Farewell to Eileen, Hello to change
The Rectory, September 2002
I know that for many people, the forthcoming departure of Eileen and Jim McLean represents a substantial and difficult break with the recent history of the parish. To say that they have been part of the furniture of the parish for the past ten years or so sounds dismissive. But it is not meant to be. What comes across to me from people who talk to me about Eileen's ministry here is the very personal way in which she has touched so many peoples' lives - at times of celebration and in times of difficulty and sadness. It is that security and comfort which comes with the very best-loved furniture, and it is that more than anything else that will be missed - and will be the gain for the people of Bamburgh and Ellingham. This depth of pastoral care is something that Eileen has been able to offer to all generations, and has been appreciated by them all. I know, like others who observe the workings of the parish, that there has been very much more to her ministry than that - and not least among her attributes is that of prodigiously hard work. To combine, as she did for a longish time, the leadership of the parish, and then supporting me as I got my feet under the table, with the very challenging role of Area Dean left her with little choice. But she is a very calm, determined person who sets herself targets, almost always keeps them, and gets cross with herself when occasionally things conspire to prevent her from doing so. All this will be deeply missed.
Jim's ministry, as well as being so supportive of Eileen, has been very important for the parish as well, though many people will not realise how much he did. His technical wizardry putting the magazine together and producing some of the best designs for posters and orders of service that I have encountered. His skills are going to be a great loss, but so is he as a person. I benefited from a training course last year in which he shared the leadership, so I know how good he is in the field of personal and ministerial development.
So yet more change for us all. I did warn you that this was going to be the theme for some time to come! Progress with the unification of St Peter's and All Saints' is now going along smoothly, and we expect the new parish to become a legal entity on November 1st. But as you all know, we are already working together, and I am, in practice, priest-in-charge of both churches. This means that I will be more often at All Saints' for the morning service than I have been in the past. David McCoulough has agreed to play a more active role on Sundays at least for the time being, and we hope that by the time you read this, or very shortly after, Fred Connell will be able to exercise his priest's orders, with permission from the Archbishop of York. I have been given an assurance that in due course we will be able to recruit a successor to Eileen, but at the moment I do not know the timescale for that.
In the meantime, we are continuing as a deanery to examine and review our structures, with the expectation that more change will be on the way to enable us to operate far more effectively in the central area of the city, and more flexibly as the city continues to develop ever more rapidly. This is, as I have said before, an exciting opportunity if we approach it in the right way. We can become much more focussed in our ministry and mission, playing to our strengths and utilising the gifts, resources and experience of other churches and clergy in the deanery. We can really try to get our act together ecumenically - and there are churches out there that really want to work with us.
Most of us are, I am sure, concerned about what the future holds for the church - not just St Peter's, but the whole church. There are many uncertainties and the challenges are great. But we must not lose our nerve. If we have faith in God, we cannot do that. It is true, as one commentator has written that "Gospel communities are confused, even in chaos, about how to evangelise a world that is in tumultuous change at all levels". A recent survey in the Roman Catholic Church has demonstrated just how unwilling most people are either to countenance change or to involve themselves in any "missionary" activity. They see themselves as worshippers first and foremost. But without the engagement of everyone in building a renewed Gospel community for this new era, we will continue to struggle. We have to change. We have, in some ways, to see the task as literally "refounding Gospel communities", and, as that sane commentator, Gerald Arbuckle says:
That is activity and change in which we can all engage.