I had the pleasure today of meeting up with Robert Watson, retired clergyman, sometime chaplain with ICS in Wengen, Switzerland.
It was in that role that I first met Robert. I had agreed to take on my first chaplaincy in 1997 and ICS held a training day for summer chaplains. Robert was there, and as we spoke, he was tremendously encouraging about the work I would encounter, and the opportunities I would find whilst in resort.
Like most of us, Robert can be a bit marmite - some people take to him enormously, others not so much. I particularly took to him on first meeting and have always done so ever since. When I have seen him lead services at Wengen, as he led the communion today, he does so in a very individual style that is impossible to emulate - but which clearly demonstrates his God-ward heart, and his desire that others might share that heart. That's a very precious thing, and for me has a deep integrity.
Today he made me value again another person's ministry, and made me think of others who have blessed me along the way. The list is very long; I am sure it is far from finished.
The person who especially came to mind did so because as I spoke about Robert with someone else in the village here where I am enjoying a few days holiday, she told me of a poor experience earlier in the season. The man who had been chaplain then had been very insistent that she (my friend here) should do something in the church, and had rather bullied her about it. She had not been free to offer the time needed, and felt bad about the whole thing.
This tale put me in mind of John Walker at Calverley, one of my heroes of the faith. When I arrived in Yorkshire after Pontypridd, I was exhausted spiritually. We met, we talked, and John quickly delved a little and found out all sorts of things about me which revealed that I was exactly the kind of person who could help him with various things in the life of the parish. And he never once even asked me. He understood how tired, how empty I was, and simply befriended me and gave me time to be restored. He and Michelle were wonderful. His ministry, there at the end of his many years in that place, with so much to do to organise the parish for the upcoming interregnum, was the perfect model to me of pastoral understanding. John could so easily have pushed me along a bit - he had so much to get done in those final months it would have been very understandable - but instead he understood what I needed and put his own needs, wants, agendas and everything else to one side so I could begin to flourish again. I know for some John could also be a bit marmite - can't we all? - but the time he gave me was pure blessing. When I was ready to begin to offer things, he kindly made space. He encouraged and helped me grow. I thank God for what John did for me.
The newspapers are looking at the anniversary of Pope Francis' election at the moment, and beginning to judge how successful he is being. He is a man. As time goes on, the adulation will vary. He will doubtless end up being a bit more marmitey than has so far been the case - some will really find they can't cope with the taste after all, whilst others continue to love him. He is not perfect (thank God), but the imperfections are not disqualifications nor do they dilute the value of anything he does or says.
God only uses imperfect people; it's all he has.
The examples we have of good men and women who touch our lives with blessings from God are not divine, not perfect, not plaster saints who live on pedestals, but real, flawed, loved people like us.
And here's some good news: if they blessed us, we get to pass it on.
I was just in the process of posting this when a quick message came in from a dear friend who was once part of a church where I was involved early in my ordained ministry years. She could have been reading this as I was typing; and as I have been writing about examples that have touched my life, I actually got a note from her saying pretty much the same thing back to me. How genuinely humbling. How wonderful. You see, we really do all get to play.