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From the Rectory
August 2009

A Review from the Rector of Freemantle

Based on the sermon preached at Parish Communion on 28th. June 2009

Fifteen years ago I was ordained in Winchester Cathedral, thus began this mad-cap existence as a cleric. So much has happened since then.

Three and a half years as a Curate in Maybush, seven years as Priest in Charge in Andover and nine months as Rector, now Freemantle.

When I arrived in this Parish, just over three and a half years ago, I was offered the post of Priest in Charge. I came with an expectation that some sort of pastoral reorganisation would happen in this part of the Deanery. I had just been through five years of pastoral reorganisation in Andover. I had been Rector of the so-called united benefice of Knights Enham with Smannell and Enham Alamein for just nine months out of the eight years that I spent in that place. I came to the conclusion that I'd done all that I could. I had also discovered that there is no such thing as a united benefice. Disunited, yes. I had three parishes, two of which refused to acknowledge the third or even speak civilly to them and this from so-called Christians.

Despite that experience and with the expectation of similar pastoral reorganisation happening here I was not deterred from wishing to come here. I was, I hoped, as a result of all of that wiser, and as I have grown older, I've become more accommodating of the views of others, yes, really I have. I may take no notice of what they say, but I do listen. We form opinions of people, I understand, within the first few seconds of meeting them. I'd made my mind up about you lot, well most of you anyway, with similar speed. It was long enough for me. You, now, with hindsight, might wish you'd had more time to look me over.

Three and a half years on and pastoral reorganisation is off the agenda in this part of Southampton Deanery, at least for the time being. But as with everything in the Church of England these days, I'd say to you - watch this space, nothing is guaranteed. I have now been installed and collated, which is a rather interesting turn of phrase, one peculiar to the Church of England. One of many such peculiarities in the Church of England, me being one of them.

I shall now be entitled to sit in my stall - until now, although I've had a ticket for that seat, it had an expiry date on it. Now, provided I don't expire first, I shall be able to stay until I'm seventy. That could be rather scary for all concerned, both you and me.

What are the advantages of such an exalted title? Well as for my day to day ministry here, it won't make one scrap of difference. I have, though, decided not to take up the option to graze my sheep within the precincts of the Church, but I have exercised my right to claim the wood from any trees felled from within said precincts. Having the freehold does add some status to the Parish, but only in as much as Freemantle, from now on, will be one of a dwindling number of parishes to have a Priest with the freehold. It makes it an attractive place to come. Of course the day I go, it'll be back to Priest in Charge for whoever replaces me, if anyone does. I'll still be packing over there at the Rectory and you will all be in suspension once again.

As we are about to be de-suspended, or un-suspended perhaps, or just as our suspenders are letting us down maybe...it would seem a good point in time, as we have had such heady and lofty things happened here on 28th June, to look back over my time here, and review what and where that journey has taken us.

It did seem when I came that someone was trying to tell me something. First the heating packed up, then the Sanctuary ceiling fell down, and then a drunk driver tried to stop me getting into the Church by partly demolishing the gates and piers on the porch in Waterloo Road. Then just as things were settling down, to sort of trip us up as it were, we had to dig up the floor in the South aisle to deal with rising water levels.

It reminded me of when the Vicar of Eastleigh announced his early retirement, and on the day he left the Church was struck by lightning. And do you remember when David Jenkins, the then Bishop of Durham questioned the Virgin Birth - the Minster caught fire. We haven't had a lightning strike, and I am not aware that we have had a fire, unless you count the BBQ. But we have had power cuts and a leaking roof amongst other things to deal with. All part of life's rich tapestry. Easy to say that with hindsight isn't it. It doesn't seem so instructive or easy to accept when it happens though.

We have all changed in the past few years. A good number of good and faithful servants of the Church in Freemantle have now joined the saints in heaven. I was with a number of them as they passed from this world to the next, and I'll never forget when baby Sophie died in my arms. Those sorts of encounters are life changing. They make all of the other nonsense that is attached to the strange activity of the priest worth while. They are precious moments in ministry.

New faces have come through the door, chairs have been moved around, repositioned, unscrewed and liberated - and some have gone altogether! A carpet now softens our footsteps as we go, 'unto the altar of God, even the God of our joy and gladness.' And with new lighting in the George Lee Room, we can now see the cobwebs. If when I came, I had said to you, or indeed you had said to me, 'In three years time this will have happened or we want to have done all of these things', I expect we'd have looked at one another and said, 'I don't think so somehow'.

It takes time to get to know a place and its people, to settle and feel yourself to be a part of the community, to find where its heart is beating, to learn about relationships and the inter-relatedness of you and your neighbours. I have learnt quite a lot about some of you since I arrived, although there are some here that I'm pretty sure I still won't have got to know when the time comes for me to retire. But that's how it is, that's life, and I don't believe it's cause for any of us to beat ourselves up about. - Life's too short, and life, and being Christian and worshipping God needs to be got on with.

We've been getting on with that, in the midst of, and despite all of the rest of it. We've had a Stewardship Campaign, do you remember that? It all seems so long ago now. How many of you could now recite the Stewardship Prayer? We said it dozens of times. We've enjoyed some delightful social occasions and mouth watering food. We've been interrupted by the Waterloo Arms asking the PCC Quiz questions through the sound system here that had been left switched on. And just before the Wedding last Saturday we were all told by a message coming through the ether, to get a move on and go into the conservatory by the landlady, unaware of who her 'holy' audience was just along the road. We've had ups and downs. You cannot question that. But none of the, 'downs' has prevented us from enjoying the 'ups'.

Notable 'ups' have been the work we do with children and families. Tick-Tock Parent Toddler Group keeps us in touch with people who wouldn't normally come through the Church door. The Activity Day at Easter and the Family Service have also succeeded in attracting new families into God's house. Those changes have been challenging for some, I know. But they have been carefully thought out, and with the support and encouragement of many of you, help us to be a Church that represents the Community in which we are set, the Church that I believe God wants us to be. The newest initiative is to look carefully at where and how we engage with Mission. Possibly the most important aspect of any Churches life, and which should inform everything we do or have already done.

All of these are signs of a healthy Church. This is not, like so many Churches these days, a museum to past glories. I know that every stick of furniture or artefact has a brass plaque screwed to it in memory of the faithful from the past. But they too in their time were reaching out to those who had not discovered the delights of the Christian faith. Many of them called us here. Their example reminds us that it now falls to us to pick up where they left off. We are the living Body of Christ here today, and together we can accomplish so much.

I thank you all for making the past three and a half years so special, worthwhile and exciting for both me and Lys - and especially for all of the fun, because by and large it has been just that, fun. And I'm pretty sure God would want it to be that way for all of us.

For me personally, with my work as a surrogate arranging licences for marriages for Foreign Nationals, as an Honorary Chaplain with Southampton Hospital Trust, and as a Street Pastor, I have a full and well rounded ministry. That helps me to look out into the world whilst being grounded and rooted with you here. There is lots more to do, there always is, but as your new Rector and with all of us working together we can look forward to the future and to what might come next.

Our recent Stewardship Campaign Prayer gives us encouragement and hope.

Reshape, us good Lord,
until in generosity, in faith
and in expectation that the best is yet to come,
we are truly Christ-like.

Make us passionate followers of Jesus,
rather than passive supporters.

Make our Church a place of radical discipleship
and a signpost to heaven,
then, in us, through us, and - if need be - despite us,
let your kingdom come.

Amen.

Yours for Christ's sake.