Matty's birthday coincides with the anniversary of my induction at St Catherine's. I was made priest-in-charge here on September 5th 2000 (vicar a year later). Matty was born on September 6th 2000. His birthday begins each new year here for me. His & my tenth.
And what an exciting time it is too: on my kitchen notice board, I have these words written:
They've been there for, ooh, four years maybe. Three, certainly. Now we are well established with a pattern of worship where I hardly ever lead a Sunday service - members of the church do this. No-one leads more than one or two a month. And this term, as I looked down the list of preachers at the evening service, I realised that out of 19 evening services (including Christmas Eve), I am preaching only 10 times - barely the majority. I love preaching; but I love seeing the vision of gifts released and people growing in these gifts far more.
In year two or three, I tried to encourage some of the folk here to preach - just to try it. It was the right idea at the wrong time. Now - now it flies!
And this was a weekend for beginnings too. Trish Tazzini-Lloyd has finally begun as our new children's worker, taking over from Kirsty, and on her first Sunday clearly showed why the Lord has brought her to us. Naomi was the right person at the right time; Kirsty was the right person at the right time, a real gift following a real gift. And now the Lord is building on these gifts with something new for us - Trish led our Family Service with a new style and enthusiasm, and with her own self and life with Jesus that was just great for us. And when she preached in the evening (I was worried I was asking too much for the first weekend) she did so with such wonderful casual grace and impact that Stewart simply commented "What a find".
Indeed - but more, what a gift. As I know we as a church are to her & her family, they are to us. Which is how it should be.
And now I am in Oxford for the diocesan clergy school. All the fun of the fair. Literally - as the St Giles Fair, one of the great highlights of the Oxford year, and one which countless generations of undergraduates never experience as it falls now, weeks before University term commences, is in full swing just a stone's throw from St Anne's College where we are all staying.
Most people came by coach. I, of course, drove my Saab. And parked across the road in my reserved spot - Oxford is notoriously difficult for parking. But, as I explained to the archbishop over supper, one of the many advantages of being an evangelical, is being able to park your car at Wycliffe Hall.
Ah yes, the archbishop.
His first question to me was about what we are doing with wine at communion, which may well have been a question on some of your minds... "Are you allowing people to take the chalice, whilst giving them a full range of options?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, "with everything fully explained in the notice sheet every week."
"Good," he said, "that sounds perfectly right to me." (Internal sighs of relief from the vicar of Pontypridd.) "I think I'll use this opportunity to clarify to everyone that this is what they should do. Do you know," he continued, "I went to one parish where they were not only unsure about whether they should continue to have cups of tea after the service, but also whether they could have biscuits on a plate? In the end they decided to have Kit-Kats, as they were wrapped up. Ridiculous".
Good old Anglican common sense prevails - indeed, I should add that we had a long email conversation where Barry made this clear; it is entirely possible I might have written slightly misleading sentiments elsewhere on this matter... I thanked the archbishop for putting up with me; he replied he was getting used to me by now. That seemed fair.
After all, I have now lived in Pontypridd longer than I lived here in Oxford. Ponty is profoundly home, profoundly where I belong. And yet, driving into this city brings back so many memories, so much of my life, so many things the Lord has done for me - it still feels like home. The air has a particular smell here. Perhaps it is the river. Or the industry. Or the sandstone or the learning or the snobbery - or all of the above. But, as when I go back to Lancashire, the Lord granted me roots here, and I thank him for this gift too, and for the sense of 'home' coming here both brings and unsettles.
I am reminded of those words in Hebrews 11: "They were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Home here is but a pale reflection of the one to come; we are to cherish it, but not to be fooled by it. Or we become the Isrealites who wanted to be back in Egypt, when there was a Promised Land ahead of them.
And the nature of this promised land?
Goodness, let me be short term. This, as I started by referring to, is now year ten for Matty and I. What are the watchwords of the work I am called to do?
Worship, evangelism, compassion.
A church that is a family for all.
More leaders, preachers, gifts, space - and the work we have ready for and in the hall is a huge part of the fulfillment of this.
My job is to worship God; his job is to grow the church.
I have a list of things in the back of my Bible, here at the side of me. I am amazed at some of the things there, how they have happened over the years, and how some things now seem so prescient, so apt, when before they seemed just words.
We are to be the church that can - in a place that fears it cannot. But with Jesus, we not only can, we will!
And so -
My eye is taken by 2 Corinthians 8.11, and St Paul's great charge there. Not as an ending word, but as a rising word, as a "keep your eye on the Lord and on his promises and believe and live it out" word:
Now finish the work.