Socrates said, ‘the secret to change is focussing all your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new’.
This is similar to the advice of the famous life coach, Tony Robbins: ‘change is inevitable, but progress is optional’.
Whilst God is unchanging, the world is not. That means that God is constantly calling us to change in order to remain in touch with him, as the platform from which we operate shifts. The narrative of the Bible shows us what happens when we fail to respond to God’s call to change. God’s people, Israel, flourish when they are positive about God’s call to change, but they reduce in number and faithfulness when they are not. At the time of Jesus, it is those who embrace the change Jesus brings who become his followers. Those who resist him become his opponents.
Our faith in Jesus calls us to be constantly seeking to change. Every week in our services we confess our sins and we repent. Literally speaking, the word repent means to want to change. When we are brave about embracing change, then suddenly the world becomes a brighter place. The difficulty is that some of the most valuable changes can be the most challenging.
We have had to come to terms recently with many changes that are beyond anyone’s control. At a time when the church has had to adjust to the inevitable difference in style the arrival of a new priest brings, we have also lost our supporting clergy. When I accepted this job, it came boasting a large clerical staffing team. I am having to come to terms with now having to try and manage on a fraction of what it was then. So many good byes of people I have loved working with and thought I would be working with for a good time longer. This has put extra pressure on your vicar’s time, even before we have managed to get into a rhythm. Some of the things we have been used to, will inevitably now have to change.
Another change comes with my season in life. This parish was excited at the thought of having a younger vicar with a family. It didn’t want someone approaching retirement. It was also excited about having someone who was a member of a dispersed monastic community. These things are very positive attributes for a new vicar, but they do place different responsibilities upon a parish and the way it cares for its vicar. For all of you in the parish, this has been (and will continue to be) a steep learning curve.
I tend to be an over-worker – those who have access to my diary will testify to that. I don’t always manage to get my days off and often miss valuable family time. I work upwards of 60 hours a week. So there will be times in future when I have to lay down some boundaries to put my family and personal wellbeing first. For some, that will be difficult to accept. But respecting these boundaries will be essential if your vicar is to thrive here.
When I was asked to become your next vicar, the interviewing panel from this church were clear that this congregation wanted and needed change. They laid down a bit of a gauntlet and a challenge. They asked me to try and increase the number of families and young people. They asked me to enrich and expand the liturgy, music and its sense of prayerfulness. They also asked for the church to increase its outreach to the town and the non-church population.
As you all know, the parish has been consulting very widely about what these changes might look like. In this magazine last month, we printed the report from the most significant part of that consultation – the Vision Day (June 2018). Everyone from the church was asked to either attend that day or pass on their thoughts to the PCC so that they could be included in the day’s discussions. Thank you for all those who took the time and effort to do that. We will now be implementing the outcomes of that day in a prioritised fashion over the coming months and years, as best we can.
For those of you who did not take up the opportunity to be involved in this consultation, please try to resist the temptation to criticise from the side-lines. Instead show your fellow churchgoers support as they try and implement the vision. Their suggestions deserve respect since they have come from careful thought and process. Not everything we try will be successful, some things will only be partly successful and some will be liked by some and not by others. Whichever of these is true for you, your support and generosity in how you respond will be greatly appreciated and have a huge bearing on where our church goes from here.
Because as Tony Robbins reminds us: ‘change is inevitable, but progress is optional’. Let’s pray we can progress. Thanks for your support.
With every blessing,