On leaving Portsmouth

27 02 2012

20120227-235107.jpgSo the headline is: we’re moving on. From September 2012, I will be Tutor in Pioneer Ministry at St John’s College Nottingham and Pioneer Minister and Priest in Charge in the benefice of All Hallows, Lady Bay with St Edmund, Holme Pierrepont and Adbolton (Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham).

I share this news with a mix of excitement, trepidation and sadness.

I am excited to be looking forward to a new role in a new place that allows me to develop as a theological educator at the same time as continuing and developing as a mission practitioner in an entirely new setting. I look forward to my mission practice providing a rich source for theological reflection with ordinands and others as I help them grow into their own forthcoming ministries. And I look forward to that theological reflection being a rich source for the shaping of an authentic and appropriate mission practice. The potential for an enriching interplay between those two components was what first attracted me to the role.

Ever since I was identified as a ‘potential theological educator’ through my ordination training, I have wanted to become involved in helping others learn, develop and be formed for ministry. I have had some small, but not insignificant opportunities to do a bit of that with STETS in the southern region that I have enjoyed enormously. This, and my own continuing academic study of theology at Masters level confirmed that this was an area I wanted to develop. That the Principal — Canon Dr Christina Baxter — and others at St John’s College have also recognised that potential and been willing to invest sacrificially in growing that nascent ability is hugely affirming and encouraging. This is an opportunity not to be missed. After Easter I will begin an informal programme of theological study that will help prepare me for my new role. Alongside that I will continue to offer some pastoral and liturgical leadership to the Sunday Sanctuary on a house-for-duty basis. Then in August we will move to our new home in Nottingham in preparation for the full start of my new role in September.

It is also a great opportunity to develop still further the integration of my twin passions of art and spirituality as I am called to engage with an area where arts and media professionals make up a significant proportion of the local population. There is a high proportion of young families too. It is an area where again I will be able to grow new forms of church and mission that bring all ages together to learn from and stretch each other spiritually.

I am daunted because in both aspects this role will demand even more of me than what I am doing now — and that’s pretty stretching! Quite honestly, it’s beyond me. I say that knowing full well that those who appointed me may well read this. But I don’t think they’ll be worried or think I deceived them at my interviews. Christian ministry is always beyond us — whatever particular gifts and experience one brings into it. Being stretched beyond ourselves goes with the territory. You either try and muster the resources from within and face inevitable burnout or look outside and beyond yourself to the source and ground of all vitality, love and strength. In this new role, as here, I will need to stay close to that source. So I am daunted not because I think I have to do it all myself but because I know that, in common with others, ego makes this a struggle.

It is daunting for all of us as a family to make a new life together away from familiar places, support networks and friends. This is truly new territory in all kinds of ways.

It is sad because we are leaving so much that we love behind.

I was not looking for a move. There remain great opportunities and challenges here in Somerstown and the centre of Portsmouth that would keep me stimulated, entertained and excited for many years to come. The Sunday Sanctuary has still much capacity to grow and evolve. The forthcoming union of the two parishes in Somerstown, as well as their shared aspiration to develop a new centre for worship and mission in the heart of the city, will ask much of the Christian community here in the coming days. There remains a need for compassionate visionary leadership. The city centre aspect of my role was only just beginning to become clear with great opportunities opening up for being a significant contributor to the cultural life and development of the city. Engaging with this process of discernment meant setting aside an exciting arts project that was really beginning to take off.

I am sad to be leaving behind work with two great schools in the area and relationships with their leaders that are not just professional but personal. The depth of trust and understanding that we have developed is a rare and precious thing. It will not be easy to say goodbye to these new and special friends and colleagues or their wonderful staff teams.

I am sad to be leaving behind a fragile but vibrant small community of new Christians and old that has been a source of unbelievable blessing, delight and friendship for our whole family. We will miss our friends — new and longstanding — terribly.

It is odd to be making this move so soon after writing on this very blog about how I thought this work needed someone prepared to be in it for the long haul. I have disparaged in conversation those agencies where people come for 3 years or less and then disappear. And yet I am doing the self same thing. This is a circle I am finding it nigh on impossible to square. Moving on does feel like a bit of a betrayal.

That is softened to quite some degree by knowing that I leave it all in the hands of a quite remarkable and outstanding colleague whom I am also privileged to call my friend. I don’t imagine how it could be possible to ever be so fortunate again as to be a partner in ministry and mission with such a gifted priest whom I’m sure will one day be called to high office in Christ’s Church. I will carry this experience with me wherever I go.

There is so much more to say — about the wider group of colleagues in cluster and deanery with whom I share in ministry and mission; about family and friends we’re leaving behind; about the sea when we will be so far from it; about the schools our children will be leaving behind; about this city’s fantastic (and troubled) football club and its passionate fans — but this will have to suffice for now. And this blog will in due course too have to draw to a close. It will not make sense to call myself the Pompey Pioneer once we are ensconced in Nottingham! But it will keep going for a while. Though it has necessarily been silenced through recent uncertain days, it will hopefully be a helpful record of a new Christian community and its guardian in transition. So even though the secret is out, I still invite you to watch this space…

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