Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
This week is a sad one for our diocesan family. Our much-loved Dean, Michael Tavinor, is retiring after 18 years in post. Michael leaves the cathedral in a very good place at the heart of our diocesan life. We will miss his hospitality, dry humour and wisdom. The wider community will miss it too, not just the church.
Ministering in one place for an extended period gives a unique access into people’s lives. After 11 years in a parish, I could look out over the congregation on a Sunday morning and realise there were very few where I hadn’t had the privilege of walking alongside through life’s joys and sorrows. Births, marriages, chronic sickness, divorces and deaths, some tragic and untimely. Ministry is an extraordinary privilege but it comes at an emotional cost. It sometimes involves giving a voice to those whose feelings threaten to overwhelm them. But, often it involves the recognition that the burden someone carries can’t be fixed and that what is required is strength to live with uncertainty and pain. By walking alongside someone, resisting the pull to provide a solution, we can give people the space to discover hope. If only Job’s comforters had managed that. After one week of holy silence, they descended into explanations. It all went downhill from there.
I came across some words by T.S. Elliot from his poem Choruses from the Rock the other day, which I thought speaks into this idea of giving and listening without having to fix everything, something our clergy do so well.
The lot of man is ceaseless labour,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you; Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.
This model of care is something we all need to reflect on as we pass the grim milestone of 100,000 COVID deaths this week. Most of us will know someone who has been affected. Some will be carrying the grief of loss ourselves, or know someone who is. Understanding what love looks like in these circumstances is really important. One of the things grieving people often struggle with is the withdrawal of friends, either because they don’t know what to say or because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. It can become especially difficult 6 months or so into the bereavement journey, where the sense of having to be brave and not a burden kicks in. Even though the pain is still raw, they feel that everyone else has moved on. Caring will, I think, look like relentlessly available listening for as long as its needed, rather than speaking too much. It will look like freely offered practical help. It will look like an empathic sharing in another’s sorrow and thus make that sorrow just a little bit easier to bear. As Paul said to the Galatian Church, “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
I started with a word of appreciation for Michael and felt I needed to talk about grief and bereavement because its something our culture finds very difficult to do. We Christians with our hope of eternity can model a different way. I finish on a less maudlin note, by giving an honourable mention in dispatches to another minister in our diocese who retired recently. The Rev. Hugh Patterson cared for the Morville Group near Bridgenorth for nearly 50 years. He sent a very simple letter turning in his PTO just before Christmas without fuss. I have subsequently discovered he has ministered there since 1974 when after the sudden death of the previous incumbent, Bishop John Eastnaugh in an innovative solution wrote to the new young non-stipendiary priest in the area (fresh from a curacy in Chichester) to ask him ‘if he would mind looking after them for a bit.’ The rest is history. I am his fifth bishop! His commitment and priestly dedication cannot be in doubt.
Both Hugh and Michael are examples to us of faithful obedience and diligence through the ups and downs of life and ministry, its joys and challenges. We will miss them both, but pray for Gods richest blessing for a long and happy retirement. I pray we will take their model of faithful pastoral care to help us with our care of the broken and hurting in these difficult times.