When was the last time you took part in a tug-of-war? I must confess that this is not something that I’ve spent a lot of time doing so I’m not much of an expert. The last time was during a cadet camp when I was a chaplain with the Wiltshire Army Cadet Force. I’d forgotten quite how brutal it was and how violent the pulling back and forth. Sadly, I wasn’t on the winning side, but I was left with an interesting question – which team was holding the beginning of the rope and which was holding the end? I wonder what those two teams would have said? The simple answer is that it all depends on your perspective.
On Sunday 23rd May I announced that I will be leaving in August to take up the position of school chaplain at Christ’s Hospital in Horsham. This new role had come up sooner than I had anticipated but I was phoned by the senior chaplain, who wanted me to come and work with him. This was an incredibly difficult decision to make; both Jonathan and I have been extremely happy living here, I have loved serving as your vicar for the last 7 years and I wasn’t looking for another job. To be headhunted was a new experience for me but this chaplaincy role includes outreach to local primary schools and bereavement support for the students, which is something I feel particularly called to.
Each time we have moved I have found myself inhabiting this strange world where there is a mix of excitement about what is to come sitting alongside a profound sadness about moving on. I don’t think this is unique to me. I find myself thinking about the ends of that rope and the many situations that have that same sense of ending and beginning being tied up together. When I moved from Godolphin to be vicar here, I was incredibly excited. The decision to move had involved a lot of thought and prayer but even from my first visit I thought this would be the right move. I felt like I’d come home. I was quite shocked when, sitting in church saying morning prayer in my first week, I found myself crying – and not from joy. It was all so new and different and as I sat there on my own, I found myself longing for the staffroom, for my old colleagues, my familiar study and pattern of work. Even the thought of writing reports seemed to take on an appeal that they had been distinctly lacking at the time! ‘Why had moving here seemed like such a good idea when I could have stayed put?’
I’m glad to say that this didn’t last beyond that first week. Some of my lovely parishioners started coming along to Morning Prayer, Jonathan and I were made to feel so welcome that we very quickly began to feel part of the community and the privilege of serving here soon reminded me why I had wanted to come here in the first place.
Facing the prospect of moving again has brought all those feelings to the fore but even more so. I was ready to move on from Godolphin and had already had a look at one parish. I hadn’t begun to think about leaving here and the phone call from the chaplain was a bit of a bolt out of the blue. The contrast between the longing to stay and the excitement of a new role is a challenge. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so conflicted and I was reminded of the two ends of that tug-of-war rope and the sense of being pulled backwards and forwards.
Every beginning marks the end of something and every ending marks the beginning of something. They are inseparable. And if they are inseparable, so are the feelings that go along with them. There might be particular events that make this more obvious but day by day this is part of life. If that is true, then it must also be true that we live with the feelings that go along with them; feelings of relief, sadness, excitement, anxiety, joy…I think there’s quite a long list. It could be easy to feel overwhelmed in this emotional tug-of-war and very easy to just want to stay put. This definitely isn’t a new thought. When Moses led the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land they spent a lot of time complaining that life was now even worse; ‘At least in Egypt we had food to eat. Why can’t we just go back?’ There is safety in the familiarity of what we know.
To stay where we are, to avoid the push and pull of change, would be the easy option but somehow I don’t get the feeling we’re made for the easy option! As I think about the changes that I’m about to make I have some words ringing in my ears that give me hope and strength for whatever lies ahead. They are words that I would generally think of at the New Year, as they were quoted by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire, but the poem called ‘God Knows’ or more commonly ‘the Gate of the Year’ by Minnie Hoskins, works just as well in the middle of the year:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
I pray that, in the push and pull of your endings and beginnings you, too, will find hope and strength in these words.