I didn’t expect to write this quite yet. Not did I expect to write it in my current situation, nor with such a mixture of emotions.
The bare facts are these: At the end of twenty years of ministry in the Penzance and then the West Penwith Circuit, I retire on grounds of ill health on the 1st of September following a diagnosis of cancer at the beginning of this year for which I have been undergoing chemotherapy ever since under the care of the wonderful oncology team at Treliske.
The year prior to that as many of the potential readers of this blog will know was a very stressful one indeed for my family and me, as well as for the churches with whom I had ministered continuously since 1998. The Methodist system dictates that after a certain length of time, in my case four years, one year before the end of one’s current term, the minister is asked if he or she wants to stay. My request was that I stay but that for reasons of deteriorating health to reduce my working week (usually between 80 and 100 hours) and to look after two or three churches with possible help in the field of conservation for another. I was supported in this by my two longest standing churches with whom I had had discussions before offering what I did. Various consultations went on within the circuit leadership team (the ministers and stewards of the body to which all the churches of our West Penwith Circuit are a part). Eventually my offer, by then to work voluntarily, was recommended by the Leadership Team to be refused by the Circuit as not fitting with its plans for the soon to be extended circuit. The circuit meeting did not endorse my request by a sufficient margin and so my service was due to end with the close of August this year. I mention this in this blog for two reasons, firstly, to explain it for those who are still puzzled by Methodist processes and decisions and, secondly, to say that for me, it is history.
It is history for three reasons, firstly because I have set aside the hurt I felt at the decision at the time. Forgiveness is a key to Christian living and while it may not always be easy or even sometimes possible, I bear no ill will to the people who voted against me, nor to the circuit which yet contains even in those churches whose delegates probably didn’t vote for me (it is a secret ballot) many who have been supportive of my work over the years and have been supportive since that decision.
The second reason is that the health problems which followed so closely on the Circuit’s decision meant that I would probably have had to retire anyway. While that is so, the way things have happened have made it easier for the circuit which had already begun the process of finding a replacement for me and another minister so that there will be three whole time ministers in the new extended circuit. For that, I am pleased for the Circuit and wish the new ministers well in their new appointments as I do my colleague who takes over as Superintendent from me in a full rather than acting capacity on 1st September.
The third reason is that there is little point in looking back. One of my songs says, as if from the Divine to us:
Take your eye from what was the past;
Your mind from that before;
I am about to do new things
That as I speak spring forth.
One story closes to open onto another chapter of life but I face it happily in no small part because of the people around me.
Throughout this difficult time, I have been, as I have said so often, “borne up by the kindness of many”. Alongside my family, those many people come often from outside the churches and here I would like to acknowledge my deep debt of gratitude to the people of this area who wrote, spoke, and even offered protest marches in support of my continued ministry and who also supported and encouraged me throughout these last two decades. Among those many individuals have been three organisations of which I have the honour to be chaplain, namely the Penlee Lifeboat, the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Penzance Town Council. I thank all three for their continuing support.
I want to record also my lasting thanks to the people of two churches, namely Newlyn Trinity and Mousehole, the two churches I have served throughout the twenty years without a break, along with Tredavoe, which is a slightly different set up and not a full part of the Circuit, but which has also been very supportive.
The third group of people I want to thanks is the clergy, staff and congregations of the Penlee Cluster of the Church of England covering Penzance, Newlyn and Paul who have been unfailingly supportive along with other Anglican clergy locally during these last almost two years now. Initial plans to work with the Cluster have had to be set aside due to my illness. However, I hope to be able to offer some support to my dear friends at Paul church with whom I have had the privilege to work in various capacities from joint services to the establishment of the 3 Villages Youth Project (Mousehole, Newlyn and Paul) which continues to provide services to the young people of the area since its formation in 2002.
It has been an enormous privilege to serve in this my home area as a minister since September of 1998. In that time, I have performed hundreds of baptisms and weddings and many more funerals. Each of those rites of passage an enormous privilege in their own right as I have been invited to be involved with individuals and families at the most important moments of their lives, to hear and tell people’s stories. Then there was involvement in the Christmas lights switch ons, the Newlyn Fish Industry Forum, the erection of the Fishermen’s Memorial, chairing concerts and various community groups such as the Gwavas Interagency Group as well as working with individuals in times of joy and of sorrow and helping with a fine group of people to establish the Centre in Newlyn which has gone on to achieve great things and to become a real asset to the wider community. In these tough times of austerity, The Centre needs and is receiving the support of the wider population to keep going. (Blatant plug: please help The Centre if you can in any way, volunteering, donating, offering ideas, buying books etc. Thank you. Call Jerry or Tremaen on 365890).
With these things and so much more I have been truly blessed over the years. I need here to recognise the support of my churches for my ministry in and with the wider community. While we together in church sought to work out what it means to be followers of Jesus in this age, both Mousehole and Trinity churches supported and encouraged me in my view that church and being a follower did not begin or end at the church door which meant that my ministry did not begin or end there either.
There have been many things I would want to have done better or differently. I regret that I was not able to support all as much as I would like to have done and that I missed opportunities. I am sorry that we were unable to do anything about Trinity Chapel despite the expenditure of much money, time and effort and all the excitement of Restoration Village. I had lots of idea that I never seemed quite to have the time to put into action, but I guess that was generally because I was working on some other idea!
So, we move to a new house soon, vacating the manse in Elms Close Terrace that has been home for over half of my ministry (and losing that wonderful view) but we are staying in Newlyn (and losing that very steep hill!) among the people who have become such an important part of my life. What the future will bring, I don’t know but I hope that my health will allow me to paint some pictures, take some photographs, do some voluntary work, and maybe just sit on the seats outside the Mission or in “Barron’s Square” and chat to anyone who’s passing.
To you all, church or not, thank you from the depths of my heart. I have had final services in my churches although I shall appear once more this Sunday at Mousehole to lead a service of celebration on the retirement of our organist there whose ministry of music exceeds my own time by several decades! I do hope that I may be able to put on an event where I can say thank you to people from the wider community, but I need to get the house move sorted first.
So, this, for now, will be my goodbye to you all as Methodist Minister for this area (I am still a Methodist Minister, however. We don’t lose that on ceasing employment.) I shall see you with another hat on!
I wish I had words sufficient for this moment. For a man who has spent years talking “for a living” it’s strange to find myself so at a loss. Thankyou seems to small a word to capture all my thoughts and the depth of my gratitude. So, let me leave you with words that I shared with the congregations of Trinity and Mousehole and that about sum up how I feel from two great philosophers namely Charlie Brown and Winnie the Pooh. Said Charlie Brown, “Goodbye always makes my throat hurt”, while the bear, supposedly of little brain, said “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”.
I am a fortunate and privileged man indeed. Bless you one and all.