Monday, April 19, 2010

Farewell Sunday

It was pretty late by the time I got to bed after yesterday's banquet. With no eight o' clock to get up for, I slept in and arrived at church rather too late for my own comfort, as there's always an assortment of pre-service checks to do before getting started. I was amazed that there were so many people there, and few missing who'd been there late last night. There were over seventy of us in church, as many as on Easter Day, an occasion to thank God, after thanking each other last night for the many blessings of years shared together.

I preached around the St John's resurrection Gospel text in which Jesus says to Peter "When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." It's one of the few references to the trials of old age in the New Testament, and it gave me an opportunity to make some special affirmations about this remarkable community of elders who give so much of themselves in faithful witness to Christ and his church.

There was a special 'retirement cake' for everyone to share after the service, which was a great pleasure, and then many farewells. Nevertheless I couldn't help being struck by the thought that this time, the first time in forty five years of life together, we are not moving on, but staying here in Cardiff. This is finally the place where we settle down and make our home. There are people in a small city that we will see again quite often, out and about, such is the nature of the place. The relationship will change, of course, once they have a new Vicar, but bonds of affection shared by mature people are such that change very little, regardless of circumstances.

So, although I am leaving the job and the role I have occupied, we are paradoxically coming to rest rather than moving on. And that's something I have longed for this past few years in a way I never imagined, having been such an energetically restless soul all my working life, always wondering where I am meant to be and what I am meant to be doing there. I don't know what the future entails. Once we've moved, life, limitations notwithstanding will be a skyline of opportunities for adventure and creativity - and to do new things in exploring the depths of God. So I didn't feel sad, as much as in awe of the occasion, of this new beginning. As Nicodemus once said: "Can someone be born again when they are old?"

After lunch I went out and did two out of the three home communions
I was committed to do post Easter, and have avoided doing so far, because of my nasty fluey cold. Then I popped in and had tea and a chat with Percy and Alwena before returning to church for the second Evensong of the weekend, a lovely quiet and ordinary way to conclude a final day of ministry before moving on into retirement, feeling very blessed indeed.

During the day several times I recalled the painful end of my ministry on the Côte d'Azur, where I was compelled to move on to make it possible for the Bishop to deal with unresolved conflict between the diocese and the chaplaincy. At my last service with the little congregation I had gathered in the Bordighera cemetery chapel over a nine month period from the remains of a congregation scattered due to closure of the San Remo Church, I broke down and wept after the final blessing, overwhelmed with sadness. There was no way of knowing if it would continue - this small enterprise which I cherished during dark and disturbing times with the Monaco congregation. Happily, eight years on, that congregation still meets for worship.

I returned to the diocese, and six months later was welcomed into St John's, overjoyed to be entrusted with a new ministry, but if I'm honest, I was still hurting. From the kindness and welcome I received flowed healing and new life that has sustained me through the challenges of the seven and a half years since then. I reckon there are many others who could say the same about their experience of becoming part of this church, and for a huge variety of reasons. Long may it remain so, for it gives the greatest glory to God, being a 'church for others'. My final blessings given today were for me experiences of joy and fulfilment. What more could anyone ask?

Here the story I have been telling of my life as a city centre pastor, through all the changing scenes of life, draws to a happy conclusion. It's time quit blogging for a while in order to ponder. I'd like to keep a journal of whatever follows on in life after this point, but at the moment I'm stuck for a blog name that might be as catalytic of fresh thought as this one has been. Hopefully that will be in my next and therefore final posting.

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