Magazine articles, including those for our church magazine, are, necessarily, written a little time before the publication date. I am writing this at the beginning of September, as I reach the third anniversary of my licensing here. Perhaps confusingly, on October 25th I will be licensed again, as incumbent rather than as priest-in-charge. Three years feels like a significant period of time, and I have been reflecting on my time here, and thinking about what this next stage means. Practically it will be no different for me or for you, but it does feel like a “well done” all round!
Many of you have been in this parish for much longer than I have, and you will have seen many changes - for good and bad I guess.
As I look back over my short time here I can see there have been many changes, and mostly for good. A recent conversation I had with Bishop Mark encourages me in this belief. Archdeacon Cherry came to a morning service at St Agnes one Sunday in July, and she also commented on how much she enjoyed her visit.
It is easy to go from day to day, week to week, and see only the difficulties and frustrations. Taking a longer view is much more encouraging. As I write this, we have almost reached our target for phase 1 of the development work at St Thomas' – to install a toilet and 'brewstop' - It has been a long slog, and thanks must go to the group who have toiled away at this, and to all those who have helped fund it. It might seem a small thing, to have a toilet in church, but it will make the building so much more people-friendly. We won't stop at this though – we do want to work on the back room…..
The lead theft from St Tomas church was devastating, so much water to deal with - and thanks to all who helped with the mopping up -especially Roy and Audrey. Our damaged organ was very sad, but Warren helped our music by bringing along his own organ to play, and now we have a splendid new digital one.
These practical improvements are encouraging, but they are not what made Bishop Mark and Archdeacon Cherry comment in such a positive way on the parish of Leesfield. So what is it about?
I think it has a lot to do with people trusting each other, and feeling comfortable with each other. Many people work hard to help run the parish, parish officers and many others. Finances are well managed thanks to our treasurer and financial coordinator, buildings are cared for thanks to our wardens, deputy wardens and sides-people.
The Sunday schools thrive thanks to the leaders and teachers. Our pastoral care group, under Ruth's leadership continues its ministry in the care homes and with the housebound of the parish. The ladies group continues (under its new name) to encourage members and others both socially and spiritually. I could go on….
Even more important, though, is the way all members of the parish are welcoming and encouraging, friendly and supportive. Of course it isn't perfect, we are all human beings with flaws and there are difficulties from time to time, but I think we are doing well at our task of being the Body of Christ in this place.
Not that we can rest on our laurels though, there is more we can do. I'd like to see a deepening of spirituality. I would like to see more people in church for special services as well as Sundays. And I'd like to see people recognising their vocations, recognising that God is calling them to particular roles within His church.
What – another licensing?
Many of you were present when I was licensed as Priest in Charge of the parish of Leesfield – on September 5th 2012. I remember it as a very joyous event.
Earlier this year it was agreed that the suspension of the benefice should be lifted, and your parish priest should become Incumbent (vicar). This will make no difference in practice to me or to the parish, apart from giving me more security. It does, however, feel rather like an affirmation of what we have achieved together over these three years.
So I will be licensed again, on October 25th. This will take place during a service of evening prayer which begins at 6.30pm, and it will be a much simpler procedure than the last one. It was hoped that Bishop Mark would preside but unfortunately he will be recovering from an operation and the presiding bishop will be Bishop Graham Dow (one of our assistant bishops) and the preacher will be Archdeacon Cherry. There will be refreshments afterwards.
The date is not ideal, as the first Sunday of half term week, but we didn’t want to delay it into the winter. I do hope most of you will be able to attend. At the first licensing most of you were strangers to me – and many of the congregation were people from my previous churches. This time it will be much more of a parish event and I look forward to sharing this milestone with you all!