IT IS odd, but actually quite agreeable, living in limbo. I finished my job in Moulsecoomb in April, but, because of my sabbatical, summer holidays, and my “putting-in” bishop’s own sabbatical, I am not starting my new job as Rector of Uckfield until 21 September.
It has been surprisingly easy — and unexpectedly liberating — to put Father John in a box and, after some 27 years since ordination, for a whole five months just be John again. My clerical collar will soon be resumed, and I will happily throw myself back into the maelstrom of parish life; but this time, I think, with a bit more perspective: another ten years (which, I know, will fly by), and the prospective space of retirement will loom. An odd but, again, quite agreeable thought.
ANOTHER thing that limbo provides is the opportunity for a good chuck-out. I had a bare ten days between my last sabbatical and starting my present job to say goodbye, move, set up, and start; so, in desperation, I brought all my stuff with me, unsorted and reproachfully voluminous.
This time, I have had the luxury of time to go through almost 20 years’ worth of accumulated junk, which, so far, has involved 16 trips to the dump for the garage and the study alone. What I have unearthed, in what sometimes resembles an archaeological dig, is intriguing, from a coin of Constantine the Great on the garage floor (now safely in a treasures’ drawer) to a bus ticket from 1973 (why? It is now in the bin).
I have found the tribute that I read for my father’s funeral (now safely filed away), and a badge that I won for swimming when I was ten, still in its cellophane packet (again, why? I hated swimming at school; so that’s in the bin, too). I have reduced my past to six storage boxes: childhood, university, training, and all my subsequent parishes. There is a different person in each box: memories, people, events, things, places.
I remember my mother talking about an image used by the nuns at her convent school: our lives are like a hand-woven carpet, but, on this side of the grave, all we see is the back of it, with all the loose ends, knots, and mistakes, all looking a mess. Eventually, in the hereafter, we will see the front, and the pattern woven through it by God’s loving weaver’s hands will be clear and visible.
These boxes I have piled up are full of all these loose ends, knots, and mistakes; but there is a sense of the journey through them, and of a loving purpose behind it all. As I prepare to leap into the unknown again (at 56, I progressively hate change), this feels enormously comforting.
Injured in battle
YET another thing that limbo allows is time to get things repaired: in this case, my large statue of St George. I bought him, somewhat to my surprise, at an auction in Newbury some 15 years ago, and he has stood sentinel at my front door ever since. That is, until he was broken in a fight in the hallway.
My leaving party for the local neighbourhood was at “the Bevy”, the co-operative community pub, the reopening of which I have been involved with for the past few years (13 February 2015; 18 July 2014; 11 January 2013). Some 300 or so people came, including the Mayor, and past and present councillors and aldermen, as well as — to my delight — a fair number of the shadier characters from wider Moulsecoomb, my delightfully notorious Urban Priority parish.
The party transferred to the rectory at about midnight, moving on from Harvey’s Best Bitter and Jägerbombs to half a dozen bottles of champagne I had in the fridge, as you do. It was huge fun, with much merriment, including the discovery of the formidable chair of the Bevy Committee comatose under the dining table.
All was well, until about 4 a.m., when a bust-up suddenly erupted between a couple of hangers-on I didn’t really know.
One of them landed on St George, breaking both arms and a wrist (St George’s, that is, not the combatant’s). It was sorted out very quickly, but about 15 minutes later there was a knock on the door, and a police car outside. I thanked the officers, and assured them that all was now well. It was disconcerting, but I could not help being amused at the inappropriateness of it all.
Two days later (after a day in which to come to), I had my parish leaving do at St Andrew’s, and in the sermon slot I regaled the congregation with the tale of all the shenanigans. I told them that, after a fight at the rectory when the police had been called, I finally felt fully assimilated into my community.
St George is now in convalescence, in the tender hands of a statue restorer.
I suspect Uckfield will be somewhat different.
The Revd John Wall is on sabbatical.