Last Sunday morning, Bev and I rolled up at church to conduct the monthly communion service. Although Bev is concluding her term as an Authorised Celebrant, we’d agreed that I should celebrate for this last time. We will be leaving the parish in less than a month.
We were somewhat blind-sided by a congregation of double the usual size and, afterwards, a farewell for which everyone except Bev and me was well prepared. Half a dozen people spoke and there were wonderful presentations. We responded as best we could. There were tears and hugs. And then there was the lavish morning tea to which our congregation has become accustomed. (We will miss those morning teas when we go!)
For me, the most gratifying thing of the spoken contributions was that nobody directly referred to my former role as minister. I don’t know if anyone else noticed but speakers spoke generously about my IT skills and Power Point, and administration, handyman and educational gifts. And they were full of praise for Bev's role as Outreach and, later, Pastoral Coordinator and her gifts of friendship. But they didn't so much as hint that we had come among them first in a special "ministerial" role that defined what both of us might do.
Some would have known that in recent years I have found a sense of liberation in being free to take roles as Chairperson, Team Member, occasional organist and Worship Leader. On Sunday it was great to feel just like any other departing lay person might have felt.
I think that says something about how far we have moved towards independence from the “tyranny of the stipend”. What we set out to do some 23 years ago seems to have been achieved: not just some adjustment of church life, but a sea change of perspective.
True, back then, it was not what every member wanted. Some were keen on LSM, some wanted part-time paid ministry, and most fell somewhere in between. It’s been an exciting journey as LSM has come to be accepted and effective. And normal.
And on Sunday it was symbolised remarkably in the way nobody mentioned that I’d come here to be their minister. And I now leave here as one of them and one with them.
That was pretty special.