Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hopes and dreams

filled St Matthew's in the last weeks of Lent, as our schools visited once again to Experience Easter. As always, the children's responses to the events of the first Holy Week were inspiring, thought-provoking, deeply moving - anything but childish. The Palm Sunday station draws parallels between the (misguided) hopes and dreams of the crowd that lined the way into Jerusalem, and those of the children - who are encouraged to give stones a voice by writing or drawing something to symbolise their own hopes and dreams and then placing their stone in a cairn by the altar. There's something about a heap of stones that represents the hopes and dreams of several hundred children that concentrates the mind wonderfully, I find...and removing that cairn before we stripped the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday felt almost a violation.

However, hopes and dreams, thanksgivings and regrets are also very much the stuff of this final chapter of my ministry here. I had my exit interview with the Archdeacon on Tuesday - which turned out to be wonderfully affirming in terms of what God has done here during these past 6 years, and also very reassuring in terms of the future. Financial strictures mean that I won't be replaced for some time, but the Archdeacon promised that those at "the centre" are mindful of all the life and health of this place and determined to support it in the future. I, however, had no idea what to expect of an exit interview - I've never stopped being a vicar before! - so thought I'd best revisit the statement of needs that the parish put together before my appointment. 

  • They wanted someone who would work collaboratively, encouraging others to use their gifts - and there turned out to be so many people sitting quietly in the pews who had much to offer. The ministry of Mary, our wonderful Reader Emerita, whose pastoral outreach to the neighbouring care-home has transformed our relationships there, and given birth to the weekly "drop in", is just one example...but there are many many more (who would probably STILL not see their way of being as "ministry" - though I beg to differ)

  • They wanted someone with a eucharistic focus, who was not scared to innovate, someone who would build links with the wider community and local schools, ministering to all ages and backgrounds. Bringing the Eucharist INTO our school is perhaps the thing that I most rejoice in. At yesterday's farewell, the privilege of blessing or communicating every single child and member of staff was beyond words...

  • They wanted to increase the involvement of children and young families in the life of the church, while developing the spirituality, skills and expectations of older people.

Of course you can never say "job done" in ministry - but I'm gently pleased to see how those hopes and dreams have come to pass in many different ways. When you are living something you rarely recognise that it is changing, so it's good for us all to look back and see the road we've travelled together.
I'm pretty sure that in 2008 nobody could have written the wonderful "statement of intent" that PCC and School Governors signed last month - with its triumphant conclusion
I rejoice that our Messy Church team includes pensioners and young parents, Christians with a lifetime of lived experience and mums who came as "punters" but have found their way to a more solid acknowledgement of faith as we've travelled together.
But above all I rejoice in the many ways in which the church blesses our community. Reading the post-its on which we had recorded our gratitudes at the beginning of Lent, I was so encouraged by the signs of flowering in the desert...(I'll share some of them when I preach tomorrow)
It's true that we don't look very exciting!
My chronic issue with "STUFF" means that pretty much any day is a messy (small "m") church day.
Our usual Sunday attendance comprises largely pensioners and toddlers, so we might not strike you as a church that means business.
We never did create the amazing children's choir of my dreams but - BUT - BUT
we are a church that is genuinely welcoming to everyone, a church where you can be yourself and know that you are loved by God and by the people who gather there.
My hope and my dream is that this will continue - that St Matthew's will go forward with confidence, beloved of God and loving their community for his sake.

One post-it described us as "a tupperware bowl of holy water". Literally true - the holy water stoup by the main door leaks, so there's a plastic bowl holding the water to bless and welcome all...but also a wonderful metaphor for the church community. We might be very ordinary, not at all erudite, not offering polished worship or glorious music...but within there is treasure...a sign of God's longing and our calling to love and bless his people here.


Mary Beth said...
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Mary Beth said...

How lovely! I am praying blessing for you and for those you leave and those you will meet and serve.