Words constantly broadcast to users of the automatic revolving doors at the local hospital. Whenever I hear them, I hear a rather cheesy motivational message – something that might appear over the threshold of a successful multi-national – and wonder how it sounds to those who are arriving anxiously to see a consultant, visit a loved one, face head-on some news they had hoped never to receive.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD!
Of course, it's really just an instruction designed to help pedestrian traffic flow smoothly...but all the same – in this Easter season it has given me a lot to think about.
You see, though it's not yet a full calendar year since I left my beloved St Matthew's, in liturgical terms this is anniversary week. My final services were on Low Sunday – and as a recently rather semi-detached Canon (having spent much of Lent on sick leave following surgery, I never quite got into the feeling of the season here in Coventry) I seem to have spent quite a while reflecting on the changes of the past year.
Lent in a cathedral is, I think, generally diluted somewhat. Because our Sunday congregation come from all over the city and beyond, there is less of a sense of a gathered community through the week even in Lent...My assumptions that Lent groups would “just work”, and attract a good proportion of our regulars, and that EVERYONE ALWAYS has soup suppers in Lent proved, as assumptions generally do, to have no foundation in reality. The same constraints that prevent many parish churches from drawing large numbers to evening services apply even more in a place where the elderly really don't want to come into the city centre at night, so there was much less sense of a community travelling through Holy Week together than I had anticipated – and I really missed that, though there was, in contrast, a wonderful feeling that we were offering worship on behalf of many – and enabling visitors to dip in to a continuing tide of liturgy that they might not easily find elsewhere.
Coupled with the fact that I was dealing with so many memories of last year it made for a rather strange season that has left me thinking hard about the nature of community and priesthood. In one way, it's easy when you live in the place that you serve, when every trip to the letter box, every walk in the park involves meeting parishioners...when the neighbour opposite tells you about an ambulance calling ...when the children who pour out of school at home time are the same ones who pour into Messy Church on a Sunday afternoon. It's all there, around you, 24/7 – and you are part of it, whether you like it or not.
Here, I guess, you have to earn your place in the Cathedral community – or at least in that community which exists beyond the boundaries of Sunday worship. There are communities forged among those of us who work there Monday to Friday, or who give time as volunteers, but to earn your place with the congregation is not quite as straightforward. Sick visiting, funerals, life crises – those are the places where trust and relationship can be forged – but there are fewer opportunities to just spend time with people – and thus it is harder to truly belong. Before I even arrived, the Sunday congregation sent me a lovely card to welcome me...but I was struck by one greeting which ready “Enjoy your time with us”. Even as I unpacked, people were already preparing for the time when I, like all my predecessors, would move on...whereas in the parish, there was, I think, always the silent hope that “this time it might be for good”.
While I know that I spent my first year of incumbency wondering if I would ever stop missing my title parish, I knew too that this community needed me in functional as much as spiritual and emotional ways...
That made leaving hideous – but also gave rise to some very mixed feelings when I read, at bedtime on Low Sunday, that at last a priest has been appointed to St Matthew's. Of course it's wonderful that they have someone else to work with them at being a sign of God's loving welcome in that place, splendid that the over-stretched Herring of Christ and the other team colleagues should no longer need to cope with an extraordinary number of Occasional Offices, great that another priest should have the joy of making his home in that lovely vicarage – and with those dear dear people.
But all the same – I can't pretend that “home” is still there if I wanted to run away. I don't, I promise – but it still feels odd.
Time, then, for another cheesy motivational message – this time from the ticket machine in the Car Park down the road.
“Change is possible” it said.
Amen to that.
And - Keep Moving Forward.