This will be my final letter to you as curate of St Thomas’. Thinking about what to write has been helpful in terms of reflecting on the Church of England’s practice of ‘serving your title’ or in plain English – ‘being a curate’. The Methodist Church doesn’t have such a practice. ‘Probationers’, as they are called, are sent straight from college to be responsible for a number of churches, albeit with greater supervision and, in contrast, three years of being here at St Thomas’ has shown me what a great privilege being a curate is. A very wise man once told me to enjoy your curacy because you don’t have to make decisions and the chances are, everyone will love you, because if you aren’t making decisions, it’s more difficult for you to upset anyone! Well, I’ve certainly enjoyed my last three years here and, after many years of a career where all I had to do was make decisions, it has indeed been a great privilege to be able to leave decision making to others and use the time to learn from you all, walk alongside you and see where God is leading us.
Perhaps what has struck me the most is that ministry is genuinely something which is shared, and should be shared. None of us know everything and we all have something to learn from those in the community around us. Thanks goodness the days of ‘Father knows best’ are long gone in most churches, because that model of ministry stifles the chance to learn from one another. I’m writing this letter shortly before Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate the eternal, holy and life-giving Triune God. A God who exists in relationship, a relationship we are invited to join in with. Being part of this community in Stourbridge, laughing with you, weeping with you, praying with you and worshipping with you has been a great privilege – who would have ever thought that a good chunk of that would have been through Zoom and Facebook, or through letters and phone calls rather than face-to-face. But, when our situation changed, we responded with gusto, learning new skills and learning new ways of being a prayerful community, and endeavouring to be more Christ-like. Over the three years I have learnt much from each one of you – how to be a better Priest but, much, much more importantly, how to be a better Christian and a better disciple.
The names of curates don’t end up on boards in churches and rarely do they end up photographed alongside the incumbents (once referred to me as ‘the rogue’s gallery’, which still brings me much hilarity) but a constant theme I have returned to many times with you is that, whilst we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us in the faith, the mission imperative for us is that our shoulders need to be ready for those who come after us. Rather than my name or my photo being placed on a wall, I know that I stand on the shoulders of all of you and I thank you for that, and for building me up to have the strength to prepare my shoulders for others to stand on.
I’m genuinely proud of many of the things we have achieved here together. From sitting on the floor, playing, at Toddler Praise, through the Experience Easter with Greenfield Primary School, to Zoom morning prayer and Compline. But, as I said a few weeks ago in my sermon, when these things need changing, you change them – don’t just keep them the same ‘because that’s what Adam did’. The Spirit of Pentecost calls us to respond and change and be dynamic and not just stay the same. Whilst my ego would probably love the idea of coming back to St Thomas’ in forty years time as a silver haired old man, and hear about the wonderful things a curate called Adam once did, that’s not what the kingdom calls us to do! So, my final challenge to all of you is that you continue to respond to the Spirit, build up the Kingdom, reach out to those who need reaching out to, and learn from and love one another – building the future to make sure this part of the vineyard is still flourishing and still teaching curates that come along in three hundred years’ time.
There is one highlight that cannot be passed over as I say goodbye, and is one for the history books, I think. That in amongst a global pandemic, when the incumbent was on sabbatical, a small-town curate was delegated the responsibility of an archdeacon, to induct the church wardens of the parish to their role. I will never forget that (nor the rather fine cope!).
I leave here full of joy for having been sent to be your curate. You will forever be in my prayers as I hope to be in yours. I hope St Thomas’ will continue to flourish and grow and each one of you will know the love of God deep within you, and this love will inspire you to live out the radical call of our Gospel in your own lives in the years to come.
With my love and prayers for the years to come, Adam