Saying goodbye is often difficult but Val and I have had to come to terms with the end of our ministry in the Arden Marches Group of Parishes on January 31st.
As most of you know, back in June, I found that I was suffering from levels of anxiety and stress that I had never experienced before. I have generally thought of myself as being a fairly relaxed character that copes with whatever comes so it came as something of a surprise to me (and even to those who know me well). That feeling that you are struggling just to keep up with the ordinary things of life is one that, I suspect, several of us have known.
I then found that, as a result, of some tests that I had had earlier in the year, I was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia. The disease is progressive and no-one can tell me how quickly it will progress, neither currently is there any medication.
At the time, I described it like being hit by a train and for a while I couldn’t think straight. Thankfully I had people around to help, to talk and pray with us. We then took the decision that I should apply for early retirement on health grounds which after medical reports has now been granted.
In such situations perspective is important. The fact is that none of us know what time we have in this life. Every day is a gift and we should cherish it as such.
I had a conversation with someone a few months ago, who asked whether what had happened had challenged my faith. It is very easy when difficult or bad things happen for us to blame someone, especially God. I have heard people say “If God really existed then he would let this happen!” or “if God really loved me…”.
The fact is that we live in a broken world and bad things happen. I am not a Christian because I think it will keep me safe and well – we only need to read the Good Friday story to know that can’t be true! As I have said more than once that is why in that great hymn we sing Blessed ASSURANCE not Blessed INSURANCE.
It is my faith that helps me make sense of such a world and it my faith in Jesus that gives me hope. God doesn’t promise that nothing bad or difficult will happen to us but that he will walk with us and he never abandons us. As it says in Psalm 23
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. (v.4)
I’m not sure what the future holds but I have a strong sense of assurance that the God who loves me, and has called me to follow him, walks with me. He heals and strengthens me. Through him I learn to cherish each day and look forward to whatever he has for us.
Of course, I am not just saying goodbye to the Arden Marches I am also marking the end of my time in stipendiary ministry. Over the past months I have reflected on the time, when, as a nineteen-year-old, I sensed God call on my life which led me into parish ministry. I have also thought about the five parishes in which I have served over the last thirty-one years – Walthamstow, Thamesview in Barking, Mildmay Park in Islington, Homerton in Hackney and finally here in the Arden Marches. In that time, I have been privileged to work with and meet some wonderful people.
But ministry does not end – there is no retirement in the Kingdom of God – and I will continue to do whatever I am called to do, it will just be different. We will not be moving immediately and are likely to be in the Vicarage until the end of April when we will be moving to Bidford. So, you are likely to see us around in the meantime,
Finally, Val and I would like to thank everyone for all your love, prayers and support not just over the last six months but for the five and a half years we have been part of the community here. You will always be very special to us. We will continue to pray for the churches here.
With my best wishes