February 2014

From the Rectory

26th January 2014

How lovely is your dwelling-place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed feints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
(Psalm 84:1-2)

How lovely indeed, and how many times here has my heart sung for joy to the living God. My fellow pilgrims, you dear people. This is the last opportunity that I will have to be with you as Rector. I have come to know you and your stories, and my life has been changed as a result. Enhanced, enlarged and I believe I am a better priest because of you and the journey that we have shared. This moment in time marks a profound change for me and one which I face with some trepidation. I have not been in this position before. I have never been out of employment. Life for me and for Lys will be very different from now on. You will be missed, you have played an important part in both of our lives and we thank you for sharing so generously your Christian faith and journeys with us.

Itís less than forty years since I became an active Christian. I was Confirmed in 1984 and Ordained in 1994. Looking back I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, neither did I have much idea of just what would be expected of me. Realistic or otherwise. But it has been the path of my choosing and I would not have changed any one part of it. My wife Lys came along too. It was very difficult for her, she didnít know what it would mean for her either. But with one or two reservations I believe that she would have wished to change very little as well. Lys and I moved into the Rectory in November 2005. It was bitterly cold. We drove down the Test Valley with a small container in which we had grown a Marsh Marigold. The water was frozen solid. When I opened the boot of the car the water had thawed and a large toad hopped into the garden, itís still as far as I know in the Rectory garden, or at least its offspring are.

At my licensing here I was welcomed with the announcement, Ďthe heating has packed upí. Not long after that a lorry demolished the surround to the porch in Waterloo Road along with the gates, and thenÖÖthe Sanctuary ceiling fell down. Welcome to FreemantleÖÖWhat in Godís name had I gotten myself into hereÖÖ Well, of course we dealt with all of that and quite a lot besides. Then we settled down and got on with what we are best at, being a community of faith at the heart of the community, and donít ever doubt this Church is at its heart. So what during my all too brief time here and indeed during my twenty years in ministry have been the highlights and challenges?

All of my time as a cleric has been overshadowed with issues of Church maintenance and finance, sometimes at the expense of what are really more important things, and that has been a challenge, not only for me. One that we have all had to wrestle with. Hatched, matched and dispatched has been the bread and butter of my ministry, and therein lies many a tale. Some best kept secret.

I have baptised thousands, from emergency baptism for a five hour old boy, to a seventy nine year old woman who thought it too late. It wasnít, I assured her. Also the Denness triplets, I also baptised their mother and prepared their father for Confirmation. What a privilege, what a joy. Then my granddaughter Rosie baptised here, right where I am now standing using a china washbasin that belonged to her great-great grandmother.

There have been many marriages as well, my daughter Sadie whilst in Andover and my Son Andrew married here at Christ Church. I married a couple whilst in Maybush, the bride regularly appeared on page three of the Sun! I have married some of you here today, my last wedding here recorded by the BBC. They took four hours to film and finally broadcast about 20 seconds of the ceremony. What was that all about? Each one different, each one unique.

I have taken so many funerals that I have lost count, but into the thousands. A lady who was a survivor of the Titanic disaster, one of Winston Churchillís war time secretaries, twin babies, one who died in my arms and many whose lives have touched mine and left indelible impressions.

I have been shouted at and verbally abused in the street and in Church because of this collar. I have been asked for money and food and once gave the trousers I was wearing to a passing vagabond. You couldnít make this up could you? When I said I didnít know what I was letting myself in for, well, I guess all of this proves the point. Nothing prepares you. Theological college certainly didnít, as a Curate my training incumbent tried too. But itís a life of thinking on your feet, responding from your heart and trusting that God will give you the words and wisdom and hold your hand, sometimes very tightly. There have been more ups and downs than a Big-dipper. My goodness havenít I been blessed.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Romans 12:9-11)

I have tried very hard to establish links with our neighbouring school and local nurseries. I have tried very hard to encourage young families and children to come and join us. There has been some success, that has only been possible with your help and co-operation. We did it together, look around you, not many Churches enjoy such a mix of ages. Take pride in all of this, you did it. You did it for the Lord, to his glory. Now itís over to you to keep it going, to keep encouraging, to keep welcoming. One day one of these young treasures may take up priestly ministry, and it will be because of you. Think on that for a moment, itís within your gift. Do not waste it. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)

What of the future? For Lys and for me, we have to settle into a new way of life, find a spiritual home, get to know our neighbours, find our place within a new community. Find what we can do, how we can help, how we can be good neighbours. We have to let you go, and that will be tough, but itís necessary we recognise that. We cannot hold on to the past, we have to embrace the future.

For you, what does the future hold for you? We could all try to guess, some might be really quite good at guessing, but you need to be patient because only time, prayer and faithfulness will sort that out. Be sure about what your needs are and be vocal, tell those who need to hear, and make sure they listen. There was a parish in Andover Deanery who were told categorically by the bishop that they would never again have a priest, but would have to share one. They told him what they needed, they were steadfast and very vocal, and guess what? They now have a priest, and they donít have to share him. You see, God does sometime work miracles and bishops do sometimes have to change their minds. Of course I donít for one minute suggest you behave in such a way! But I will be watching very carefully.

You are fortunate here in as much as I do not leave you helpless, there are several wonderfully experienced and delightful people ready to see you through the coming months. Revd. Terry Lane, Revd. Eileen Wetherell and Reader Malcolm Harper. You know them and they know you. Here you have a Trinity of blessings just waiting to serve you and the needs of the Church.

Who will then come along? Male or female, young or old, only God knows the answer at the moment and he can keep secrets you know. Whoever it is I hope that they will love you, for there is much to love here, loving this place and you people will not be difficult. Let me go, forget me, and love my successor as you have loved and encouraged me. Will you do that for me, please? They will draw such comfort and inspiration from your love.

I have got my leave.
Bid me farewell, my friends.
I bow to you all and take my departure.
Here I give back the keys of my door,
and I give up all claims to my house.
I only ask last kind words from you.
We were neighbours long,
but I have received more than I could give.
God bless you. Amen

Yours for Christ's sake.