So I want to begin by reminding us of the promises I made when I arrived here, these were;
- I would be useless at admin, and
- I would take you on a profoundly deep journey of discovery of God within you if you would chose to come along.
With the first one I think I possibly even exceeded your expectations …For your part, you have been entirely gracious and supportive in this – thank you
With the second one… well you exceeded my expectations with numbers who did sign up, and attended the sessions every fortnight for almost 3 years, or who came on the retreats, or who engaged in the countless one to one or small group informal conversations, or our celtic circles that have unfolded through the journey, or those who were challenged through my preaching and teaching to look again, to think outside of the box that the institution so often puts around our faith.
You also exceeded my expectations with the commitment, depth, wisdom and discernment in which you have grown and with the leadership emerging from amongst you to ensure this ongoing spiritual unfolding.
Our work together has been an incredible journey of mutual learning and growing in The mystery of God that inspired the psalmist to write.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.
As a natural introvert and contemplative, the evangelistic, outward facing, publicly engaging ministry is not my natural style, it doesn’t come easily at all. I have to work at it and in some ways I feel a lesser minister for those reasons especially when I see the brilliance of my extroverted and profoundly gifted colleagues.
But 2 weeks ago on ordination Sunday in which 2 of those amazing colleagues were ordained, both the President and vice president spoke during the morning service and it was something our president, Lorraine Mellor said that struck a chord. She said that she and the vice president Jill Baker were very different people so much so that she wondered how it would work between them. She herself was an evangelist with a broad engaging, outward facing ministry whereas Jill Baker was to be found quietly leading retreats and pilgrimages. Lorraine said that she would spend the evenings at conference gathering and socialising with people in the bar whereas Jill would retreat to her room in search of the peace and silence (which is precisely how we introverts must recharge our batteries).
The distinction that Lorraine made in her address reminded me of Paul’s words in Ephesians:
‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’
It struck me that ministry is vast and God gives his people many different qualities so that collectively our gifts can portray something of those different dimensions. Length and Depth and Height and width of the love of God.
My own ministry I think, is rather like pot holing, going into the deep, deep places of the soul and discovering hidden treasures, peace and beauty beyond measure as we begin to realise that the spring from which we drink, that promises we will never be thirsty again, was there within us all along.
Now there is a huge amount of discussion at the moment at connexion, districts, circuits and local churches about what we can do about our declining numbers and empty buildings and there are many exciting new and multi dimensional initiatives in this circuit and beyond that are addressing the issues but I want to say this…
All that we do must be underpinned by a strong, congruent, and deep knowledge of who we are in Christ, and who Christ is in us, in the depths of our own soul.
Christ came that we can have life to the full but so often we wear our religion like a straight jacket… with all our oughts and musts and shoulds and institutional habits and religious language so that we have learnt, quite wrongly, that what we do (and indeed don’t do) is far more important than who we are in Christ. ‘Doing’ has become more important than ‘Being’…And that is completely the wrong way round.
As you know I have a great love for Celtic Spirituality which is at the heart and soul of our Heart and Soul sessions on a monday evening. For the Celts, Christ was in everything, through everything in the stars and the moon and each blade of grass, the cycles of nature, in the silence, in their encounters with each other, and in whomever they came across. Christ was at the core of who they were! Immanent in every moment of life. It was this way of being that attracted the world want to know this Christ. Nobody needed to meet to discuss what they must do to gain followers of Christ. Christ was immediately palpable in the very fabric and daily lives of those who followed him.
But one can hardly wonder why engaging the world in the good news today is so difficult when the major church headlines of the last week have included things like the pope banning gluten free bread at communion on theological grounds and another mainstream denomination publicly tearing itself apart over gay conversion therapy….
These are symptoms of a religion that has lost all sight of the breadth and height and depth and length of the love of God and instead is wearing a straightjacket of human making….
So my deeply soul focused, celtic and monastic, style of ministry – that challenges institutional norms at every opportunity is not perhaps what you were expecting when I arrived here but is absolutely who I am called to be with a passion, as you now well know, and I have sought to live that calling with integrity during my 3 years here.
I can’t tell you how sad I am to be going so soon, there was much more that I wanted to do and yet I know that, within my decision as within this circuit the transformational power of the Spirit is at work. And sometimes it takes a change in circumstance to release the Spirit. The burning platform we call it. It is far easier to let the Spirit to flow and for transformation to happen when you are on that platform than when you are stuck in the rut of doing things because that’s the institution has always done them.
This circuit has some of the most gifted people lay and ordained, that I have ever met whose ministry and leadership lives and breathes the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God. Right now you are in a position. Rather like the disciples locked in a room. A bit fearful as there is a significant change in circumstances, you are maybe wondering what the future will hold and yet you are more equipped than you can even begin to imagine to go where the Spirit is leading you. You are rich beyond measure in your personal and corporate spirituality and are set free to be magnificent. The rest is just about perspective. If you see this as an opportunity – you will entirely flow with and be transformed by the Spirit.
It has been a joy and a privilege for me have been a minister in this circuit. I have learnt so much and my new churches will receive a better minister because of everyone of you here. There has been much laughter, love and friendship shared between us, the occasional tussle but nothing that the grace of God, shared with each other, did not sort out. There is inevitably much left undone when a term of ministry is cut short and I would want to say that I am sorry for the expectations left unfulfilled yet as I said, these often make way for new opportunities when the Spirit is free to do her work.
But in the end words can’t say how much I will miss you nor express my gratitude for all that you are.
So my heartfelt thanks to you all and now a blessing.
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.