Friday, September 29, 2006

Parting of the ways II

On the feast of St Michael and All Angels, the Patronal Festival of our newest Parish Church, the Parish said farewell to the Revd. Jenny Wigley, who has been my partner in the Gospel for the past three years, based at this church. She celebrated the Eucharist for the last time as Team Vicar. For better for worse, this was my sermon.

This feast of dedication of the church to Michael and Archangels is in many ways a pivotal moment. This is the building’s tenth anniversary year. We shall celebrate its consecration next April. We’re saying “Farewell God go with you” to Jenny after three years of ministry here. Although ministry is generally ‘more of the same’ given our need for a regular diet of worship and social activities, this tends to obscure the significant changes that take place as a result of a particular person being the pastor.

It came as a shock to all of us that Jenny’s departure should lead to the Bishop’s proposal to create from Central Cardiff Parish, a new Parish of Cathays with its own Vicar. It’s his response, as our leader to the changing needs of ministry in the city centre, and in Cathays.

With the arrival of new halls of residence, the face of studentland is soon about to change. As multi occupancy landlords find their profit margins slump, houses will start exchanging their ‘To Let’ signs for ‘For Sale’ signs, and the balance between domestic households and transient households will shift in favour of families again.

The kind of pastoral activity that has long been a feature of St Michael’s could become a feature of St Teilo’s again also. Albeit differently, St Teilo’s is equally as ready and open to varied community uses as St Michael’s is. Two mission minded congrsgations serving the same area deserve a new mission minded pastor to give them the support they need.

After so many years as a daughter church on the outskirts of the Parish, dependent on Curates coming and going every few years, there could have been great reluctance about the new demands of being a self supporting Parish, cutting the apron strings and moving on to independence, but this is not the case. The confidence is there, largely thanks to the energy and teaching which Jenny has offered. For this we must thank her.

St Teilo’s lost its independence becoming part of Central Cardiff, and its faithful few have striven to retain a sense of distinct identity and purpose, and to shape a new future for the church, despite discouraging setbacks. As a result it now serves Cardiff’s music education and performance needs in an unique way. It has a financial stability that enables the congregation, though small and seasonal to keep looking outwards, ready for welcome what unfolds in the future.

Thanks to the missionary vision of a previous pastor, and the few who responded and worked with him. These are two quite different ways of being church to combine in a new Parish – you might say chalk and cheese – it’s part of our cherished Anglicanism that we seek ways to live well together appreciating and benefiting from each others’ differences. Your new parish priest will, I hope and pray, be fit to rise to the challenge of leading both churches into a shared future.

We meet tonight to celebrate together, perhaps for the last time as the Benefice of Central Cardiff, before we set out on the paths appointed for us, by the Bishop’s call to mission, doing fully and freely what each congregation knows how best to do in our own settings, flourishing where we are planted. Of course there’ll be more meetings, to complete the necessary business of separation and re-establishment of our different parish structures. Coming together was for better or for worse, so too will separation. We can give thanks for many blessings over the past six years, and there will be many more blessings to celebrate in times to come, if we continue in trust to respond where our Bishop gives us the lead.

We don’t need to worry about set-backs, we’ll take them as they come, groan and struggle, adjust, compromise, reconcile, move on with our eyes, not even on the Bishop, but on Christ the Good Shepherd who goes before us. But what’s all this got to do with the feast of St Michael? Plenty to my mind.

Angels are spiritual beings with different missions from God to humankind, protecting, healing, announcing etc; just as we’re human beings with different missions from God to the world we live in. Michael, as the figure on the church’s east wall declares, symbolises the promise and hope of ultimate victory over evil - Christ’s victory over evil in human flesh, a victory Michael represents, in an order of reality above and beyond what we know. There could be no more safe or confident occasion on which to say farewells, not only to Jenny, but to start saying farewell each other, as we turn towards new tasks, not needing to look back, or regret anything except that this wonderful life is all too short to give God all the glory he deserves for the grace we’ve received in every step we take. Whichever way we go, we’ll meet again, in the workaday re-unions of life and witness in this city and then finally in the company of all the angels and saints, in the heavenly city, our true home and destination, where there will be no temples, no parishes, no diocese, no Representative Body of the Church in Wales, only God, only God, who will be all in all, the fulfilment of all our meaning and purpose.

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