It was coming up to 3 months ago that we said goodbye to Tom and Jo. I am happy to report they have settled into church life in Nottingham where Tom is currently chaplain to the Bishop there.
A lot has been happening in the last 3 months behind the scenes for us at St John’s and St Mary’s, and I thought I’d update you on where we are up to. Thankfully, it has been agreed that I will be the vicar! The official service of installation will be on Tuesday, 17th October from 7:30pm at St John’s. All welcome. As a family, we are so excited to be in Isleworth long term. After some redecorating, we will be moving into the vicarage on St John’s Road in coming weeks.
Before all this, the Bishop is happy for me to take services, so from next Sunday 24th September, I will be back on duty. After discussions with many at church before Tom left, the PCC agreed that St John’s will meet at 10.30am to allow me time to get down from the service at St Mary’s, which finishes around 10am. This new service time of 10.30am for St John’s will come into effect from 24th September. St Mary’s will remain at 9am. I am aware that with service times it is impossible to please everyone and I’m sorry if these times are an inconvenience to some of you, but we felt we had no alternative now there was to be only one member of the clergy in the parish.
The final thing to add is a HUGE thank you to Brian and Gayle our churchwardens for steering the ship through the last 3 months, and for the many volunteers and clergy who have stepped in to help as well. See you soon!
Last Sunday was one of the most special days of our lives. Thank you all SO much for all you gave us. To see the church filled with so many people to whom we feel so closely bonded was the most wonderful context to worship together, to reflect, to pray and then gather together around Christ’s table. And it was a real treat to spend time later with many.
Thank you for the beautiful plate you gave us. It’s a perfect colour, not least as that shade of blue reminds Joanna of her alma mater university and me of my old school! For sure it will have a prominent place and we will use it a lot. Every time we see it, we’ll remember you. We discovered from you an amazingly generous gift voucher, to be spent as soon as we have a home in Nottingham. We’ve had lots of wonderful gifts: a great picture of St John’s, photo books, food, wine – your generosity and imagination knows no bounds (we want to thank the giver of the great golf ball clock – the card had become detached.)
We will live for a long time with the warmth, depth and richness of Sunday. We will keep in touch. My next post as interim Chaplain to Bishop Paul begins on 1st Sept, and we hope a parish in Nottingham will soon be confirmed. It IS amazing that the street opposite St John’s Church is named as it is, so that we could together walk a bit down the Road to Nottingham, our hearts strong with this blessing Brian and Gayle, on your behalf, had just prayed:
As Tom and Joanna begin their journey to Nottingham, we bless them in the name of the Lord. May our heavenly Father be your help, as you walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. May the power of the Cross and Resurrection keep you, by day and by night, from all evil. May the Holy Spirit lead you each day in your going out and in your coming in, that you bring in a rich harvest, from this time forth and for evermore. AMEN
Joanna and I were lucky enough to be able go to the premier of Summer in the Forest, a beautiful, intensely moving and I am sure an important film. It explores what it is to be truly human.
It’s a film about the L’Arche Communities, founded in the 1960s by a young Canadian philosopher, Jean Vanier, to provide a home for people with a disability – often profound. We get to know Michel, Philippe, Andre, Patrick and David in their home at Troisly, near Paris. We meet Sara and others out in their community at Bethlehem. It’s a slow moving film, little action, but beautiful human scenes with some deeply painful insights into the lives of those with a disability. We enjoy Jean’s own presence in the communities, and hear his exceptional insights.
In the Q & A session following the showing, the Director, Randall Wright, explained how it was that as the individual stories of each person emerged, so the film took shape. Michel tells us the tragic circumstances of his early life, how he suffered beatings in the asylum that he and countless others had to endure. There is an incredibly tender scene as Jean tells the severely disabled Sebastian how beautiful he is. We see in action the ‘big man’ inside David, who keeps the world a safer place. Fred is overcome with emotion at the party to celebrate his engagement to Celeste. Jean is unable to stop smiling and laughing with the community in Bethlehem.
It’s not just a very ‘spiritual’ film, indeed it is one of the very best ways I’ve seen to communicate the heart of Christianity. Each person is unique, sacred and beautiful, but also, beset with fears that our cry for love will not be heard, that we will be left alone. The answer lies not in feeling we need to become better or stronger than others, rather being willing to meet in vulnerability, taking time, sitting together at table – becoming true friends.
I first met Tom in 2003 in the war zone of South Sudan on a church mission trip. I was engaged to Rachel and as a couple we enjoyed getting to know Tom and Jo and all the kids and saw them from time to time over the next few years, both in London and in Brazil. And so it was amazing that Bishop Paul in 2014 appointed me Deanery Pioneer Curate based at St John’s (and shortly to be with St Mary’s) which turned out to be a really good idea from my point of view. Tom and I have remained, with God’s help, firm friends from start to finish (assuming we don’t fall out in the next week!)
I have loved my curacy, and the more I chat to other curates I know, the more I can see my curacy has been particularly unique and positive. With no employed staff team here, all of church life comes across Tom’s desk, and often my desk, and we have had to work it out together. This has given me a lot of exposure to running the parish. I think it’s also amazing that so many of our members live locally and can walk to church – either at St John’s or St Mary’s. Consequently, we have unusually strong links with local people, through shared experiences, passions and histories. This has not been the case in other churches I’ve been in.
The curacy has also helped me as a person – in terms of confidence and resilience. Praying through the Psalms daily with Tom has been crucial for this and has helped my own faith grow in reliance on God, as well as developing good patterns of spiritual disciplines. And then not having Tom when he went on sabbatical was a (steep!) learning curve but a good and necessary one which helped me to gain some perspective on this vocation of being a vicar. Needless to say, the curacy has been great fun for us as a whole family in large part because we have been so well looked after by both congregations.
Last Sunday I announced our next move.
The Rt Rev’d Paul Williams, the former Bishop of Kensington, now Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham is appointing me, as from the beginning of September, as his interim Chaplain. Therefore, Joanna and I will be moving into Southwell at the end of August. We are excited about this and indeed it tempers our sadness on leaving our many friends and the ministry we have loved in Isleworth.
With his current Chaplain moving on to a new post, he is taking the opportunity to review the best way to structure his team and so my appointment is an interim one, for up to 6 months. During that time, I will be exploring with him new opportunities for me to serve in a parish, I very much hope in his Diocese. I am greatly looking forward to working with him and his team, to a new emphasis in my ministry and also for the opportunity to get to know a new Diocese.
We spent much of Thursday in Southwell, looking round and meeting people. It all now seems much more real! Southwell, with its magnificent minster church is where the Diocese has its offices and the Bishop lives. It’s a pleasant market town and we will enjoy getting to know it, although we do not expect to be there for very long. I’m very much looking forward to working closely with the Bishop.
Jubilee House, a modern building, is where all the Diocesan and Bishop’s staff work. Open plan, I’ll have my desk there – quite a change from what I’ve been used to for all the time I have been working. However, it felt very appealing and practical to have everyone together in one big space – Bishop (of Sherwood,) Archdeacons, Chief Exec, Registrar, Advisors, Schools Board, etc.