So it’s now been (checks calendar) – blimey – only three weeks since I moved. It feels like a lot longer, in a good way.
I’ve been extremely touched by the welcome I’ve received here from both Churches. Two communities, Woodham and Sheerwater, but one parish with two Churches – All Saints in Woodham and St. Michael’s in Sheerwater.
As you can imagine, much of my time has been spent finding my feet and getting to know people. I imagine that will remain an important part of my ‘job’. I summed up a long answer on my forms for the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (entitled ‘What is priestly ministry?’ – or something like that..) with the answer that it’s about ‘being there’. That’s a very general term to describe the wide variety of ways in which a priest can ‘be there’, and it’s about finding your own role in each community and setting. It’s a privilege I constantly pinch myself about that I’ve got the chance to do that already.
Most days begin with Morning Prayer at St. Michael’s, and at some point during the day there will be a Mass – Wednesday at St. Michaels, the others are at All Saints. These come at different times in different forms, using different liturgy and each being slightly unique. Yet there is a fundamental pattern to the course of a week. It’s very much made me reflect on the way in which sacraments reflect the world around us back into our eyes through God’s light – there’s a regularity and order to the way in which Mass is celebrated, and yet within that regularity there is an abundance of diversity.
Each evening we say Evening Prayer at All Saints. I was recently asked “will Mass and Morning/Evening prayer every day distract you from getting out into the community?”. Far from it. It’s only through that prayer, generally two hours liturgical prayer each day and an abundance of non-liturgical prayer in between, that I have the strength to get out and about in the community. I’m a fairly quiet, dull, chap who would prefer to sit back in the countryside and do very little really. But I open myself up to be ‘transformed in the fire of God’s love for us, and used in His service’.. And here I am. Somewhere totally different, doing totally different things. A couple of times I’ve done a double take and thought “hang on a minute – what am I doing here?!”, but that’s very rare. It feels so natural, it feels so right, and I feel so ‘at home’ here already that I can virtually say I don’t have a doubt God’s here with me.
The aforementioned ‘getting out into the community’ takes place mainly in Sheerwater, and outside of personal formation that’s really what I’m here for. There’s a huge amount to learn about the community, and I’ve observed that it’s outsiders coming in and making assumptions that has caused some troubles of the past. I’m therefore taking it slowly, getting to know people, and finding my place. That ranges from ‘being there’ at the various ‘open events’ (BookSwap, drop in for coffee, Film Club, etc..) to running a course on how to use iPads at the local community hub. My DBS clearance has come through, so that opens new possibilities and doors as well.
That’s really an introduction to what I’m doing here. But that’s really been what the last few weeks have been about. This Sunday is my ‘official’ welcome, with a Community Lunch at which we’re expecting 48 attendants. In a way that’s when I’ll stop being so much the ‘newbie’ and hopefully others will start being able to ask me questions, rather than it always being the other way around.
I feel like I should sign off with something a little more lighthearted, or on another topic, but I’m writing from my sickbed with a sore throat that has virtually made me lose my voice and I can’t think of anything. This is the first opportunity I’ve had all week to write this, so that gives some idea of how busy things are..!
Instead I’ll sign off with the prayer at the end of Psalm 143 in some of Common Worship:
Jesus our companion,
when we are driven to despair,
help us, through the friends and strangers
we encounter on our path,
to know you as our refuge,
our way, our truth and our life.
To every person I meet on the journey, and for every prayer said for me, thank you.