Follow the star! The Church of England’s theme for Christmas this year is also a good one for us as we step into 2019. The process of finding a new rector will begin very early in January, and will demand courage, trust, wisdom, discernment and patience – all qualities that the Magi would have needed as they followed the star then returned to their homes. And I will need them too as I move to a new community, meet new people, find a new church and decide how to use my time. The star led shepherds and Magi from different places by different routes to the same stable, and from here onwards, although our paths will be separate, we too will still be searching for the same God, the same blessing and inspiration.
As I write this I have just completed my last hymn list, and so I know that I have just ten more Sundays with you here in Haslemere – and yes, I am self-indulgent enough to have made sure that we will be singing many of my favourite hymns once Christmas is over. This is my last Dear Friends letter – the first of a number of “lasts” and valedictories. Two of the important things to be done at these times are looking back and saying thank you – another is looking forward, which will mainly come later. To facilitate the former I’ve had a look back at a selection of my DF letters from the last seven years, and also a look around the church buildings. I arrived in 2011 at the beginning of the Jubilee Plaque project and I loved the whole business of finding a craftsman and working with him and others to agree the material (the last slate from a particular Welsh quarry), the script, the wording, and on one memorable day the depth of gold leaf in each word to give the proper relative weight to the words God and Queen, so that from a distance the purpose and balance are clear. I’m proud to have played a part in the plaque’s presence in St Bart’s, representing a distinctive and important period of the country’s history and our own.
Perhaps the most significant parish project of the last seven years was the reordering of St Christopher’s west end to provide kitchen, lavatory and storage facilities, as well as the ability to bring in a bridal procession without major adjustments and removals. This project had been long in the planning and it was wonderful not only to see it finally become a reality, but also to recognise that because of the creativity and care that went into its design we rapidly forgot that it hadn’t always been there. The “new” St Christopher’s has provided the parish and the wider community with a splendid and flexible resource for functions and concerts and feasts, not to mention flower festivals – again, I’m proud to have been part of the team that enabled it to happen.
Which brings me to the first of many thank yous – this one to my brilliant bevy of churchwardens. Debbie Peet and Don Cremer, who were involved in bringing me here and took the brunt of the inevitable discomfort associated with any new ministry, explaining the parish to its new priest and the new priest to the parish…. Dorothea Nattrass and Clive Hawkins, a dream team combining pastoral and practical skills… and now Robert Fox and Margaret Morris, bringing their extensive leadership and administrative capabilities to bear as the cycle starts again. I’ve said before, and it bears saying again, that they have all taken very seriously the warden’s role of not only supporting but also looking after the rector. As you all know, there have been times when I’ve needed that care, and words can’t express my gratitude for all their love, prayer and practical support.
Next on my list to thank are Vic and Sandy, without whom….. But they and many others will have to wait (sorry both of you), because I want to end this last letter as I ended my first, with a poem by RS Thomas – an invitation, as I said then, for us to see our own lives within the pattern of God’s kingdom.
It’s a long way off but inside it
there are quite different things going on:
festivals at which the poor man
is king and the consumptive is
healed; mirrors in which the blind look
at themselves and love looks at them
back; and industry is for mending
the bent bones and the minds fractured
by life. It’s a long way off, but to get
there takes no time and admission
is free, if you purge yourself
of desire, and present yourself with
your need only and the simple offering
of your faith, green as a leaf.
Follow the star – and please pray for me as I will always be praying for you.