I’m writing this to try to clarify some of my thoughts, and for anyone who is interested to know a bit of my story.
I used to be a Circuit Minister. That means I was stationed, in Methodist parlance, to a Circuit, where I had pastoral charge of five churches. Two of them were 15 miles from The Manse – but not in the same direction! I had plenty of involvement in schools, in the different communities and with the older people. I had opportunities to lead all varieties of worship, to try to work out how to make God relevant to different people. I loved it. I was fulfilled, excited, challenged and everything felt so “right”. I’m not saying I got everything right – far from it, I made some spectacular mistakes and misjudgments, but that was part of it. Part of living and learning and walking in faith together.
Then in 2005 I got flu. Not, ‘I’ve got a really bad cold’ flu, proper full-blown, knock you off you feet flu. I took to my bed, wearing my coat – partly because I was shivering despite the fever, and partly because I had no energy to take it off on crawling back from the doctors. And there I lay, well until they came to install our new kitchen, when I had to make it downstairs!
The problem is, I never got better. The fever went and the head ache and even the sore throat. But the cough, the total exhaustion, the not being able to think straight stayed – and were joined by some other friends like excruciatingly dry eyes and other problems that have come along since either caused by or part of the rest.
Eventually it became clear that this was going nowhere, and after a couple of trial returns to work, it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. And so the decision was taken that I would retire early on ill-health. I am eternally grateful to the Methodist Church for its care and provision for us, that meant we were safe and had a roof over our heads.
Yet, to have to leave, to have to give up a ministry I had trained for, that we as a family had sacrificed so much for (and got so much more back!), that felt so right, was so part of me… To have to leave behind a community, a friends network, our children’s friends was, and still is, so hard.
I see that my earlier experiences and theological explorations had taught me about how to cope and live with the physical issues and constraints, but what about losing me? The me I had become, the me that had been formed in a furnace? The me that was called and equipped? The things I enjoyed? The things that made me feel alive?
And so I am stripped of all that.
Landed in a community not of my choosing. A community I cannot join in with to make any contacts. With no ministry. No energy. No voice.
And yet, I still stand by those words,
We walk by faith, not by sight
and always, always, singing this song:
because I have nothing else at all to hang on to.
2 Corinthians 5: 1-10 (CEV)
5 Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever. 2 While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. 3 We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.
4 These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. 5 God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it. 6 So always be cheerful!
As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord. 7 But we live by faith, not by what we see. 8 We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord. 9 But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him. 10 After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies.
That was 2007 – I’ll share the next part tomorrow – but that might be a bit harder…