Farewell from Wendy
Wendy has been the most extraordinary gift to our congregations over these past three years and I know that I speak for us all in saying a huge thank you to God and to her for such a wonderful, wise, creative and caring ministry among us.
A letter from Wendy to us all:
Dear St Andrew’s,
Can I start by thanking you for your welcome?
In May 2018, after my curacy was publicly announced, Dale and I came to a service and I’m sure you speculated about me just as I wondered about you. Neither of us should have worried, for we were swiftly to discover that we were a perfect match and destined to be great friends.
I did find it hard to separate you out as individuals at first. St Andrew’s is a big church and while I was obvious to everyone in my smart new clerical wear and robes, I found it much harder to learn over a hundred faces and names. So, thank you for your patience as I struggled with that.
The only way to deal with the difficulty was to sub-divide people into groups - and so I got to know you through Breathe, Soul Food, Quiet Days, helping out at toddlers, PCC, the Wednesday morning service and so on. And, of course, we discovered pretty early on that I need to see someone’s face a lot of times before I remember it, due to my eye sight issues. If I ever got your name wrong or failed to recognise you, I apologise.
I came to you very unsure of myself. I think all new minsters suffer from imposter syndrome. Probably many long-serving ones do too. It seemed so unlikely that I would be honoured with such a role, no matter how many times that calling to priesthood was affirmed.
And then there were Alan and Bill. They both seemed to know exactly what they were doing and did it so effortlessly. I have learnt much from them - including the fact that the impression that they ‘always know what they are doing and do so effortlessly’ is actually an illusion. The day you think you are the perfect minister is the day you need to go on retreat and have a good chat with God. But you (and they) gave me the confidence I needed, for I never felt judged or compared to anyone else.
The welcome I received on those first visits has continued to this day. I never enter this building without feeling truly welcome - whether it’s for a service with you all here, to do some jobs or to meet up with someone. It is rare to come in and not encounter some friends to chat to. And while God is, of course, everywhere - in this building his presence is far less elusive than it can be elsewhere. The prayers of centuries are soaked into the walls, so that our words can become unnecessary. I hope I find that sense of God and prayerfulness in my new church building – which is of course not new at all but ancient.
When I first visited St Andrew’s with Alan, my first impression was that there was a lot of stuff in the church. I came from an austere 1920s building, led by a vicar who dislikes clutter. I soon learned that the reason there was so much stuff was because there was so much stuff going on and all those activities needed ‘stuff’. You cannot welcome children if there is no children’s area. Squishy sofas may make the place look homely, but they also make the church look welcoming to families. St Andrew’s looks ‘lived in’ – which is as it should be.
You have taught me much about the importance of working in a team. We have teams for everything here and I’ve been lucky to join some of those. In my new post there are no other ministers of any kind and I will miss having colleagues. I will have to knit my own team and think of inventive ways of ensuring my congregation don’t have to listen to me preach every single week. I hope you realise how blessed you are with preachers here. I shall also miss the wisdom of the church wardens, the energy of Tracy and the rock which is Phil. How I wish I could take you all with me!
My next thank you is for the music. I will miss it so much. As you know I love a good choir, and you have a very good one indeed. I also met here the first church choir which is happy to include any style of music as long as it contributes to our worship. Believe me that is an incredibly rare gift and you need to treasure it. As well as letting me sing occasionally, it was here that I gained the confidence to say that I ‘played’ the djembe drum. I had taught it to children for years – but then I also taught football and I’m no footballer. Yet here I was welcomed into the band and I cannot tell you how much joy that gave me.
What I will miss most is, of course, you - the people I have met here. You have carried me through some difficult times especially with my visual problems and my stroke. You have made me feel valued. You have made me laugh. You have never treated me as less than Alan and Bill, inspite of my newness to ordained ministry. You have never minded when I made mistakes and you have endured my battles with microphones and robes. The servers patiently supported me as I negotiated my way through unfamiliar and holy tasks. For all this I thank you.
And now some solemn words - I’m not quite sure where in the Bible you will find them, perhaps it’s in Proverbs, but they will be familiar I’m sure.
They say that breaking up is
Hard to do
Now I know, know that it’s true.
Don’t say that this is the end
Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again.
I do wish that I could have these three years again. I have loved being your curate and will carry with me many happy memories and lessons learned. While I have learned things which I didn’t expect to learn (mostly because of the pandemic), I’ve also missed out on experiences and time spent with you all, and that makes me sad. Time spent on-line cannot replace time spent together and in person.
I hope that I will carry you into my new life. I’m not far away, and you are always welcome to visit St Leonard’s or the vicarage. There’s lots of walks and of course there’s the village’s three pubs too. I also hope to come back and see you.
As I set off in faith into my new adventure, I know I can rely on your good wishes and your prayers. And I wish you well for the future and will continue to pray for you. The strength of this place lies in its variety of services and activities, its openness to new things, its inclusiveness and its ‘can do’ attitude. All that comes from you – and I pray you will continue to build on that so that the kingdom of God can grow in Hertford.
