Parish ministry in vacancy – God at work!

My husband's panorama of Church End, Yateley.

The advert for a new Vicar for St. Peter’s Yateley was published in the Church Times yesterday (it will be there next week too!). The parish profile is now attached to the home page of our parish website, and looking great. Our prayer for those considering to come and lead, inspire and minister among us, is also up on our prayer blog.

In the light of all this, I’m taking a few brief moments to reflect on what God is doing in me, and in our parish, at this time.

It’s not every day that you end up praying in the back room of the The Village Florist, but it was exactly the right thing to do today. The florists are members of our congregation, and involved in our youth work (though where they find the time and strength given the hours they work, only God knows!) Another member of the same family works for Parkers, our local undertaker.

One of the things that seems to becoming an important part of my ministry (completely unsought for, but seemingly unavoidable… God keeps forcing the issue) is having the privilege of working with the bereaved in our community. I’m not yet taking funerals on my own, but with two in the coming 10 days, I think that it won’t be long.

Chatting with the florist at tea time (as I collected flowers for our stand at the local wedding fayre at Casa Dei Cesari tomorrow) it was wonderful the way that conversation and prayers naturally flowed around the families who the church, the florist and the funeral directors are all serving. Each hurting person, is not only at the heart of the ‘service’ we provide, but in the prayers of those providing them – and the sense of community as so many folk are drawn together into this work is a real blessing and encouragement.

It is also a real joy to hear the work of the Holy Spirit forming a natural part of conversations, or being recognised at work through the meetings that naturally take place in a shop like a florists. It’s good to know that people in need know they will find support, and also prayer in a place like that. It happens in our charity shop Discoveries too. As well as in St. Peter’s itself, of course!

But stepping out into a new area of ministry, where I recognise that God is making things unavoidable, means setting things aside as well – and that’s really tough. It hurts.

This week I’m completing what should be my last ‘Archway’ for Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester. Not because I don’t enjoy doing it, and not because I’ve found someone to replace me as editor, because neither is true. It’s simply because there’s not enough of me to give across such a wide scope of ministry. There needs to be a little bit of me left behind for the family; and a lot of me making more time to become totally reliant on God – because more and more I recognise I can’t do this new tough stuff without spending more and more time with him!

I’ve even had to pray to have my preaching slot at the West Hill wing of HMP Winchester taken from me by willing hands – and today, that prayer has been answered too. Again, it was simply recognition that in a week with two funerals, where each visit and funeral takes a lot of time and effort (largely because it’s all so new, and even though I have priestly support from the deanery), would mean my personal candle would start to be burnt in the middle, and that’s a fast and slippery slope to a physical struggle I can’t win.

However my commitment to Mothers’ Union will remain in other ways, even though I’m going to have a sabbatical from Trustees for the rest of the vacancy – I shall continue to maintain their website, and I’m looking forward to their national conference of unit leaders at Swanwick next month #muconf10. There is a sense though of feeling the focus of my work changing from such a Diocesan-wide perspective, to a more parochial one; I don’t know if that will go beyond the vacancy or not – God hasn’t told me that bit yet.

So God is hugely at work, in parish and in personal ministry at this time of vacancy for St. Peter’s. These few notes only scratch the surface of things – there is plenty that shouldn’t be put on the web. It is hugely exciting, it is hugely challenging, but it is wonderful to know that God is at work!


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