Endings are a natural part of life. Jesus. Mary and Joseph would not stay long in Bethlehem before they had to flee for their lives to Egypt. Jesus had his life ended prematurely and went on to Resurrection, Ascension and a seat at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34). Jeremiah had issues of mental health but went on to foresee the coming of a new covenant between God and man (Jer 20:14 & 31:31).
There can be blessings in any ending or departure and I have always felt it to be my responsibility to see that it is so. I am used to being seen as someone who is bringing blessings to people; I am less used to being the one who is being blessed by others. Now, after 12 years of my caring for others, the Parish is now looking after me, as I make ready to leave and take up a post as Chaplain at Rochester Prison. 73% of youth offenders who get out of jail commit another crime within a year of being released and I feel that it is an area in which I can make a contribution;
There are precious moments with people that I have known from across the community over the last 12 years. Alison spoke to me, as if she was giving me permission to leave. She said, “when I heard what you were going to do, I felt that I would be happy to let you go”. “They will be lucky to have you”, say others. “You will be missed”. The only time that I have heard someone better talked about, is in a funeral oration and there is a sense of closure to people’s comments. All of a sudden people are telling that I am “inspirational”, “compassionate” and “easy to talk to”. One parent from the school says to me, “you know that no one actually wants you to go”. I tell her that parishes and priests both need endings and departures to be able to refresh and renew themselves.
Some people have been more cautious. A child at the school said, “you are going very quickly; I hope that you will be all right.” Svetla said “I hope that you don’t stay too long in your new job”. “It is a big deal”, said Anna. There are also those with whom I have walked closely and been through difficult times. Simon and I held each other at the Communion rail and wept. My godson is autistic and needs rooms to be laid out exactly as they were when he last came. On his last visit he took down the curtains from our living room because he was scared that they would otherwise be lost in the move.
The children from the school are intrigued and pragmatic. They ask me: “will you pray with the prisoners, like you do with us and make them feel better inside?” “Who will take the Soul Club (After School Club) when you have gone?” “To whom will I tell my stories?” said Terry. “Who will make me laugh?” said James. “We have been doing this a long time”, said Michael, the charismatic church school headmaster, thinking of the 10 years the two of us have met together on Monday morning in order to start each week with prayer.
I am conscious that praise does not make me a good priest any more than criticism does the reverse. People who may want to criticise me stay silent. Others have already left the church. “As a pastor, not a week goes by where I don't mourn the absence of people who were once present in the life of my congregation. That continual mourning of people who left the church I serve is something I never really know how to process, except with a slow and steady heart-ache” (wrote Doug Bursch @fairlyspiritual).
For the young people, with whom I will work during the next period of my professional life, ‘Home is Where the Hurt is’ (Arthur 2007); this refers to the pivotal role played by the family in the process of criminalization for youth offenders. If families are healthy society is strong. Mother Theresa said that “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. She said that we can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love; therein is my challenge. How we behave towards those more vulnerable than ourselves is the litmus test of our authenticity. A happy Christmas to all.