I will miss you, and that is only right and proper. I will miss you because you are very special: individually and as a group.
Some final solemn words:
Down doobeedo down down. Breaking up is hard to do.
God bless you all.
Here is Wendy’s last sermon on Zoom
I’ve been ordained three years now and for almost half of that we have been running Zoom services, which of course started early in the first lockdown. In fact, I’ve probably led as many services on Zoom as I have in the buildings. When Alan was putting together the rota which covered my final weeks as curate, I therefore asked to have a final preach at both of the buildings and on Zoom too, because Zoom has been such a big part of my ministry.
Last Sunday my sermons were letters I’d written to each of the churches and today you’re getting a letter, too.
There are many things I hoped to learn during my curacy, but taking on-line services wasn’t on the list. Although I’d only recently been trained as a minister, there was nothing about how we might go about running services outside the building. Considering our joint lack of experience, I think we’ve done pretty well.
I think all of us have appreciated the chance to be together ‘on-line but in person’, firstly on Sunday mornings and then at other times too. I don’t know any other parish church which sustained four regular on-line services. I’m so glad we didn’t go down the alternative routes of live streaming or of recording services.
I’m sure you all remember the issues we had at first – but we learned to adapt and overcome those (most of the time). And we learned to be forgiving about the things we couldn’t control. Because the most important thing was that we were still worshipping together. Many of you have contributed to this – as Zoom hosts, readers, intercessors, musicians, preachers. Thank you for that.
I have learned, and I suspect you have too, that Zoom could still provide a sacred space in which I could worship and knowingly encounter God. We all knew that the building wasn’t a container for God, but this has proved it. We all knew that the church is God’s people and not the building, and again this has proved it.
It will be so interesting to see how this ministry grows – a ministry born out of chaos and crisis. How will it fare in calmer, more ordinary, times? At the moment it still has a congregation many parish churches would envy. It has a dedicated team who want it to flourish and grow. So, I have high hopes and would love to be kept up to date with the adventures of Zoom.
I have learned that Zoom has advantages that a building cannot provide. I’m not just talking about the pleasure of rocking up at 10.29 in my dressing gown: croissant in one hand, coffee in the other. I’m not just talking about the ability to turn off my microphone and video on the days when I couldn’t face the world. I’m not even talking about the fact that I could sing along to hymns on Zoom, while unable do that in the building. I am talking about liturgy.
In our buildings we are currently tied to set liturgy through printed booklets. On Zoom we use PowerPoint, which can be adapted and changed as often as we wish. We have used it for everything from BCP Evening Prayer to the Christmas sing-a-long. It allows the liturgy and the feel of a service to changed for the season or occasion. That flexibility has been a joy, and has given me the chance to experiment with some of the many options available in Common Worship liturgy – something I got to do only occasionally before. I thank you for your willingness to embrace this.
Then we also get the chance to use visuals – both video and static images. Most of us are highly visual and this adds a whole new element to worship. Visuals can provide humour. They can be a vehicle for reflection. They might provide a source of inquiry or give comfort or just be beautiful. I’ll be surprised if both our churches don’t seek ways to make use of what we have learned on Zoom.
I have learned much from our joint experiences over the last 15 months or so. Thank you, the people of Zoom, for sticking with us when things got tough. Thank you for joining us if you are new. Thank you for giving things a go, even if you were sceptical. Who would have thought that Compline would prove such a success, for example?
I do have a few suggestions. I hope that is allowed.
Over the next few months, Zoom will adapt yet again to new circumstances. My departure means one less priest to cover Eucharistic services. But anyway, the permission for priests to celebrate communion at home, alone, was a limited one from our bishops. It is therefore right and proper that our online offering becomes something different to what is on offer in the building. As things change, can I ask you to provide feedback please? Do it politely and constructively of course, but do it actively to allow the Zoom team to meet your needs. Don’t just think “this isn’t for me” and switch off. Get involved in your worshipping community.
Another suggestion is that this new church finds itself a name. It isn’t St Andrew’s or St Mary’s although is closely related to both. If it is going to be its own entity, I think it needs a name. I think all things we value have a name. And do put “online church” in the name so that when people search on-line, they find it easily.
Then can I also suggest that sometimes you might think about going off-line? Churches need fellowship – so maybe, once it feels safer, a way could be found to meet up for a walk, or cake. One major disadvantage of on-line anything is the lack of cake.
We have been hugely blessed during lockdown – because technology allowed so many of us to meet together for worship and for other reasons too. We did this with no warning or preparation. At first, we had no training or expertise. Necessity drove us to explore a new way of doing church and it turned out we were pretty good at it. It turned out that God could use this for His glory. Why that might surprise us, I don’t know. I see it as a miracle and I thank Him and you from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you Zoom congregation for all you have allowed me to do and learn. Thank you for letting me into your homes and for supporting me through this final half of my curacy. It hasn’t been at all as intended: faith journeys seldom go according to plan in my experience. But it has been at times fun, enlightening and a place to deeply encounter God.
God bless you all.