It is very appropriate that we were thinking about journeys on Sunday. We followed the weary disciples through the experiences of death and resurrection as they trudged back home with their mysterious companion. I need to announce a new stage in our journey with you...
Elisa and I arrived at St Matthew’s 11 years ago, almost to the day: we moved in on 5 April 2002 and my induction here was on 22 April. Our Ben was still seven years old when we came – as you know he’s in Bolivia now and it’s his 19th birthday on Wednesday. It’s been both a wonderful and a challenging experience and I have learned such a lot about walking with God from you all.
However the time has come for us to think about the next phase of the journey. Our children have grown up and left home. We are now grandparents, my mum is 85 and we don’t know how much longer we will have her. So we are feeling the pull to be closer to family. Moreover in October 2014 I will be 60 years old. So I have been looking for a last post as vicar, perhaps one a bit less demanding than St Matthew’s has been. I need to start there soon so that I have a reasonable length of time to do a good job before I retire.
I believe I have found that place where God is calling us to be. A few weeks ago Elisa and I went to interview at the parish of Wraysbury and Horton, which is down near Heathrow airport. It’s half an hour from my daughter, an hour from my mum and five minutes from my brother. We felt a sense of God’s calling to be there. After the interview they offered me the post and I accepted. A statement was also made at Wraysbury and Horton on Sunday.
I am very very sorry to be going. Your friendship and fellowship, your prayers and support, your love for God and for us have been a joy and an inspiration. Not too much of all that today though! You are going to have to put up with me for at least a couple of months more! There will be time for farewell speeches then. Just some words of encouragement for today.
Because this isn’t just about me and my journey. It is also about St Matthew’s and your journey. We’ve come a long way together and seen some great achievements: paying off our debts, launching our Asian congregation, refurbishing the St Matthew’s Centre, starting Messy Church, re-organising our structures and admin. We have put a great team together and we are really going places! There's a powerful sense of energy and vitality about us right now. I picture St Matthew’s as a jet plane on the runway, ready for take off. It’s been my privilege to be involved in getting us ready to fly! But I think the time has come for someone else, perhaps a younger person, to take over the controls, and get us up to 50,000 feet where God wants us! Churches grow and develop over time: and now is the right time I think for God's new person to come with fresh vision for a new phase.
I just want to say one more word before I finish, about the service changes. There's an obvious question – why do it now, Colin, just before you go and can't see it through? I have wrestled long and hard with this issue and here is why I have gone ahead:
· I believe St Matthew's will be far more attractive to your new vicar with a more sensible and manageable service pattern than the one we have been using.
· Changes to services always bring uneasiness and sometimes hostility. I prefer to draw any flak for what I believe are necessary changes as the outgoing vicar rather than leave it to the incoming vicar to deal with and get his or her ministry off to a difficult start. That in my view would be cowardly.
Back to journeys. Our message today is that Jesus walks with us all along the way, when it's easy going and when it's tough, when we feel He is near and when we don't. He said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Please pray for Elisa and me, it's really hard for us to uproot and leave people we love at this stage in our lives. Pray that we will know his presence with us in these new steps along the way. And I know He is doing amazing things at St Matthew's. This is part of His wonderful plan for your future!
With all our love, Colin and Elisa.