This past Sunday was my final day in the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches. I have loved the last almost 3 years there. It was a joy and privilege to serve the people and the churches of this beautiful place. I now take a 6 week break – starting with some time at Mucknell Abbey.
Final Hambleden Service
To all God’s beloved in the churches of the Hambleden Valley, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, I thank God for all of you because of your faith, your love and dedication to the churches, villages and Valley. I have abided with you these last (almost) 3 years and I love you. Sometimes you were very easy to love; sometimes it took a little more effort! I know that many of you would have liked me to abide longer. This was not an easy decision to make, but in the longer term this was the best decision for you and for me. Even if we cannot see that yet.
My interim period in the Hambleden Valley has been extremely valuable to my ministry. I take many lessons with me; I learned some hard ones and that is a good thing. I leave something of my heart with you.
Part of my role here was to remove some branches and prune the trees for a fruitful future. I wait in hope and anticipation to see what fruit is produced in the years to come. I pray that God will be gracious and let me have a look or an update every once in a while.
Pruning is never easy. It is often painful and needs to be done with careful attention. I tried. I know that I did not always get that right; I pruned with blunt secateurs and little too close to the bone. I can only apologise. If there is any consolation, I too was pruned in this role by God. His pruning was much more efficient and gentle. Please leave any future pruning in the hands of God. He is so much better at it than we ever can be.
We can be tempted to prune each other with our looks, our words and our deeds. Resist the temptation! Abide with each other, keep on keeping on. Bear with one another. We are all bearing with you! Love what is genuine.
My only caution to you is this: do not be tempted to look backwards or romanticise the past. The Church cannot and does not live in the ‘good old days’ if in fact they even were. The next few months before Andy is licensed will be busy and challenging. You have been here before; watching your thinking. Do not make space for negativity or crustiness. This is not a vacancy. Call it minding the gap. Hope is on the horizon – look ahead with optimism. Abide with each other.
Jesus’ call for the disciples to abide with each other in John 15 was part of the Last Supper discourse. There is an urgency in the tone of this writing. He was going to the cross. We are not! Wait patiently in this next short while. Love one another and hang in there. Keep the commandments. Love your neighbour.
These are your instructions.
Here are your love letters…
To the angels of the church at Fawley: Fawley is special to me as you were the first people I got to meet in person when I started in January 2021. Your tenacity to keep meeting every Friday at noon, lockdown restrictions or not, week in and week out, rain or shine, warm or cold is truly inspirational.
Your care for friends and neighbours has been, and continues to be, unstinting. Fawley is also a place of convivial hospitality all done to impeccable standards.
I cannot wait to see the building once it is reopened. Please invite me! You should be commended for the desire to put the church back in the centre of the village.
Bless you dear Fawleyites.
To the angels of the church at Fingest: You might be small but you are fierce! You like to do things your own way and take great pride in doing just that. The devotion to the church, village and pub is admirable.
Fingest is also the first and loudest to remind us that we are a Group in the Hambleden Valley. This is not to be forgotten or put to the side. Keep on banging the drum!
Fingest has a speciality for Evening Services. There is nowhere more peaceful than the 6 pm in St Bartholomew’s on a Sunday evening. When the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over, even on a cold winter’s evening, the radiators in Fingest are ablaze. I highly recommend attending.
Bless you dear Fingestites.
To the angels of the church at Frieth: You might be the daughter of the bigger church down here in the valley – thanks to those do-gooders of bygone days who thought the fine people of Frieth needed to go to church more regularly – but you are your own woman!
Your welcome to the students and staff at the school is noted. They love coming to visit even if, in the words of a reception student, it smells old. Nothing is ever too much trouble or fuss. The choir turns up on time (you smell just fine), sing beautifully and manage to do many other tasks in your choir robes; flitting around the church like little blue angels.
The spirit of Frieth is gentle and welcoming. My prayer is that more people will come to experience that.
Bless you dear Friethians.
To the angels of the church at Hambleden: In the heart of the valley, in the heart of the action. Things just happen in the church as though by magic. You are a graceful swan gliding down the humble Hamble Brook. Yet underneath is some mad paddling. People who visit are constantly amazed at the beauty of this building. The more astute know that it is the beauty of the people who care for this place that shines through. Your dogged dedication is what keeps the roof literally on this place.
The care and attention for wedding couples and baptism families, the sensitivity for bereaved families is renowned. Nothing is too big or small, no detail overlooked. Thank you to the choirs, bell ringers and flower ladies for making these events even more special.
To the grand-dame of the organ loft – thank you for sharing your immense gifts with us and so many for so long. We are now on to the 3rd generation of some families that you have played for.
Bless you Christine.
Bless you dear Hambledonians.
To the angels of the church at Medmenham: Oh Medmenham. You have certainly kept it interesting! You are on the cusp of a brighter future as a church; I really believe this. The pieces to this puzzle are almost certainly there; just needs some time to come together. The dedicated core keeps things moving; even when very few show up. Your gracious attitude means that it is always worth it. The village is slowly waking up to the gem of the church in their midst. We are to preach the gospel in season and out of season. Keep on going.
Brothers and sisters, please keep helping Medmenham. Just a little support will go a long way and help to encourage the villagers.
Bless you dear Medmenhamittes.
To the angels of the church at Turville: Dibley. It was a pleasure to be your Priest-in-Charge! Not Vicar. You wear the mantle of that with grace and nonchalance despite the attention it brings you. It does not go to your head. I will not let it go to mine either.
If you are at a loose end on a Wednesday morning, please do stop in at the 10:15 Communion service. It is beautiful! There is sometimes Bazil the cat, often a sweet toddler, highly esteemed elders from across the Valley bearing the local news and a very warm welcome. We break bread and then have biscuits. This is the ideal midweek oasis.
There are plans afoot to spruce the place up. Prayers for this journey. There are people rooting for you and desire to see this come to pass.
Bless you dear Turvillians.
To the angel of the church that is Jenny Neagle. You might not know Jenny. You should. She is a big part of the brains of the organisation. She helps Sue & I and the Church Wardens immensely. Always willing to learn, correct our mistakes, make contact with people in a compassionate and professional way.
Bless you Jenny.
To the angel of the church that is Sue Morton. I have so enjoyed being part of The Sues with you. You are a gift to the church and the Hambleden Valley. From you I have learned the value of giving things time and space. You are a fount of much knowledge that you share with consideration and grace. Thank you for your support and encouragement – especially when neither of us were sure. Your faith is an example to us all.
Bless you Sue.
And that, my friends, is my farewell tour of the Hambleden Valley. Abide with each other. Go gently, go patiently. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Go in the love and peace of Christ.