Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ending well

It's noticeable that, though a new ministry is welcomed with all sorts of excitements, and a service that demands the presence of both bishop & archdeacon as the priest takes on a shared responsibility for the cure of souls in that place, departures are a rather different matter.
Though if all has gone well, there's every chance that the parish will give you a splendid send-off, there is no formal liturgy to enable the departing minister to lay down the responsibilities they have carried...and this can make life very hard. 
So I was interested when a good friend, moving on from parish ministry last autumn, devised her own farewell service - a kind of "decommissioning" which sought to undo the processes that had launched her ministry in that place...and when I found that I too would be leaving a much-loved place and people I set out to follow her example - and I am so very glad that I did. Liturgical Commission please note - we need a rite of letting go - though this might not be to everyone's tastes!

My last Sunday at St Matthew's was extraordinary...Deeply emotional, but not in a heart-rending, how-can-I-bear-to-leave-here, sort of way. I know that alot of that is due to the huge volumes of love that seemed to be sloshing about the place, and the many prayers that kind friends were offering in all directions.
I was, and am, amazingly blessed that so many people chose to come to share my farewells. The Eucharist was glorious...though I would recommend to anyone attempting farewells that they don't think too hard about the words of "Brother, sister, let me serve you..." if they are keen to avoid tears.
"I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I'll laugh with you" seemed such a perfect summary of the way our lives had been intertwined as I ministered there, that it was hard to sing about it without weeping myself...But to feed everyone at the be able to name every one of the 100 or so there and to pray for them knowing something of their stories...that was quite wonderful!
And we sang some of my non-negotiable, desert-island hymns. "God is here as we his people", "And Can it Be?", "Lord for the years" and beloved Daphne played the Lefebre Wely Sortie, which defies anyone to be sad for long...and then there were presents (including a most wonderful festal stole that matches my chasuble as if they were made together) and lunch and time to hug and cry and hug some more....

And later came Messy Church, and more loveliness. All sorts of wonderful people came, quite beyond my wildest hopes and expectations, so that the church was filled twice in one day by people I love.
I told the story of the 18th camel, (with grateful thanks to Pam) which reminded us all that the role of the parish priest is not to make themselves indispensable but to enable the ministry of others...And the Godly Play story of the Great Family, that reminded us that "All of God is in every place" and yes, I cried a bit but truly, the love was so overwhelming it was impossible not be bouyed up by it. 
It did take me some time to articulate this prayer - but it did say exactly what I needed it to, so I'm thankful that I managed to get the words out.

God of our pilgrimage
You are always calling us
To follow you into the future
Inviting us to new challenges
New adventures
New ways to care
New ways to touch the hearts of all.
When we are fearful of the unknown, give us courage.
When we worry that we are not up to the task
Remind us that you would not have called us
If you did not believe in us.
When we get tired
Or feel disappointed with the way things are going
Remind us that you can bring change and hope
From every situation.
We pray for the future life and ministry of this church building,
For the communities it stands to serve
And for all who will come through its doors.
May this place and its people be always a sign of your Kingdom on earth

For Jesus' sake.

And I followed my friend's example and asked the congregation to help me give back what had been entrusted to me, and handed my keys to some very special church children, who placed them on the altar and then, in a wonderful subversion of the service as I'd planned it, all "my" children laid hands on me while my lovely colleagues prayed a blessing. I couldn't fathom why some of the photos on my daughter's phone just seemed to be the back views of an awful lot of people, til I realised what had been happening in the service - and I can truly say that the weight of loving hands has been a continued strength from that moment onwards.

Then there was cake, and tears, and hugs and presents - including another stole, made by the children that afternoon - to match a marker for the lectern Bible and individual bookmarks that they took home - another reminder that loving connections are not broken by geography. 

And, somehow amid all that the business of leaving, of handing back that most precious cure of souls was achieved in a way that was not just bearable but incredibly affirming both of all that has been and of all that is to come. 

Thanks be to God! - and to my beloved colleagues in ministry, ordained and lay, who steered me through this stage of the journey with so much love, care and kindness.

1 comment:

jante said...

I have followed your adventures for a number of years and love the way you write about ministry. What a wonderful way of saying good by to a church and community. I shall remember for my own future. Gods blessing on the next stage of your ministry.