Stepping into the Unknown
For all the promise of new beginnings, the New Year doesn’t always feel like the most auspicious time to be making a new start. The lights of Christmas have mostly been packed away. It is dark, it’s probably wet and the thought of even stepping outside the front door can seem like too much effort.
Yet at St Giles we find ourselves starting 2020 by taking that step out into the unknown. With Alan’s retirement as Rector last month we have entered what the Church calls rather ominously an “interregnum”. This is the period when the process of finding a new Rector starts and we, as a community, prepare ourselves for the change that appointment will bring. It feels uncertain, perhaps a little scary and (certainly if you’re a churchwarden) quite daunting. It can seem that there are an overwhelming number of practicalities to think about when we are without a leader to oversee the church’s many activities. At a deeper level, it is also possible for us to feel a spiritual uncertainty about how we will carry forward our practice of worship without the familiarity of Alan’s guidance.
Looking to practicalities, we churchwardens and the whole PCC hope you will feel reassured that careful plans have been made for this period. While there will undoubtedly be some unforeseen challenges, we hope that the period of this interregnum can be a time when we as a lay community become more thoroughly involved in the running and care of our church. It will also give us the opportunity to welcome a number of different clergy to lead our worship. Some will be familiar faces, others will become familiar in the next couple of months. We will benefit from each of their gifts and have an extra opportunity to display the hospitality and welcome that is so important to life at St Giles.
The management of church affairs will not grind to a halt, either. Lesley is now in firm command of the church office and will ensure that bills get paid, the lights stay on and the telephone gets answered. We will also be pressing ahead with important work to renovate and re-let our property at 24 West Street, which fell vacant at the end of last year. We are lucky to have an excellent team of professionals to support us in this work and we will do our best to ensure we use this time to make sound provision for future generations of worshippers. We also hope to undertake conservation work in the Vestry House during the course of the year, to repair the worn and damaged paintwork and to install a new heating system. This work will be overseen by our inspecting architect, Sarah Khan.
Most significant for the coming year, however, will be the task of finding and appointing a new Rector. Work is already underway. Oliver and I met with the Archdeacon of London last Autumn and he gave his warm support to maintaining and developing our distinctive style of worship here at St Giles under the leadership of a new rector. Since September the PCC have been developing a prospectus, the so-called “Parish Profile”, outlining the strengths and needs of the parish and establishing our key requirements for the next rector. This document was submitted to Bishop Sarah before Christmas and the PCC will be meeting with her and the Archdeacon shortly to set a timetable for the new appointment. This will involve the public advertisement of the role, shortlisting and interviews. In other words, it will not be a quick process, but we believe that taking time to find the right candidate this year will be of fundamental importance to the long term future of the parish. I am sure many people will have questions about the process, so please do feel free to ask us about it.
Practicalities, of course, have the potential to absorb all the available time. But as we take this first step into the unknown with the turn of the year, it is even more important than ever that we prioritise the spiritual purpose of our life as a church. In this, we are perhaps lucky to be starting our journey in the depths of winter because the season of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany remind us so powerfully that Christian life is filled with unbidden journeys. Our minds are captured by Mary and Joseph obliged to travel through the darkest months to Bethlehem, only to be driven away into the desert towards Egypt, a tiny baby in their care. Or by Simeon, nearly blind, beholding the baby Jesus in the Temple and knowing that his personal journey is at an end.
We are asked repeatedly in this season to contemplate those journeying in darkness and seeking light, and to focus on that speck of light born in the Christ-child that will come to illuminate the whole world. It is a disconcerting, tiring effort and it is easy to feel alone, even when we can also discern glimmers of great promise. But at the same time, we are looking forward to the brighter light of Easter and the great unfolding of the promise we can now only glimpse.
On the Sunday before Advent, the scripture led us to Jesus’ great prayer, as recounted in the Gospel of John. In it we are confirmed in the unifying power of Christian faith, when Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” What better preparatory prayer could we have for the journey ahead? For all the uncertainty of stepping out into the unknown, we have the reassurance that we are not in fact wandering alone, but are held in a great unity. And it is a great blessing for us at St Giles that this unity is so clearly evident every week as we gather for worship. We will need to lean on each other as we step out, but we can do so with confidence and faith.
So, as we embark on this new year, let us pray for our community, that we may grow in one-ness, with each other and with God. We trust in your support as we navigate the interregnum over the coming months and hope that all of us emerge from our journey strengthened and renewed.
Wil James & Oliver Flory, Churchwardens