It is a great delight to be able to write my first post for the website – and it really is my first, not just here, but anywhere! Being responsible for this column is only the latest in what I know will be a continuing stream of new things that accompany becoming the vicar here.
There have, of course, been all the usual things that go with moving house and starting a new job; a new address and telephone number to learn (and to remember to tell everyone who needs it), new travel routines for school and family visits, a whole new pattern of life. I am beginning to get to know communities and people who are all new to me. Vickie and I, together with our children, are so grateful for the warm welcome that we have received here. I hope that you will forgive me when it takes me a long time to learn your names and faces! There are new places too, not least of which for me are the three church buildings in Hambledon, Soberton and Newtown. Large and complex buildings such as churches always retain the capacity to surprise, and I am sure that I will always be discovering new things about them.
As you know, however, this is not just a new start for me. It marks a new phase of our collective life as a church, as Soberton, Newtown and Hambledon have come together as a benefice, with the three parishes having the same vicar. This creates great and exciting opportunities, as we continue to explore what we can do when we all work together. It also creates challenges, and the need for change, possibly most noticeably on a Sunday. The former patterns of services are simply not sustainable now that one person has responsibility for all three churches – I cannot be in two places at once! We are working hard to create a new pattern which hopefully will have something for everybody, but such things take time to get right. In the meantime, please do take extra care checking the service lists in the Hambledonian as the evolution from the old to the new will make things a little unpredictable for the next few months.
One of the challenges with any kind of change is that it is not always easy or comfortable. It takes a little while for a pair of new shoes to feel properly ‘worn in’. Even when we know that it is the right thing to do, when it is something that we want to do, newness and change can be difficult and demanding. Starting a new job and moving house are both consistently rated among the top ten most stressful things to do in life. Getting married is also often in that list. For the younger members of our community, this is the time of year to think about a new school year, maybe even a new school. These are all good and important things to do, things that we know will be positive and will be worth it in the end, but they can be difficult or even scary while they are happening.
Right at the end of the Bible, in Revelation chapter 21, God gives us a glorious vision of “a new heaven and a new earth”. His promise to us in that passage is: “See, I am making all things new”. The things that we want and will enjoy involve the challenges of newness and change; so do the things that God offers to all of us, both in this life and in the life to come. Of this we can be sure, though – the abundant newness of life that God gives is worth that challenge.
Moving to Hambledon and beginning a new ministry as Vicar of Soberton, Newtown and Hambledon has of course had its moments of stress and difficulty, and of course there has been the challenge we have all faced together of the shock and sadness of Jo Thompson’s death. Nevertheless we as a family have already found great joy in our new life here, and I am looking forward to getting to know you all and to sharing in our common life – the good times and the difficult ones alike. Shaping our new shared life as a benefice will undoubtedly continue to bring challenges amid the changes, but I firmly believe that God has great things in store for us and that any short-term difficulties will be worth our perseverance. Whatever new things your life holds, whether they are big things or small things, may you discover in them something of the God who makes all things new, and may you be richly blessed.
A note of thanks
It would not be right to let this first column pass without taking the opportunity to express my thanks. To the churchwardens, the Readers, and all the members of the PCCs of all three churches, who have borne the extra pressures of the vacancies with skill and grace; I hope that I can now relieve you of a few of those burdens. To everybody who supports the life and work of our churches in any way; I am looking forward to discovering how best we can work together. To all the visiting clergy who have conducted services and administered the sacraments during the vacancies; all of us appreciate your ministry. To my all predecessors, especially my immediate predecessors Revd Robin Coutts as Vicar of Hambledon, and Revd Sandra Beavis as Vicar and latterly Revd Nick Fennemore as Interim Minister of Soberton and Newtown; I am conscious of the privilege of building on the foundations which you have laid. Above all, to each and every one of you; you have made me and my family feel very welcome here. Hopefully the difficulties and challenges of adjusting to a new vicar will be short-lived and not too painful!