My Dear Friends,
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye
The clocks have been turned back and the occasional taste of an open fire sits in the air as dusk falls upon Astbury. Along with the arrival of frosts and mists and blue skies of a particular hue, there is also a real sense of the passing of a season.
As the earth has its seasons, so does the life of the Church. We travel through All Souls and Remembrance, and Advent can just be seen peeking over the horizon.
‘To everything there is a season,’ wrote the philosopher in the book of Ecclesiastes. 1
Last week I paused for a few moments at the back of church and meditated on the list of Rectors that hangs in the north-west corner. Sixty four holders of this office and nine centuries separate me from Hugh de Venables, the first recorded name. I am sure there must have been a fair few scoundrels amongst them and, I hope, one or two saints.
Although the list is remarkably complete as far as Rectors go, it is only a very partial record of the clergy who have lived and worked in this parish. Assistant clergy, commonly called curates, have passed through unrecorded. If such a list did exist it would undoubtedly be lengthier than that of Rectors, for whilst Reginald de Grey (1298 - 1327) or Willoughby Crewe (1820 - 1850) may have held office for three decades, such a privilege is not afforded to the assistant curate who holds a most transient tenure. And thus in our own time we have to say goodbye to another.
Ralph has served alongside me for the last three years and I have had the immense pleasure of seeing him grow in wisdom, authority, stature and confidence. In truth, his time here was always limited. It has been a period of preparation for the responsibilities and challenges that now belong to him in the Parishes of Burton and Shotwick, and we send him to that task with many thanks and of course some sadness. 2
Whilst the philosopher of the book of Ecclesiastes pondered on the transience of so many things, he also considered what would remain: ‘Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it, for God has done it.’ 3
Clergy come and go, and some even get their name written on a board. I am comforted by the thought that our failings will have but a passing effect on the life of the church. If by providence or grace we are fortunate enough to leave behind a Godly legacy, we are assured that such an inheritance will endure and survive.
Thank you Ralph for coming to us three years ago. We pray for you now as you leave. Although your name won’t get wall space in church, I trust you will be comforted by the greater honour of leaving behind a more lasting and certainly a more valuable legacy - the fruit of Godly ministry. God bless.
1 Ecclesiastes 3.1
2 Ralph’s final service here will be at 11.00 am on 4th November. After a brief interlude in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he will be licensed to the parishes of Burton and Shotwick on Tuesday 11th December at 7.30 pm. All are welcome to contribute to his leaving gift and to attend the service at St Nicholas, Burton, which will be led by the Bishop of Birkenhead.
3 Ecclesiastes 3.14
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