Friday, January 26, 2007

Personal Journey 23: In His Will is Our Peace

I am sorry to have missed yesterday to post as was my original intention. Have a good weekend and I will definitely try to post again on Sunday.

Personal Journey 23: In His Will is Our Peace

So what was it about the position that encouraged a little travelled British clergyman to apply for it at the age of 45. The post advertised was for a Vicar of a medium sized English speaking church with a significant involvement in education. In a nutshell, it seemed to be offering in a different context a continuation of the sort of work I was doing in Banchory.

I sent for more information and the post really did seem like me. My involvement in education up until this point had convinced me of its importance. I felt it to be important in and of itself, I also felt that the Church also should be involved and have influence within it. I liked the sound of an international congregation that was made up of different nationalities and the Anglican Church in Hong Kong sounded like it had strong contacts with the Church of England so that it was something I could relate to. I felt that it was worth exploring more.

Guidance is a funny thing. How does God show us his will for us and how do we know? When I was still a teenager coming to faith for the first time the most important book I read was someone who coincidentally had been a missionary to China: Isobel Kuhn. She had written of her search for God and her own journey of faith. This book helped me so much. I know language like this is quite common now and I use it myself. Too often I think for us today, though, we also add it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. We like searching and asking questions, but are not so keen on finding and getting the answer. I don’t think Isobel used it in this way. She would I think be the first to admit that here we see through a glass darkly, but she believed that God rewarded those who sought him here and now and answered those who asked questions. He may not answer completely but he does answer truly.

Her own personal motto was ‘in his will is our peace’. I adopted this as my own and have found it helpful ever since. It is not that we are excused the business of thinking things through, taking advice, and working at discovering God’s will. Nor is it that God’s will is to be reduced to a subjective cosy feeling. Ultimately, however, once we have done all we can and arrived at a decision that decision if it is from God should bring peace, and if it doesn’t it is to be questioned. It can, though, take a long time to get to the point of peace!

I sent off the requisite application letter and CV and waited. This was September and then I heard nothing. By January, 2000 I assumed that I was not wanted! However, I did not want to look at other posts until I had established that nothing was going to happen with this one! I contacted Hong Kong to be told that they were still interested and that I would be invited for interview.

I came out here for interview in March, 2000. My visit coincided with the Church AGM, which was good as it meant that I was able to see several sides of the church’s life. My few days here were well organized, with plenty of opportunity to meet people. I liked the people I met. I liked the Church. And I liked Hong Kong. I have always been useless at making the final decision, though, and agonized over what I would say if offered the post while out here. Before I left Hong Kong, it was unofficially indicated that I would be offered it and I was asked if I would I accept. In a moment of rare decisiveness, I said yes.

That as it turned out was the easy bit. Now I had to tell family, friends, and the Church. I had kept Bishop Bruce fully informed, and he had been as supportive as he always was. I told family and friends at once. They were, of course, sad that I would be going so far away. The question was when to tell the Church. It was agreed that an announcement would be made during the Sunday services in both Hong Kong and Deeside on Palm Sunday. As fortune would have it Bishop Bruce was with me that day preaching. I am glad he was because the reaction was far stronger than I had expected and even now I feel emotional thinking about it. I was, and am still, very touched by obvious regret that most people felt at the news that I would be leaving. I doubt that I will ever experience such genuine goodwill towards me again.

It was agreed that I would start in September, 2000. This was a sensible time for both my two Deeside Churches and the Church in Hong Kong. It was, though, quite tight as there were various legalities and practicalities to sort out. I won’t bore you with the details here, but one problem was that Hong Kong, although generous in every way, nevertheless only included a modest allowance for removals, which meant that most furniture and much more besides could not be taken.

I have no complaints and it was a useful object lesson in what it means to give things up. Storing items was not feasible, financially or practically, so everything had to be either sold or given away. I think the most bizarre event was a jumble sale of many possessions. I had done many jumble sales before, as most clergy have at one time or another, it was though quite strange haggling with the public over the price of what had been a much treasured possession. Good for the soul, psychologically therapeutic, and all that, but strange nevertheless!

Incredibly, all the arrangements were made and all the formalities completed in time. In August, 2000 I left Banchory for a family holiday before setting off for Hong Kong. How did I feel to be leaving? On a personal level, I felt that the decision was right although 7 years on I still miss the people there. I had some very good friends who had supported me and who had been through a lot with me. And I still felt some regret that I was not going to be involved in theological training. I am not quite sure why God doesn’t want me to do it, I actually think I would be quite good at it. Perhaps that’s why!

From the point of view of the Churches, I also felt it was the right decision to go. I felt optimistic for the two Churches, not least because of the clear determination the congregations were showing to go forward and to keep growing. I was much encouraged by the commitment that people were showing. What is more, they were handling the process of finding a new person to replace me in a professional and responsible way. While there was sadness at partings, there was justifiable optimism for the future. The story of what happened after I left, however, is not mine to tell.

At Banchory, I had learnt far more than I had taught. I left convinced of the value of inclusivity, tolerance, and compromise within a congregation. I had seen the importance of mission and the need to reach out to people, of involvement in the community, of families, and of personal relationships. I was fortunate indeed to have been given the chance to be part of the worshipping life of my two Churches, of the Diocese, and of the Province.

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