This piece of writing reflects on my time as vicar of Dry Drayton Church in the Lordsbridge Team of Churches at the point of my leaving after 11 years to take up a new post as Warden of Launde Abbey. It was preached at a service there on 12th September 2021.
The Bible passage behind these reflections is 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. You can read it in full here.
The last version of Dry Drayton church’s development action plan was headed with these words: “We give thanks to God always for all of you,… remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). It has seemed to me that it is not just the character of the ancient church community of Thessalonica but the character of this church community that can be described by phrases like these: work of faith, labour of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Now hold that thought and we will come back to it.
One of the challenges of particularly village-based ministry is that as the vicar you are always the incomer, likely to have been both preceded and outlasted by congregation members. It can be hard to feel, and be allowed to be, part of the church community let alone the wider village community, particularly if this is a village in which you don’t live but still want to be present. So today I want to thank you for allowing me to be part of your community, to accompany you in your life journeys, for the last 11 years.
Thank you for bearing with me as I learned the craft of being a parish priest and incumbent. Thank you to those who trusted me, and the experience I brought from a previous working life, as we began to share leadership and collaborate together. Thank you for letting me shape PCC to include a wider range of voices.
Thank you to church wardens, Carole and Huguette, Martin and David Wyatt, for being colleagues. Thank you for the teamwork I experienced with lay ministers, Lois and Christine, with John, and with associate clergy, Michael and latterly Sue. Michael was so gracious to someone who clearly had only a fraction of his erudition, teaching me to say evensong – and after one not entirely successful foray into singing it, it remained ‘said’ on my part.
Thank you for the working together as we were all organised by Rosemary in planning and delivering some excellent and varied exhibitions. High points for me were the WW1 anniversary exhibition and the Easter Experience, a contemporary, interactive stations of the cross and resurrection that we created for the school to visit, class by class. And, talking about events and exhibitions, I will always remember when I first arrived at Harvest in 2010, I discovered that Coton was celebrating with a Harvest supper and a quiz, Hardwick with a ceilidh, but Dry Drayton was holding an evening on John Dunne.
Thank you for the vision and hard work, much of which pre-dated me but continued into my tenure, that resulted in this beautiful and versatile building: a place that is felt by many to be somewhere they can find sanctuary or encounter God. Remember the note found in the rafters during roof repairs placed there by a craftsman in the late 1800s recording the date that he was ‘born of the flesh’ and the date when he was ‘born of the Spirit’. Look at the little pillar-top praying angel, the only one still intact after damage at the Reformation. And the wonky pillars. Do not let the gift of this building become buried under dust and untidiness.
Thank you for the opportunity to take weddings. Some particularly stick out: the wedding in which the Norman’s cat started mewing particularly insistently outside the door just as I asked whether anyone knew any reason why the couple should not be married; and just this year, the last wedding I took here, of our friend Nigel Neville and Nazmiye, still under Covid regulations, but spilling outside to drink champagne in the sunshine afterwards.
Thank you for the joy of baptisms, thanksgivings and dedications. Thank you to the young people who are so welcome as part of this church community, and who brought life and laughter as the Sunday Club came back into church at the end of the service – you never knew quite when they would arrive – to show us what they have been doing or to act out a Bible story. And thank you for the chaos and fun of all those nativity plays to which you brought so many friends and families from the village, organised by Amanda and latterly Tess and John. Thank you for letting me be part of the joyfulness of those occasions.
Thank you for the fun and a different way of learning together in all age services and for the willingness of all ages actually to join in – to take part in quizzes, watch videos, ponder questions, to pray with candles and bubbles, to ‘bury the Alleluia’ in Lent; to make communal collages of flaming hands for Pentecost or flower shapes of those we love for Mothering Sunday.
Thank you for the ‘lego day’, an early pre-cursor of the pop-up café, both using this space for toys and activities with coffee and cakes, as place for families in in the school holidays. And talking of coffee, thank you for the superior quality of the coffee, once we started serving it after church services, and for the conversations that it enabled me and others to have.
Thank you for the music: the evensong choir, the organ played at full pelt in Hark the Herald Angels Sing in a packed carol service, the intergenerational music group gathered by student Luke Bacon, and then taken on by Claire and Jeanette (perhaps restarting before too long), and the Wickham family’s more recent contributions. And the concerts – Gonville and Caius at Advent, the Ridley gospel choir, the Russian male voices filling the church with their spine-tingling religious music and many people who came to listen, and most recently the joyous St Catharines girls’. And the ceilidhs – folk music and dancing – also in this building.
Thank you to the school for all those collective worship moments over the years. For the days when the carefully prepared picture quiz relying on the laptop and data projector fell foul of the IT gremlins; and for the days when everything went like a dream with rows of apparently enthralled children, and all little ones with their hands up for every question. Thank you for the opportunity to baptise the class stuffed monkey in an RE lesson in church, and for the moment of wonder in each Christingle service, with every child holding a lighted candle and singing Away in a Manger… and all the adults hyper-alert for trouble.
And thank you for the privilege of walking with you also in times of grief and sadness. For the privilege of taking funerals and amidst the tears speaking of the Christian hope of life beyond this one. And thank you to friends no longer with us, for being part of the journey here on earth with us for a while: Rosemary and David, Michael, Pauline and Bunny, Den and Mo, Bunty, Ken and Ruth, and others.
Our reading went on to describe the way in which the church in Thessalonica influenced other places. ‘You became a model… the Lord’s message rang out from you… your faith God has become known everywhere.’
Dry Drayton was one of two parishes that resisted the formation of the group or benefice of churches that is now called the Lordsbridge Team. It has been within your character always to be a bit on the independent side. It is my hope that you will have realised that the team structure is not just about having to share your vicar with other parishes, but is about what you can offer to the other church communities of the area, that you can be somewhere from which the Lord’s message rings out, where your faith in God is known.
So let me tell you again about the vision for the Lordsbridge Team of which you are part. It is a vision of small church communities, dotted across this area, like beacon lights. Each open hearted, generous and hospitable, and deeply rooted in Jesus Christ. Many of them are associated with the ancient church buildings where they meet, but some are in other kinds of places, even online. They are all connected together in mutual sharing of ideas, resources and encouragement.
Here, within this vision, there is room for Dry Drayton to bring its own calling and character. And you have so much going for you with which you can enrich others, not just yourselves. I encourage you to think in those terms. To think not just about what you do here for the people here; but to think that what you do and have here becomes known and celebrated elsewhere, in the other Christian communities across the Lordsbridge area, or further afield. After all this has already been the case with your building an exemplar for re-ordering and providing sanctuary space for walkers, with evensong drawing from multiple local communities and with your providing a home for Sacred Space gatherings and quiet mornings.
In the middle of that letter to the Thessalonican church we read: we know brothers and sisters loved by God that he has chosen you, because the gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.
This is my prayer for you: that first of all, you will individually and collectively know that you are loved and chosen by God; and secondly, that all you do that is part and parcel of being a community group, a charitable institution, a custodian of an ancient building, a runner of events, a host for rites of passage, will not be just those things. I pray that the Spirit of the living and true God will animate and enliven these things so that what you do here is not merely what other non-faith groups might do, but because of God’s presence, because of the animating power of the Spirit, it becomes more than that, it becomes part of the movement of the kingdom of God here and now.
And then I, and others, will say: “We give thanks to God always for all of you,… remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”.