I’m not exactly sure whether the following item of a more personal nature conforms to death in life or life in death, but I have probably played around with those ideas long enough already. Suffice it to say that I have to announce that I will cease being the Rector of St Giles-in-the-Fields at the end of this year and expect that my last day of worship with you will be Christmas Day itself. Some amongst the St Giles community have known this for a little while, but now, I feel, it is time for all to know.
I will not hide from you the disappointment and frustration I have felt since requesting permission to remain at St Giles a little longer, only to discover that a policy of the Bishops of the diocese requires all incumbents without exception who reach the age of 70 to retire by or on the anniversary of their birth and leave their post. On a certain day in December, therefore, I will be compos mentis but the next day a shriveling wreck. Civil legislation governing age has moved on in recent years and the national church, attempting to keep pace, has suggested a possible extra two years of ministry at the discernment of the local Bishop. It is this act of discernment that is now being denied to those in a position like mine in the diocese.
The policy talks about ‘a clean break’ and enabling incumbents to ‘move on’ so that they do not cling too desperately to altar (for Catholics) or pulpit (for the others) - no, it doesn’t say that, but it feels like it. I was always aware that my time as Rector would, at best, be ‘transitional’ between Bill (Jacob) before me and whoever succeeds, but I had hoped it might be longer than four years. In the past year the PCC has begun exploring new areas of ministry and mission which promise to radically extend our engagement within parish and city and I had hoped to be given the opportunity to see these plans at least come to birth, but it is not to be.
For the remainder of this year, therefore, I will be working with the churchwardens, members of the PCC and those in our staff team to ensure that all due preparations are undertaken so that as straightforward a period of change may follow. Much of this will be of an administrative and financial nature, but as the year progresses we shall begin to see a pattern of ministry evolve for a period of interregnum and beyond and of these we shall, of course, keep you informed.
Late March is far too early a time for last words and ‘what St Giles means to me’ and so forth, though I may need to inflict such thoughts on our readers and congregations when the first blasts of the next winter come along. For the time being please be assured that, as the hackneyed funeral prayer of a former Dean of St Paul’s puts it, ‘Whatever we were to each other, that, we still are.’