This night, ten years ago, I became vicar of St Catherine's. Well, actually, priest in charge. I didn't get the free upgrade to vicar for another fourteen months. But this is when my time here started, and the good folk here chose to mark the day with a few words and a spot of champagne.
Of course, the reading this evening was from Isaiah 43 - "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" So it was appropriate to think of the last ten years... hmm...
And yesterday, a lovely member of the church, Barbara Hargreaves, passed away after a final battle with cancer. She was very dear to me. She took part in that service ten years ago, and her husband, who had died before I came, actually went to the same primary school I attended in Accrington. I had spent a little time with her on Friday, and we had prayed together, and she had asked me to read to her from Phillipians 4 -
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
We took our leave of each other. I promised I would see her again; we both knew it would not be this side of Glory. She told me she was at peace.
I think of the saints who have gone before. Ken & Hilda & Phil & Gwyneth & Cynthia & Edith & Mabel & Gladys & Mac & far too many others to mention.
I think of worship and sermons and Bible studies and lights going on over people's heads and in their hearts. You do get to see it sometimes. I think of prayer groups and home groups and Alpha courses and countless hours of practical work done around the place and the fellowship of the saints that happens in the rough.
I think of sleepless nights and pain and loneliness too. It's all part of it.
"Does it seem like ten years?" I was asked, several times.
What does ten years seem like? I've never been anywhere for ten years before - not since I was a kid, growing up in Accrington, anyway. Does it seem like that? No, not really. And yes, I suppose. Ten years is both forever and about half an hour, isn't it? I had hair when I came. And about twenty pounds more around my waist. Matt was born the day after; not that he came here for another 18 months - Charlie was the Springer in Residence back then.
Goodness. I wouldn't have swapped it for the world. I came because I felt the Lord whisper in my ear that we could grow a church here.
But anniversaries are strange things. They focus on us, and they focus on the remembering. But God is not in the past. Hence that reading from Isaiah. Don't get stuck in yesterday. He's doing something new. Now. Here. Today. There are people here today he's working in. Look! See! And there will be more people along tomorrow for him to love as well. So as long as I'm called to be here, I'm called to be a part of this - in my very simple sort of way. I'm just a short bald guy trying to follow Jesus, and seeing if anyone wants to come along with me.
My job is to worship God; his job is to grow the church. That was true on September 5th 2000. It's still true today.