After a busy couple of days, I am taking a little breather on the basis that I may as well stay at work to go to the service over the road at 7p.m. rather than go home and come back again.
It struck me the other day, as I approach my sixth Easter at the Gathering Place, I have been here almost as long now as I was at Dibley. There I saw six Easters and five Christmases during the 5.75 years I was with them. Now I have seen six Christmases and am approaching my sixth Easter in the 5.5 years I've been here.
I think what struck me is that I am moving into metaphorically new territory - I pretty much know what a six year pastorate looks like, and I can recall how a nine-month notice period was employed to try to help a congregation transition. Now, despite the occasional bad day or tough week, I feel settled and there is no hint or sense of a time to move on... the balance of my sixth year will be 'more of the same'.
In one way that's good: feeling settled, still being sure this is where I am meant to be, means that I can think longer term, start to imagine our next steps if the journey we feel we are being called to comes to fruition (it will be exciting and a tad scary). In another way it is challenging - longer ministry means revisiting themes and ideas that we have already explored, entering new iterations of cycles of learning and growing. Knowing each other quite well, there is no pretence and nowhere to hide! I am beginning to realise that I need to think about carefully what the next five years might look like, what God might have in store for us.
Year one here was really exicting, a time getting to know each other and beginning to dream what the future might look like. By the time year two began all that had been turned on its head as we journeyed together through my cancer treatment. The subsequent three years have seen lots of good things - folk coming into membership or being baptised, weddings, infant blessings, our continued involvement in the West End Festival and participation in the More Than Gold outreach of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Overall, I think the church is in good health and good heart, and though for sure we have our moments, I remain very happy to be here. In August it will be five years since my cancer diagnosis, five years since I learned what fear really is, five years since I dared to look too far ahead. Now, I know what nearly five years post cancer diagnosis feels like, and know that, whilst certainty never returns, it is now safe enough for me to think a bit longer term, and to work towards a future after I have moved on or been 'called home'.
My first preach here was Low Sunday 2009, which was at the end of April, but that makes Easter very much a signifcant point in my personal calendar. This year on Low Sunday I will be taking the day off and resting after a busy Easter season. Six years on from that first visit and the sense that this was almost certainly where God wanted me, I am as glad to be here as I was then - and a darned sight less nervous!
And Dibley? Six years on they have excelled themselves - calling a half-time minister and opening a community coffee shop/mission centre in their village. At the moment life is very tough for them, their minister is very ill and sadly the outlook is far from good. They are very much in my thoughts and prayers as they face another huge challenge and, quite possibly, more major changes in the near future. I remain proud of them and grateful for all they taught me.
Back in the day, one of my lay preachers in Dibley used to have a favourite expression, "we don't know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future". It's as well we can't know what the future holds, because if we did we wouldn't savour the present. And it's as well to know that the future, just like the present, is in God's safe-keeping, whatever it may bring our way.