God with us
The Rectory, July 2000
I love the prayers which are incorporated into the service of Night Prayer, or Compline as it has been traditionally called. The phrase above comes from one of them, and speaks rather tellingly to me at this moment of writing when we, the Deuchar family, are in the midst of major changes in our lives.
But I must beware of self-pity! Packing boxes, anxious cats, unfamiliar new territory, people and tasks ( as well as wedding preparations, exams and university entrance) all add up to quite a lot of disruption and, we are told, stress, although a number of people at St Peter’s, and in Diocesan House have been wonderfully helpful and supportive in the build-up to our big move. So first let me thank them very warmly indeed. To Eileen and Jim McLean, Peter and Jean Hoare, Alison and Nigel Maddocks, to Ian Greaves, the Diocesan Surveyor and the whole team who have been at work in the Rectory, to Angela and Armorel and Brian, thank you. The stress levels have definitely been kept at manageable levels because you have done so much for us. And I am sure that there are others of whom at this stage I am less aware.
As I say, although the wisdom of the age tells us that moving and changing jobs and preparing for a wedding are the three most stressful activities in which we engage in, I have been brought up short by the deeply poignant appearance of Heather Saunders, the widow of the British Military Attaché murdered in Athens recently, and her plea to us all just occasionally to remember her and her two children in our prayers as they struggle to come to terms with the most awful change which has been forced upon them.
It is so easy for us as Christians to lapse into rather inane clichés when presented with such tragedy. I hope that responding to Heather Saunders will help us to avoid that, not only in her predicament, but whenever we find ourselves with the opportunity to reach out and offer support to those who struggle with change, whether big or small, for better or for worse.
Richard Hooker, the great 16th century Anglican Divine, once wrote
‘The changes and chances of this fleeting world’ are always with us. Most changes we are well-equipped to deal with without too much inconvenience - though we would do well never to assume that our neighbour will necessarily cope in the same way as us with a particular change. As we all embark on this next episode in the life and ministry of St Peter’s Church, we will all be facing change, and we will need to be patient, supportive and, I pray, loving to one another as we move forward into the unknown.
But if that sounds a little hesitant, a little downbeat, I don’t mean it to - because I do see this business of discipleship as a great adventure. I have huge amounts to learn from all of you - and by that I mean members of the congregation, but also from other churches in the city, and indeed much more widely from those who have lived here, those who help to run the city, and those who are seeking to offer care and support to people, whatever their background.
But first things first. I have two key priorities. The first is to try to get to know all those who are involved in a regular way in the life of St Peter’s; so if you find a lost and bedraggled clergyman on your doorstep, take pity on him - or if suddenly you find yourself invited to the Rectory one evening do come - the new decoration is worth a visit in itself!!
Secondly, I want to ensure that Eileen gets quality time off, with Jim. (Well, I suppose that’s up to them actually!) Alison Maddocks last month paid fulsome tribute to Eileen’s ministry this last fourteen months, combined, as it has been, with the extra and quite onerous duties of Area Dean. I can only echo her words from afar, and then just make sure that Eileen feels quite free to take some substantial time off over the next few months. I know that everyone will be wholly supportive of this.
I am really delighted that we shall be working together, and am looking forward to developing our relationship very much indeed, as I am looking forward to this whole new adventure in our lives. If there is a cliché which I am happy with it is ‘God with us’. No matter what we have to confront in our lives, even to the point of thoroughly testing our faith, we, as Church, can offer that support, that reassurance - God is with us. And we are called to be the manifestation of that presence - a very real challenge to us all.