Today is the Feast of the Visitation. It also happens to be the anniversary of me coming to St Mary’s 8 years ago.
Those who were around then will remember that my ministry started here with a hugely exciting service of induction and installation. I had to be made the Rector and I had to be put in my stall as the Provost. It was one of those services where we threw just about every liturgical trick in the book at it and it worked.
To be honest, I find most induction services rather dull. We’ve got into the habit of using miserable liturgies for induction services in which there is a central drama of people putting gifts into the new priest’s hands to symbolise all that they are getting by coming to their new job. I hate it and tried to keep it to a minimum when it was my turn here. In particular, I refused to receive the keys of the church – one of the most silly symbols the church has ever invented, in my view.
I remember saying at one point in the planning of the service, “Well, you can put the keys on a nice velvet cushion and process them up the aisle and bring them to me and bow deeply and offer them to me and I’ll still say ‘No, I am not receiving these keys’”. In the end they never appeared and I didn’t have to publicly say no to them.
The giving of gifts symbolises things that I’m not comfortable with at all. It is an enactment of a system of power that exists in congregations which is very far from being healthy. (It is also a little bit of liturgy that doesn’t have a great deal of history to it).
When someone becomes a Rector in a congregation, they find themselves given a load of power right at the beginning. And right from the beginning, their success, or otherwise, will be marked by how they chose to retain that power, give it away or share it.
The appropriate letting go of power is one of the great themes of Christian ministry but one that is very rarely discussed when clergy are being trained.
I find myself now, knowing less about what is going on at St Mary’s than once I did. You have to learn to trust people and let go.
As it happens, I’m off sick for this anniversary and the church is coping without me. I wish I was around this weekend as I’d have enjoyed celebrating an anniversary mass this morning and would rather be worshipping at St Mary’s on a Sunday than anywhere else in the world. (We give ourselves permission to be excited by the worship in St Mary’s – when we are on form, the worship is allowed to be as interesting, moving, funny and passionate as it should be).
However, even though I’m not there, I’ve every confidence that all will be well without me.
Once upon a time, I’m not sure that would have been so. I’d have been off sick and still worrying about the place.
Looking back, there have been wonderful high points since coming here eight years ago. I think that the church is a happier place than it was then too. And I never think happiness should be dismissed. It matters rather a lot.
I’m happy here at St Mary’s too.
Eight glorious years.
Thanks be to God.