Sunday, March 16, 2014

Letting Go...

is never going to be my strongest suit.

My poor patient children know that, while I am absolutely OK with their absence once they've gone and delight in their independence and the new worlds that they inhabit - (and love that they invite me into their lives and bring home "travellers' tales" too) - nonetheless in the days and hours before they leave the vicarage, I dissolve into tears pretty much whenever I look at them. I'm rubbish -RUBBISH-  at Goodbyes of any kind - so I've known for a while that these last weeks at Cainscross were going to be hard.

I've thought mostly in terms of leaving beloved people behind - the frail elderly whose final journey I won't be part of, the babies I baptised who will start school in September with another priest leading collective worship, and those families who aren't securely anchored in the church, but who clearly value our presence so much as part of the community. I was Deacon at our parish Eucharist this morning, which gave me plenty of opportunity to look at the faithful congregation as they came up to the altar many lovely people with whom I've celebrated, wept, and just got on with the business of being church, week in, week out. It was very hard not to weep as I realised that we're now into single figures in the count-down of weeks before I go...that in just 2 months time, I'll be in another place entirely. 
As I say, I'm rubbish at Goodbyes.

Last week as I sat quietly in the church while others walked our Lenten labyrinth, I found myself saying "Goodbye" to the building - a space that has turned out to be far more flexible and accepting of change than it had ever appeared. Though it initially seemed limited by its firmly fixed pews, it's the space in which I have not simply broken bread and washed feet, celebrated new life and wept over untimely death, but also  the studio where amazing art was created by Messy Church families, the backdrop for adventures in alternative worship, and the place where I've simply sat still and waited for God. Actually, that quiet hour in the building was helpful as I reflected on those names that precede mine on the vicars' board...a line of men stretching back 177 years, who have, in different ways, tried to do what I too have attempted. In the space and silence I remembered that people do come and go, but the great Story continues...that regardless of what happens within the Church of England and the deanery of Stroud, God's people will still gather somewhere hereabouts to pray and worship, to share bread and wine and encounter Christ in word and sacrament.

But the thing I hadn't allowed for was the difficulty of setting aside my dreams and hopes and longings for the future of the church. I hope and pray I haven't fallen victim to the clerical vice of needing to "leave my mark". I've always known that ministry is in no way about me - that I'm here for a season to serve God and his people as best I can, and then move on to let another carry on the work in a new way....but however much I know that rationally, of course I've invested huge chunks of myself in the life of our church family, and most particularly in building links between church and community. 
Today was our APCM and already I can see cracks in a veneer that I had thought was solid wood. Perhaps my vision for the future was never the "right" one for this community. Perhaps I was guilty of imposing an agenda that was not God's, or of trying to make the church something that did not reflect its true self. I can't judge that, but certainly, if people were only running with my agenda to please me, it never stood a chance of surviving my time here...

Still and all, it's quite hard to let go.
It's another sort of bereavement - letting go of a future that I'll have no part in, without any certainty of what it might look like for a community I've loved and cherished as best I can during our 6 years together.
Time to remember the words that I share with bereaved families as we gather each year for our "Journey On" service
"Our past is wrapped up in the arms of God, and of our future he WILL take care".
If I can believe that for myself - and it's fair to say that I mostly can - then I must be able to do so for my church family too. Just another lesson in trust, then!

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

I suspect that it will take a little time to get used to not being there as Vicar, but hopefully the people (the important part in my mind) may be out of sight, but never out of mind and of prayer.

I felt similar pangs when I left my last Benefice, 5 churches, five sets of different people, with those who were the travelers like myself, going to different places perhaps twice or even thrice on a Sunday. I knew them and loved them, and it was evident by the send off that I received, that it was a bit of a mutual admiration society. And I wasn't the Vicar, just some random stranger they'd taken as their own, nurtured, supported through a journey towards discovering a vocation, and than consoling and comforting when it all came tumbling down.

But I needed to change, much for my own sake and for that of my family - and for God's sake as well, as I was in danger of becoming an embittered, failed Ordinand, which would have done nothing for my spiritual health and would have been a hindrance to ministry in that place.

Now, three months down the line, those pangs remain, and I still see one or two friends and my SD who lives in the benefice, but I'm deliberately staying away from any of the churches or villages as it will hurt too much to see them without any preparation.

Thankfully, my new parish is lovely, and the diocesan team has just allowed me to apply to train as an LLM from September - something I had despaired off in the last diocese. It' still early days, there's still growing pains and in particular having to say NO often (everyone seems to want me to do something or other) as I need to keep my eyes fixed on vocation and where it might be taking me. Certainly for service in the parish, but not to be diluted or diverted by too much busyness, doing other things.

Praying for you as you continue to move towards exit and entrance and I hope that your disappointment that things that you started during your tenure, seem to be fraying around the edges. You can only encourage and signpost, you can't force, because that doesn't work - the Holy Spirit would see to that.