I was challenged today about where I, and the family, am and how long we see ourselves being there and this is perhaps the toughest part of 'being in ministry' because I don't have a job, I'm part of a family.
The problem is that as much as one might want it not to be so, the family has to undergo change, but as much as we might like to think we will always be family, leaving ends that situation. This first came home to me when we left our sending church and headed off to a strange place a (very) long way away from home. I didn't leave my church, I left my family and even though we all said differently, the reality was that our images began to fade from the family photograph that day.
The problem with becoming a minister in a place is that first we enter as a stranger and then come to love (and hopefully be loved) the people we are called to pastor. People come (bringing joy) and people go (and regardless of who they were or how they went - there has always been pain, tears and sadness) - the ebb and flow of life made all the more painful because often, even when we disagreed, church members can become more of a family to us than those who have the biological DNA of family within them.
I have been asked how much longer I might be with those around me and this, coupled with the myriad number of people who have asked whether I might be 'promoted' to a vacant post within the deanery, starts to make me think. The problem is that it's not a change of job - even though that appears to be how those outside of this body (and family) might view it - it is an offering up of one's family and an invitation to a bereavement of a very deep and painful kind.
I have come to love where I am and even though it's far from anything that looks like the Arsenal and boasts no magic shops and has a proliferation of odd accents and funny expressions, I have to say that the thought of leaving it brings a certain pain. My desire to see Christ offered up and made real to the people here is more passionately felt now than it was even a year ago.
My love for those who have come to faith and are growing and offering themselves in so many different ways; those who are truly seeking to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Christ; my brothers and sisters in leadership who work so tirelessly to meet the many needs of this town and its inhabitants. My passion for a big building that has been a sacred space for so many years and the Church who throughout the ages has borne witness to the persistent love and commitment to Christ and from this ministered so wonderfully.
I see the faces of those who have gone before - those who I have wept over at the news of their death and have walked proudly from their graves and crematorium services - those saints who have made their mark and left a legacy of pride and love. Those saints to whom I can still minister, albeit now in their homes or places where they are cared for, and celebrate in the Eucharist a lifetime of Christian commitment.
So please, please, understand that when you ask me about 'moving on' you are not asking me about a new job somewhere - you are asking when I'm going to leave my family and set off to find another elsewhere (which I have before and will probably have to do again when that calls comes).
Please realise that it is about more than moving home (and I have done this in my service and submission to Christ and it holds no fears when the time is right).
Please realise that 'promotion' doesn't come into it - what is at the heart of our ministry is submission to Christ and the being in the right place - that place we're supposed to be in - rather than a 'good or better job'.
for those testing their callings to ministry, please understand that the journey is fraught with the pain of leaving and the joy of arriving home and understand the agony in between. In a brief flash of time it is like the agony of death and the joy of resurrection - a microcosmic flash of Christ on the death and that Easter morning in one. It is a place of sacrifice, cost and putting your ministry where your words are.
And as you do - please pray for all those in ministry.