One of the facts of life for a Methodist Minister in Britain is goodbyes. As an itinerant minister you expect to move on, as a Circuit Minister (Methodist Ministers in Britain are not appointed to a specific Church but to a Circuit of Churches) that means a lot of goodbyes.
So I am now well into the seemingly endless parade of "Last Services", for a while now I have had last services at Churches in the Circuit that I visit less regularly (ones I don't have "pastoral charge" of). However, yesterday was the first real set of last services for the Churches I have been most closely connected to.
In the morning was Irthlingborough Methodist Church. I have only had pastoral charge of Irthlingborough for a year since when my friend and colleague David Kemble moved out of the circuit. We have had an exciting year which began with the opening of the refurbished Church.
During the year we have had lots of things happening such as the restarted and very popular weekly "Little Fishes" for parents/carers and pre-school children on Thursday mornings. Plus new things such as Wednesday Lunches and special events galore.
We have seen the whole Church complex being used much more by the community. We have seen the prayer life and Bible Studies continue to be central to the Church and a widening collection of members being involved in different aspects from worship, preaching, catering, welcoming, … We have launched a project to refurbish the rest of the Church buildings (given that the main refurbishment was done to an lovely standard and with superb management of quality, time and cost [yet all with a clear and prayerful focus on mission] I am very confident that this will go well too).
We have also continued to strengthen our links with the Infant School (I was there for my last assembly in the week and was presented with a wonderful book of memories).
One of the most exciting things about Irthlingborough is that all this great stuff is led by the lay people of the Church. As minister I have been welcomed and included but never made to feel that people are waiting for me or dependent on me in an unhealthy way. It is not surprising that with all this we are seeing growth in Sunday worship.
While not my last service at Raunds (that is on the 25th) it was my last Sunday Lunch (and I timed it perfectly, arriving at 12:29 just as the food was ready to serve.. The lunch happens every month and is typically for over 50 people. The regulars include a group of widows who support each other in many ways, I have got to know them well over the years and have conducted many more funerals than I would like for their husbands and friends. Anyway many good friends so it was good to be able to spend time with them and say our individual goodbyes.
So from the lunch at Raunds it was straight to Thrapston for their huge 125th anniversary. The small congregation had worked very hard to put on a Flower Festival and invite many people to join them for the weekend. So the Church was pretty full for the anniversary service, seemed to go well with some great hymn singing (all chosen by the congregation with Andrew our guest organist from Hope Methodist Church doing a great job).
We had a lot to celebrate and a lot to remember nit also time spent looking forward (I used Ephesians 1: 15-23 and Revelation 21:22- 22:5).
It was great to see friends from other Churches in Thrapston, from the Circuit as well as people with connections from the past (such as the choir from Sapcote who used to be regular visitors in the late 70's and then the 80's).
Of course we followed that with a tea (including a very fancy birthday cake). Plenty oif yummy grub to keep me going for my next service.
Despite being one of the very smallest congregations anywhere, the folks at Old Weston are always welcoming so it was good to have a couple of visitors this week.
When your congregation is small, elderly and deeply connected with the local community you get to experience highs and lows quite intensely. So we have had good celebrations over the last 5 years but also many losses and challenges. It got a bit tearful at some points. Leaving them is going to be hard.
I think I have about 5 more "last services" left over the next couple of weeks (Wollaston, Irchester, WOT, Raunds, Circuit farewell). Plus of course other groups such as Churches Together. Circuit Leadership Team and Circuit Staff. Hoping not to be a quivering wreck by the end. It is certainly very much a bereavement process which does include celebrations of what God has done but also much sadness over the people we will leave behind. It is quite different from when we moved here before, as the separation seems more definite (Methodist Ministers are strongly encouraged to fully disengage and separate from the Churches and places they are leaving – for at least 12 months).
In all that I have of course only mentioned my own Church based goodbyes. As a family there are many others for us to work through, all the while while we pack and busy lives go on.
Anyway, time to go back to some boxes.