Monday, 17 September 2018

ESL #4: Celebrations

Normally my weekends are tied up with ministerial responsibilities (which I love by the way so I'm not complaining) and so my ESL has given me the opportunity to do something different, particularly on Sundays.

I found the first Sunday really strange and even considered hiding in St. Mary's church balcony behind a cape like the Phantom of the Opera for the first Encounter evening service of the autumn. Instead I attended the service at Little Leighs where we worshipped for ten years before moving to Great Baddow and I found it both an enjoyable and refreshing experience. It was good to catch up with friends and acquaintances, some of whom I haven't seen for several years, and to see the church in good heart. It was helpful just to sit in a congregation with no responsibilities and to engage in the worship. I think one of the challenges for clergy is to relax and worship without analysing what is going on and what one would do differently!

The second weekend we shared a wonderful time with family celebrating the wedding of our niece. Normally on these occasions we would have to leave the reception early to get back home on the Saturday evening so that we were ready for the Sunday services. It was very relaxing to be able to stay with everyone for the full evening celebrations and then share Sunday morning with the family before taking our time travelling home. I was brought up in a vicarage and so haven't really known any other way of life but the weekend reminded me how much I can take for granted the 'sacrifices' clergy families sometimes make because of the nature of parish ministry.  I am immensely grateful to Kate, Kristin and Dan for the support they give to my ministry and their willingness to accommodate these demands of the role. Again I stress I'm not complaining; I was brought up in a very loving and supportive vicarage home, and I'm very aware of the many benefits of parish ministry alongside the demands.

Then last weekend I had a strange experience of being present but not being present! Being on ESL means disengaging from parish life, which is hard to do at the best of times, but there were two very important team celebrations that I really didn't want to miss. The first was attending the ordination of four members from Meadgate Church in Team GB (as we like to call the Gt Baddow Team Ministry) at Chelmsford Cathedral. As an Area Ordinations Adviser I would normally have been much more involved in the formal process of vocational discernment for each of the four but had to hand that on to a colleague because they were from our team and I knew each of them. When I turned up at the cathedral for the ordination service several people, including a couple of the Bishop's staff, asked 'what are you doing here, you're on study leave?', to which I was tempted to respond by trying the old Jedi mind trick of waving my hand and saying 'you haven't seen me' or 'this is not the team rector you're looking for'. Anyway, the service was a wonderful occasion and it was a real privilege to see Andy, Chris, Simon and Tom embark on the next stage of their ministries as servants of Christ. Please do pray for them and their families.

Finally, yesterday I was able to attend the morning service at St. Paul's (the third of our churches in Team GB) as they celebrated their 60th anniversary, having been planted from St. Mary's under the ministry of my esteemed predecessor Canon Jack Kingham. When the weekend celebrations for St. Paul's anniversary were planned I still wasn't sure what my movements would be during September so I was delighted that I was able to attend and offer congratulations on behalf of the wider Team. It was very heartening to see the displays telling the story of St. Paul's down through the years and to hear greetings from those who had been involved in the past as well as from the wider community who value all that St. Paul's is doing. Phil Sheldrake, the team vicar, preached using the theme of diamonds to tie in with the diamond anniversary, and reminded us that each one of us is precious to Christ and we are challenged to continue to sparkle for Him in our ongoing mission and ministry. It was a joyful culmination of their weekend of celebrations.

A concluding reflection. The Diocese of Chelmsford and the wider Church of England is investing a considerable amount of time and resources into planting churches and developing fresh expressions of ministry at this time. Disappointingly, but sadly not surprisingly, there has been quite bit of criticism about this from various sections of the church. Whenever I see this criticism I respond by pointing to St. Paul's (planted 60 years ago) and Meadgate (planted 53 years ago) as examples of what church planting is all about. Vibrant churches serving their local communities and resourcing the wider church in her call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

No comments: