May this be a morning of innocent beginning,
When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and hauntings,
And fixed fortress corners,
A morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence,
May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,
And the wheel of repetition,
To reach beyond imitation,
Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved
Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart...
Excerpt from the blessing, 'For the Artist at the Start of Day' in the books, Benedictus (Europe)
30 years ago, probably almost to the day the Director of Ordinands of Coventry Diocese was holding a POTTY - training session for us new curates. POTTY standing for ‘Post Ordination Training’. He said this: ‘Have you ever considered that the reason you are here now, as newly ordained people, is because it was the only way God could think of to keep you in the Christian Way.’ I have often thought of that during these years in ordained stipendiary ministry. And there is some truth in it. A role that keeps you coming back to the bible on a weekly basis, if only because of the requirement to preach on Sunday, has meant that I have engaged with Holy Scriptures much more than I would have done left to my own devices.
Then there is prayer. The railing against, pleading with, seeking out, of prayer, has kept my relationship with God on the agenda. Too many stories that could be told – but one was when on one Christmas Eve – I heard the news that a young man who lived with muscular dystrophy had died unexpectedly and I knew I had no choice but to go and visit the family – because there was a personal connection, our daughter Liz was going out with that young man’s brother. I remember making my way towards the house – between the Crib Service at 5pm and the Midnight Service that was due to start at 11pm – telling God in no uncertain terms that his timing was lousy and what on earth could I say that would be of any help. So many times, I have found myself without a clue what to do or say. So many times, I have heard afterwards that those moments proved to be turning points for good for the individuals involved. I have thought more than once about the grace of a God who seems to manage to reach into peoples’ lives despite not because of the best efforts of the church and her clergy. As I said, there are too many tales to recount here – but when I have finished my memoir, I will be sure to send you a copy!
It has been a privilege to be vicar of Swindon and Himley during the last few years of my stipendiary ministry. I hope that there will be future opportunities to preach and lead worship – but they will be on a different basis.
This past, nearly six years, have been a blessing to Ian and me – and our wider family. Being in a half time post has meant that I have been able to attend art school – which I hope has brought added value to my ministry here – it has certainly felt like a gift to me to be able to do that. I have appreciated the willingness of people to participate in Alpha courses, study courses, and try new things in worship. I am aware I am not the most organised person – something I now know is because I am an artist! I attend an Art School full of well intentioned but somewhat disorganised people like me. So, for churchwardens and organists past and present I imagine it has been a trial enduring my last-minute planning. For the current holders of those offices, Olwyn, Keith, Caroline in Swindon, Frank, and Caroline in Himley, – I salute your endurance. And more, I have appreciated your friendship and support and the role of a half time vicar would not have been possible without your commitment.
Ian, Liz and Emily, my family, who also began this journey with me, thank you for being willing supporters. And in more recent years – they have been joined by Matt, Hope and Eowyn – a great asset to the vicarage family. I could not have made this journey without you.
This puts me in mind of the poem by Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Image: Hinksford Woods.
Over Christmas some words I saw on social media struck me which were offered in the face of the worsening news about Coronavirus and in the context of the Christmas story –
“we are drawn by hope, not driven by fear.”
May that be true of each one of us as we journey forward into our unknown future.
You will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers – we will not be moving to our house in Warwickshire until sometime in February – so you may still see us around. I arrived as a stranger to be vicar, but I hope that as we leave, Ian and I are experienced as friends – and that those friendships continue in some shape or form.
Thanks, you again for allowing me the privilege of being your parish priest, and your kindness towards me in the final years of my stipendiary ministry.
God’s richest blessing to you for 2021.