Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Moving on

It's been quite a while since my appointment to the Parish of St Mary, Islington, was announced. Long good-byes are never easy and while it's been good to talk with lots of people in recent months about our big move to London, it's something of a relief to be almost there.

My last Sunday service will be on 20 June at St Paul's. It will be a special and somewhat sad occasion for me. I am hugely grateful for these seven happy years and there are many people to thank, much to recall, and lots to appreciate. We've seen our church congregation grow in numbers by about a quarter, so that our average weekly attendance over a full year is now one hundred adults, plus children. There's been plenty of growth in other ways and I recognise how I've grown in these last seven years. I shall never forget the lessons that I've learned from the examples of a congregation that is faithful, generous, prayerful and willing.

In the wider community, many people have asked me who my successor will be and were a little surprised to learn that the Church doesn't make arrangements for continuity in the same way as businesses and other organisations. Instead of a simple handover to a new vicar, there is likely to be a long vacancy. This will undoubtedly stretch the ministry team but I am very confident that things will go forward in the care of wise and gifted colleagues.

In the old way of looking at parish ministry, the awful notion of "interregnum" described a difficult period when everything went on hold, pending the arrival of a new vicar. I hope this outdated and inaccurate word won't be used in the coming months. Today, we understand how responsibility for ministry is shared by the whole church community. The job of a full-time ordained minister is to serve, stretch and animate the local church in its mission for God. A vacancy can be a time of growth and I'm looking forward to learning how the gaps created by my departure allow an even greater flourishing of the church.

It's clear to me that we need to embrace more wholeheartedly the patterns of ministry that can be traced in the New Testament. The early Church was under pressure and stretched, without the protection and comfort that the wealth of Christendom brought about in later centuries. In some ways, it's a picture we recognise in the UK today. In this exciting but vulnerable period, the Church learned that ministry is essentially corporate, that the initiative is always with God's Spirit, and that the partnership between itinerant apostles and indigenous church leaders is precious. Vicars today are more likely to be called to the kind of task that those travelling apostles undertook - teaching, equipping, encouraging - and then moving on, entrusting the church to local leaders who find ways of living out the gospel in their context and culture. In this pattern, vicars will come and go, but the continuity of worship, service, prayer and growth in mission belongs to the whole people of God.

Whoever the next Team Vicar will be, I pray that he or she will receive the same loving encouragement and generous forgiveness that you have shown me. Thank you! Simon