Final Greetings from the Rector – September

It seems very strange that by the time you will be reading this, the date of my retirement will be upon us. Although I have had months to prepare for it, it has nevertheless taken me by surprise. Over the last few weeks I have been doing many things in the benefice for the last time – the last school assemblies and governors meetings, the last service in each church, the last deanery meeting, the last PCC meetings and many more. Unlike previous moves which have been from one ministerial post to another, this one is different. It is a move into the unknown, a new beginning, for the first time in my memory a tiime that has no regular shape to the week, no deadlines to meet, few diary fixtures. Every move over at least the last 30 years, and probably more, has been accompanied by box loads of ‘stuff’ – old essays and lecture notes that held memories and ‘might just come in useful’ but are actually long out of date, programmes and agendas from a vast amount of benefice, deanery, diocesan events and services that held particular memories. And the books and the ministerial resources! Deep theological tomes and academic papers, once useful but serve no purpose in this next stage of my life. So, this time, shelves have been cleared, files and folders have been emptied, documents shredded or binned. In fact, it has been quite cathartic; a letting go of the past in order to move into a new future.
I was reminded of some words from the letter to the Hebrews … “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2) It is so true of life that we can easily cling onto things of the past that have no place in the future. These can hinder our vision of what is to come and hold us back. What might these weights be that hold us back? Perhaps we bear grudges for a past hurt. The Bible has much to say about the right way to proceed, a direction summed up in some words from Leviticus “You shall not bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:18) The Gospel reminds us that if there is disagreement with one another, we should first put things right before approaching the altar. Bearing grudges leads to resentment and draws us back to the past rather than moving to the future. As human persons we also have a natural propensity to draw around ourselves the weight of guilt, regret and memories of past failure all of which weigh us down and prevent us from looking forward. Our ears become deaf to our Lord’s invitation “Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”. Through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ we can find peace and reconciliation and the necessary determination to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus who invites us to follow.
And finally … speaking of moving from what has been into what will be, I was delighted this week to receive a phone call from the Church Commissioners informing me that the sole objection to the Single Parish had been withdrawn. After the Bishop has signed a document, we will be able to move into this new mode of governance, a new way of being community together as we look to the future. Having been so instrumental in shaping this new context which will bring fresh opportunities for ministry and mission, I am so sorry to be leaving you before the ink is dry on the paper. You will remain in my prayers as you will always remain in my heart.
As I journey onward, please accept my grateful thanks for all your love and support over these last seven and a half years. May God bless you all.
Sheila