As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. (Matthew 27:32)
Aged only twenty-three, a young Charles Simeon (1759-1836) found himself an unpopular figure. Worse, his unpopularity sprang from his own church. Recently installed as the vicar of Holy Trinity in Cambridge, he had to deal with the fact that the congregation really wanted their own curate to have the job. What was worse, Simeon was an Evangelical and they were most certainly not! So they took action.
Services were disrupted, and abuse was thrown at young Simeon as he walked through the streets. The congregation boycotted the services, and the locked up their pews so no-one else could use them. Simeon organised benches in the aisles, and the congregation threw them out.
Of this time, Simeon wrote: “When I was an object of much contempt and derision in the university, I strolled forth one day, buffeted and afflicted, with my little Testament in my hand.… The first text which caught my eye was this: ‘They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross”.
Strengthened, Simeon persisted and began evening services. Students began to come and hear him, and congregations grew. HIs fame spread, and he started meeting with students in his home. They flocked to hear him, and it has been estimated that at one time as many as one in three Anglican clergy had sat under his teaching at one time or another.
He also set up what is now known as Simeon Trustees, an organisation intended to acquire church ‘patronages’. Holding these, the Trustees have the right to present clergy to certain parishes such as St Peter’s in Hereford and so Simeon’s influence endures.
Fifty-three years after his unhappy introduction to Holy Trinity, Cambridge Simeon died, still their vicar. The church had been transformed and filled by the man who followed the example of Simon Cyrene and carried Christ’s cross. Such is the spiritual law: the more we are humbled, the more the power of Christ shines through.