My Farewell words in church yesterday:
One of my favourite T-shirts has printed on the front the words “First-class honours” and then in smaller writing underneath it says “from the University of hindsight”! As I look back over the last 6 ½ years I can think of many things which if I could go back and do them again I would perhaps go about them differently, but then that is why old people are so wise, there is no substitute for experience!
It really is such an incredible thing, moving to a Parish as more or less a complete stranger and then in no time at all getting to know (and know about) a lot of people. It has been a great honour and privilege to be a part of your lives, whether it just be a chat over coffee, or a significant milestone of life, such as a wedding, baptism, confirmation or funeral.
I can remember on the drive down from Belfast in March 2003, stopping for Petrol in a now closed petrol station outside of Youghal and the price of fuel being 79.9 cent a litre and thinking that was really expensive! Back then the US invasion of Iraq was only just beginning, the most popular search term on Google (apparently) was Britney Spears! We didn’t have broadband, Mahon Point was only just starting to be built and the Jack Lynch tunnel was still quite new and not leaking as much as it does today! The planning for Cork as the European city of Culture was still in it’s early planning stages (some might of course say that it never really got beyond that) and of course in sport Cork lost to Kilkenny in the hurling final, Munster lost to Wasps in the Heineken Cup semi’s, Ireland came second in the rugby six nations, but that’s all OK because England won the Rugby World Cup with Jonny Wilkinson’s last gasp drop goal!
In many ways the time has gone very quickly. You’ve all been so incredibly good to me and my family. When Sonja and I arrived here, it was just the two of us and a cat! We were in our very early 30’s and I had a lot more hair and none of it was grey! Now, as well as a cat and a goldfish, we have two lively and wonderful boys who have only ever known this place as their home.
You have all been so good to us as a family, the level of care and support you have shown us, particularly when the boys’ were born was just phenomenal. I remember too how loyal you have been to me as a Rector, when I have organised things you have come along to them, even though at times it was probably the last thing you wanted to do. The best thing though is how we have grown in our faith together – I’ve learnt so much listening to your stories of faith and commitment to Jesus through good times and bad, it’s been wonderful to see God at work in your lives and for us all to journey together on the road of faith.
Since I have been your Rector there have been 35 Baptisms, 10 Weddings and 21 Funerals. Of course the Baptisms and Weddings have been a joy; the funerals have been very hard. To be with you, there along side you through the whole process of saying goodbye to one you love who has died is not only a massive responsibility, it is holy ground. To say it is a privilege is an understatement, it is a deep honour. I cannot help but look out on Sunday morning and remember those who used to sit in certain parts of the church who are no longer there, or as I drive around the parish past houses and farms where people used to live and work and find it hard to believe that that if I knock on the door they will not answer. I don’t know how anyone can grieve without God’s help in the whole process; it must be the loneliest experience in the world.
One thing perhaps more than anything else I have tried to do is get us all to realise even more and have confidence in the fact that Christianity not just for Sundays but for every moment of our lives, that the Lord Jesus not only died for us and rose again but wants to be our very best friend, our soul mate too. He wants to share every moment with us and for us to share every moment with Him.
I’ve tried also to get us to have confidence in the fact that He’s given us all gifts, every single one of us has something (at least one thing) that we are good at and that we could use to serve Him. What we need though is an environment to make that happen – W4 (home groups) tried to be that environment as did Carrigtwohill Praise, as did Bible Study and prayer meetings. It was great to see some people have the courage to run with this and to start doing things for God because they knew that God had given them a gift and they wanted to thank Him for that by offering to use it for His glory.
One thing I see in not only in my own life but also in the life of every Christian is that God is a God of new beginnings. Because the Christian life is a journey, we are always moving forward, on to the next thing that God wants us to do or requires of us. It is a fantastic thing to watch that spark of faith come alive in someone’s life. They may have been going through the dull routine of coming to church out of a dormant sense of duty for years and years and then it’s like the penny suddenly drops and they realise what it is all about – a living relationship with God. It’s been so great to see that happen in different people’s lives and then to see them start to be used by God to make a difference in whatever way they let God use them.
For a little while now I have had the sense that God wanted to do something new in this Parish and that he also wanted me to move on to somewhere else. At first this was not really what I wanted, I was happy in what I was doing and my family were happy and settled too. I worried about where we would go but had to remember that God had always looked after us in the past so He would now and in the future also. It is a little unnerving knowing that to move is the right thing to do but without actually knowing where you will be going. To cut a long story short it has worked out well. I am happy to be going to somewhere not too far away from here and that the upheaval for my family will be a lot less than if we were off somewhere far away and very different. However, it is difficult to say goodbye. Sonja and I have got to know many of you well and I as your pastor have a deep bond of affection for you. I have worried about you, prayed for you, tried to help you and most of all learned from you a great deal – and of course I’m deeply humbled by the way you have been so loving and patient with me, whether it be enduring many a long boring sermon or not getting too stressed out with my mistakes and failures.
I will of course continue to pray for you, as individuals and as a parish, until such time as you get a new Rector, and then when that time comes I will pray for him or her too. Be assured that God will bring you a new Rector in His own timing. You may have a short wait or a longer wait and whoever it is, trust that it is God who has brought this person to you, even if you might have preferred someone else!
Sonja and I would appreciate your prayers for us as we make this move and for the people of Kilgariffe Union – I hope they are as nice as you lot!
God bless you all with every blessing and may each of you always fully know the height and depth and width of His love for you in Christ Jesus, Amen.