Tuesday, July 19, 2011
the final day
Matt & I walked through Ponty park as we always did, him sniffing every darned tree, me calling "Head!" to pull his attention away from burying his face too deep in any especially repugnant odours. A gentle rain spotted the ground and midges thronged under the trees.
We called in on Clare at the newsagents on Mill Street. She went red - she'd meant to come to church yesterday, but had overslept. I told her not to be so silly. And we said our goodbyes.
Barbara came to clean the empty house. Oh, how I have relied upon Barbara. She has cheered me up so many times without knowing it. Made me feel better just by being there, as well as by making my home look and feel and smell nicer week by week. I gave her flowers last week; she brought me wine today. We shared tears.
A trip to the bank saw money into my account - both from my little house sale on Saturday and from the amazing generosity of the church as I left. Wow. And thank you - I know many of you read this. I am overwhelmed, and incredibly grateful.
Then Dan came to help me finish off sorting the house out. I married Dan and Gemma one Christmas a few years back. I'd got to know Gemma's dad through taking funerals for his parents, and when he asked if I'd do his daughter's wedding I was delighted - though if it had been anyone else, I think asking for a Sunday wedding at Christmas might well have got a no from my diary! We have a running joke - I invite them to dinner, and then go to their house to eat. We've been trying to meet up in the run up to my leaving, and it hasn't happened, but they came yesterday & I was delighted to see them & their boys. Dan offered to help me as I finished off the house & did a couple of tip runs. Gemma insisted I then came to lunch. I was thrilled to say yes.
Gill Tuck came to the Vicarage as we were done. She took my keys. Empty, gone, all over. I had feared I would slink out of town without anyone noticing. Gill was aware of this and was making sure that couldn't happen. Dan was there too. The book of these days closed, but friends were all around me as the words on the pages ran out. Indeed, just as I got into the car Kim Howells walked past pushing his granddaughter in the buggy. Many's the day when he has regaled me with stories of meetings with chiefs of staff, spies, wars in foreign parts, chairing the United Nations, facing down the Prime Minister - but now he wears a more relaxed look and his granddaughter gets the attention that previously was demanded by such unimportant matters. A friendly hug, another and fitting final farewell.
Then the long drive northwards. I crossed the bridge to England. I used to live here. No, I do live here; I used to live in Wales. For seventeen years I stayed in the Principality - almost as long as I lived in Accrington as a kid, before first moving south to University a lifetime ago. And as I drove I thought of my yesteryears, and of my yesterday.
Yesterday was lovely.
The team here had worked hard to make a super occasion. Wardens, staff, musicians, St Catz Kids, St Caths Plus, Stewart as he led the service and the folk who provided the wonderful lunch - though a confession: I spent so much time talking to people over lunch, the only thing I actually ate was a piece of Val's lemon meringue!
Here was a church looking forwards, in good health, celebrating its life. And I enjoyed every minute. Great to see visitors amongst the crowd - including Owen & Liz, Alice, Karsten, Robin, David, a couple who come to the Remembrance events, some of our wider family, and of course lots and lots of us. Just us.
I had great fun preaching - Stewart called it a "tour de force", but he would, showing off his French, (always the class swot!) as I decided to go out on Matthew 22.34ff, the greatest commandment, but got carried away so gave them pretty much all of Matthew 21 & 22, with references to Matthew 4 & Deuteronomy 5-8 thrown in for good measure. Plus quotes from Cecil B deMille and a couple of my favourite little jokes...
The greatest commandment: it is in the way we love one another that the truth of our love for God is revealed. Be the real deal. It isn't easy, it's not supposed to be; it is worth it.
Stewart spoke at the end of the service of our friendship. Of the way I'd come to Cynthia's bedside at 4.30am on the day she died. Of our Bible studies, ranging from exegesis to pole dancing. I assured the congregation we didn't actually do any pole dancing...
I looked out and saw others. Those present like Ashley & Helen with baby James. I remembered visiting them in hospital on Christmas Day when Helen had been confined to bed for months before James' birth. Those absent like John Murphy, who is confined to his bed but who has been to me a true friend. I wouldn't have had these eleven years without him. Or like Dan & Kirsty - and it was lovely to have Matthew Truelove sing a song written by Dan for the occasion. And to sing one of his own, a favourite of mine. Then I saw out there too those gone before, like Gwyneth, whose smile and attention to detail were both very special. And Mac. And Ken. And Gladys, whose final prayer I will remember always.
Actually, right at the end of that evening service, David Carver came forwards & said that he wanted some people to pray with me. I was absolutely thrilled. Just as I had not wanted to leave today by myself (and I guess in part that's a being single thing - a lot of life is by myself you know), I had really wanted somebody at some point before I left to say - "we need to have a good group of people pray for you". And it hadn't happened. Then David did it.
Don't take this the wrong way, please - I have always had great wardens, and the current crop are wonderful & hard working & pulled out all the stops yesterday in making the whole day go off amazingly. I love them to bits. But I will confess to having a very soft spot for David Carver & for Derek Phillips; they were a very special team as wardens. They are very special godly men. David proved it for me again yesterday, and those last few moments of my final service were golden.
So. I got into the car & began to drive. Eleven years, eh? There have been ups & downs, tough times & failures amongst the joys & triumphs. I don't know if I did everything I was supposed to. But as far as I was able I tried to be obedient. And as I sit in the kitchen of what is becoming my new home, I am reminded that for the past few years this blog has had at the top of it something of what I have seen as my job description, a play around Thirteen Words that have always meant a lot to me. Well, I'm going to have to change that soon.
But let me remind you: I have the joy of pastoring a church in South Wales, (and now come the 13 words) my job is to worship Jesus - his job is to grow the church. He is far better at his job that I at mine, but grace is all about how these things come together.
He is far better at his job than I at mine; but grace means I leave with happy memories, and I can't ask for more than that.