by what they learned about creation, the Sabbath, and of course, salvation through Jesus. This project was taken over by the Adventist Discovery Centre and has been given new life by the team there.

Sam D: What were the most significant challenges you faced at work? How did they help you grow as an individual, and what can future pastors learn from these experiences?

John S: In church leadership you quickly learn that nothing in the Adventist church happens unless it has been approved by at least one committee. Very early on, committees became a very large part of my working life, and discovering how decisions are made by groups was both frustrating and a blessing. Committees lie at the very core of democracy, and democracy, in my view, has a religious component. As the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said, "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." [Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 40]. In other words, democracy, including those boring committees that we sit on, is part of the process for managing a world corrupted by sin. It is therefore vital that we organise our committees well, taking on board a wide range of opinions, but concluding with a decision that everyone owns. I wish I had learned this earlier, and I would encourage all pastors to take their committees seriously.

Sam D: You spent many years at the BUC office as Communication Director and, later, as Executive Secretary. Can you share some of the significant changes you witnessed?

John S: One of the main changes in the church has been growth. We almost take it for granted that every year our membership figures will be higher than they were the previous year. In fact, I can’t remember a single year in my entire ministry when our membership has declined. This is remarkable, especially when most other churches here in the UK and Ireland are shrinking. Linked to this numerical growth is financial growth. The amazing faithfulness of our members means that we can employ more pastors, purchase or build new buildings, and run programmes which I couldn’t have imagined when I began my ministry back in 1983.

Sam D: The demographic landscape has greatly changed since you entered the ministry. What has been the impact of that?

John S: There is no question that we are seen predominantly as an ‘immigrant’ church, though many of our members are actually British descendants of immigrants. Immigration has made a massive contribution to our growth as a church, but it has also brought some challenges. We are a multi-cultural, diverse society in the UK and Ireland, but the diversity of the church considerably exceeds that of our society. This can make evangelism difficult as, generally speaking, people like to join groups where they feel culturally at ease. On the positive side, it is wonderful to see our churches deliberately reaching out to their communities, through food provision, health fairs and other such events, building good relationships between diverse peoples.

Sam D: How can we improve our work environment as we move forward?

John S: It’s hard to imagine a better work environment than the BUC office – it has certainly been a joy for me to work here. However, I realise that not everyone’s experience is the same. Our teachers, pastors, Bible workers, and office staff, face many different challenges, both at work and in the home. I’m glad to say that our expertise in human resources is improving rapidly and we have put many measures in place to be more understanding and more accommodating of our employees’ needs.

Sam D: What have been the most significant changes in work culture since you started? Which changes were for the better? What do you wish hadn’t changed?

John S: Within the office things are certainly less formal than when I started, and I think this represents a shift in management style. I would say that it feels less hierarchical and more friendly these days. At least that’s how I feel – I hope others do as well.

Sam D: What changes do you believe could benefit this organisation?

John S: I think we are still several years behind the curve when it comes to technology. There are now many tools that we can use to simplify and automate routine tasks. We’re making progress, particularly with the rapid development of ACMS and the 7me app, and I think we’ll see even more changes in the coming months and years.

Sam D: What are your most significant personal and professional strengths today?

John S: I’ve learnt a lot about governance and the importance of following good policies and procedures in an organisation like the church. Structure and discipline are so important in life – both professionally and personally.

Sam D: Did you plan for your retirement?

John S: Absolutely! I started planning for retirement as soon as I started in ministry. It is never too early to plan for retirement, as small contributions to a pension plan can make a big difference at the end of your working life. There may be some who feel this isn’t necessary as the Lord will return well before they retire, but it would be highly presumptuous to think we know what God’s plans are. In the meantime, it’s very important to make provision for the future, whatever that may be.

Sam D: Congratulations on your retirement, Pastor John Surridge. We are deeply grateful for your service and dedication. May the years ahead be filled with new endeavours, happy adventures, and many blessings from God.

NB: Pastor Surridge will officially retire on 28 June. Our next edition will share a video interview with him next week.

A farewell video interview with Pastor John Surridge as he retires after 40 years of dedicated service to the British Union Conference: