Someone once said that ‘Life is change’ and, at the moment, I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes that change is as welcome as the first, warm day of Summer or the first day of your dream job, other times it is about as welcome as your first day at a new school when you don’t know anyone. And you got soaked at the bus stop.
It is, however, one of life’s inevitablities. Nothing stays the same forever.
And so it is with St Barnabas’ Church on this Monday … the day after we said farewell to our Vicar, Richard Hill.
I have been a member at St Bs for just over 22 years, arriving a few months after Richard took up residence at the old vicarage as Team Vicar of the church, and through those years, have seen some incredible changes; a new church building in 1992 (in which Kat and I were one the first couple to be married in a full scale service), the move from being the smaller half of a Team Ministry to a parish church in its own right, a doubling of the congregation, the introduction of Alpha and the decision to take on, and finance, a paid Youth Worker (we are now on the 4th incumbent of that position).
In all of these things, one word was on Richard’s lips. Prayer.
As far as he was concerned, prayer is king (as it were). In financing the new building there were no jumble sales or coffee mornings, the church fellowship prayed. And the church was built. In financing the Youth Worker for the first time, the church fellowship prayed. And that position is still going strong a decade on. Alpha was covered with prayer, and it took off in the area. And so on. And so on.
But prayer is not all that Richard is about. More than anything, I believe God has given Richard the gift of making ministers. In the widest sense of the word, rather than ordained ministers necessarily, and nowhere do I see that more clearly than in my own life and ministry.
Way back in the mists of time, several young adults (of which I was one) attempted to act on their slightly radical view of the church and worship and approached Richard with some ideas for new styles of Youth Service and, much to our surprise, he said “Yes”.
He continued to say “Yes”, even when we created controversy in the church, and I imagine that he took quite a bit of flak from the congregation over it, on our behalf. He corrected us where that was necessary, but only to make sure we didn’t make the same mistakes again … he was quite happy for us to make others … and took the time to explain to others where he thought we were right and they were over-reacting.
That atmosphere, that freedom to experiment and (most importantly) that freedom to fail, enabled us to grow in our faith, and in our expressions of worship, and to become well rounded, effective and fruitful ministers. Kathryn and me in our music, Mark Kensett in his photography and his community work, Richard Swain in his preaching and youth work.
Likewise, in my growth as a worship leader. I have fallen on my backside many times, often through my own naivety or by looking to myself (rather than to the Lord) for strength and wisdom. Richard, along with his wife Elaine, was always ready to pick me up, dust me off and send me back out there to try again.
I wouldn’t be the worship leader, songwriter or band leader that I am today without his influence in my life. And I doubt I would be the same person, which is a sobering thought.
But, life is change. Richard has moved on to a new challenge in Church Stretton, Shropshire, where I know he will continue to make ministers and nurture fruit from the gifts of the Holy Spirit. My hope and my prayer is that he and Elaine are blessed by the move, and quickly find a home among their new fellowship.
And, Richard, if you happen to read this, thank you for everything.