Sunday, 5 June 2016

12 years at St Phil's

Today was my last Sunday at St Phil's. I'm staying at Sacred Trinity and hoping to start a half time diocesan job very soon but St Phil's is going to have someone else full-time. Perhaps more about that soon. Anyway, here is my sermon that I preached today.

Well I’ve been at St Phil’s for 12 years and this is my last sermon (for the moment, anyway). I’m tempted to give you the words of St. Paul from todays reading: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” The first bit may well be true, “the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin” but  I’m not going to claim that I have any special revelations. I’m certainly not looking for anyone to exclaim, as in the gospel reading that: “A great prophet has risen among us!”

To be honest, I’m an ordinary human being who most of the time is all too aware of my many flaws. But I’m also aware of the love God has for me despite those flaws. On my good days I’m very aware of God who is beside us, journeying with us through the ups and downs of life. I count it as an immense privilege to serve you in this place and count you as my friends. I believe that God has journeyed with us, sometimes a little frustrated by our failings but never abandoning us.

So, after 12 years a slave, I mean 12 years a Priest in charge here, what have I learnt?

St Phil’s people are the best! Is there anyone from Sacred Trinity here? I need to be careful… Salford people are the best! Anyone who isn’t from Salford here? But honestly you have been fantastic. Gareth Robinson when he comes is a very lucky man. Please do support him and work with him. The new look St Philip's will be much stronger if you are still involved.

I’ve been thinking about what the highlights have been and it’s strange but many of the things that stick most in my mind are the difficult times and we’ve had a few. I’ve been with people in illness, death and bereavement. I’ve been with people at happy times too: births, baptisms, marriages, new jobs and promotions but also I’ve journeyed with people through still births, divorce and separation, redundancy and unemployment. We’ve seen people come to faith and develop, we’ve seen people really grow through coming to church, through confirmation, through being part of this community, through discovering Christ at work in them. We’ve seen lots of people come and go. If half the people who started coming to church over the last 12 years were were still here today then we would have a really thriving church.

Wendy from South Africa, Suzie Dick from Huddersfield, Pete the student with his drums, Sarah from Ireland via the USA, Faye from Uganda. We’ve had fantastic young people from TFG, each unique but all of them contributing in different ways during their time with us. Lots more people have been part of the life of our community but have moved on.

Quite a lot have moved on to be with God. Thinking back to a few people that we miss I remember Jim Stock, Stubborn St Stephensian. When we wanted to put up a sign on Chapel St pointing people to the church he insisted it should have the full title of “St Philip with St Stephen”. That doubled the cost but Jim offered to pay it so we had the full name on the sign. Jim was always such a generous gentleman. It was a privilege to get to know him and to be with him as he died and to take his funeral. 

Mary Hickman, who I used to take communion to as she was bed-bound. Giving communion to Mary was often a lively affair with Elsie and Mo and often others there as well. There was gossip and chatter and loving support and a sense of God’s presence in the midst of it.

Harvey Ackerley who was a big character, who often drove us mad but was impossible not to love. I remember he was worried about security at the church and put a huge padlock on the outside of the door so it looked like it was closed forever. We got him to take it off after Bishop Frank got locked in the church! We all journeyed with Harvey with his illness and the emotional roller coaster ride of his having a transplant or not. There were many times I feared I was visiting Harvey for the last time but he encouraged me more than I him.

Hilda Taylor, who for many years was Verger. We used to do a little verabal dance every time I rang her up: “hello Hilda, it’s Andy.” “Oh hello Rector”. I was always going to be “Rector” to Hilda. But she was so well known in the community and well into her 80s was busy mopping floors and opening the church. 

Stephen Banks, who although a relatively young man was too ill to work full time but was up for doing church admin a couple of mornings a week. I have fond memories of chatting to Stephen across the desk, hearing stories of the choir in the 60s and early 70s. I also remember how he’d sometimes nod off in mid conversation. Sadly Stephen’s illness got the better of him but he never seemed to let it dim his faith.

There are many, many more that I could mention, Doris McCuloch, John Wickes, Margaret Traynor, Alice Duncan, Norman and Pauline Millward. Just recently there have been too many losses but still we journey on with God and are now looking forward to the new challenge. 

This church is a very special community. The building is valued by so many people in our community and much wider. The gigs that have happened here have given us a wide profile. the community work that we do means that lots of people appreciate and value us. I’ve loved doing the camera club with the diverse bunch of characters we get at that. 

So what have I learnt?

  • More about looking after a grade 2* listed building than I might have liked! More about looking after and serving real Ale than some might think I should!
  • Everything takes longer than you think it will.
  • You can’t please all the people all the time.
  • You can please some of the people some of the time. Enjoy it while it lasts!
  • They’re more likely to be pleased if you enjoy their company and you’re more likely to enjoy their company if you get to know them.
  • It’s essential to give people a warm welcome. 
  • There is space for everyone in God’s church.
  • We need to help people explore issues of faith and to be explicit about our faith but we also need to allow people to join in and find their faith and understanding growing as they go along.

To quote from Frank Sinatra: “Regrets - I’ve had a few”: We should have introduced a nave alter earlier, we didn't get more reordering done, I didn't follow up people more.

I'd like to tell you that I've changed but I haven't. My office at home is still a mess, as is the vestry when I've not been tidied up after, I still get more excited about a new idea than persevering with the plan. I still get easily distracted.

I am still the flawed human being that I was when I came to you and I still need God’s help every day. I still need the help and support of a loving Christian community around me, just as you do too. We all journey on into an unknown future that will have joys and troubles in but we journey with God. The Christian message is of a God who has got stuck in with us in the messiness of life, who came amongst us in Christ and understands our pain, our temptations, our failings and still reaches out to us in love. At my induction 12 years ago one of the hymns we had was One More Step Along the World I Go, a little cheesy and quite old but I think I wanted to put a marker down, with a song popular in schools, that children were welcome and I do actually love that song, a celebration that God is with us and a prayer for courage, love, faithfulness. So in all the changes of life:, in all the unknowns ahead: pray; love; support one another; know that God is with you. 

“And it’s from the old I travel to the new.

keep me travelling along with you.” Amen.

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