Just in case you’ve been living under a rock recently and hadn’t noticed, I’ve finished my curacy at Old Saint Paul’s and am now beginning work as one of the Church of Scotland’s mission partners in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (For those who like to know the minutiae of my life and work, it now looks as though we’ll be moving to Israel in mid-November. I’ll be out for three weeks towards the end of September / beginning of October for language study and orientation and acclimatisation, and Justin will join me for part of that time.)
Lots of change. Change of job. Change of denomination. Change of country.
(And for astute readers of this blog: change of blog design.)
Needless to say, it’s been an emotional time.
But while goodbyes are hard — really hard — I could not have asked for a better send-off from OSP, and I left with a heart overwhelmed by the love we were shown on Sunday evening.
Throughout the day, I kept saying to myself: ‘I want to remember this. I want to remember what it’s like to stand in between the choir stalls and feel the music. I want to remember looking up at the reredos, praying as I did every Sunday I was presiding, “God, you called me here. It’s up to you to give me the strength to fulfil this calling”. I want to remember the smell of the incense as I pray over the elements. I want to remember the weight of the thurible, the small cross engraved on the chalice, the bells ringing, the soft crack of the host breaking, the solid glimmer of the monstrance, the coolness of the marble steps, the heaviness of the cope, the silence of benediction. I want to file away every moment, to cherish each one of them forever.’
But that is not what stayed in my mind after. None of that brought tears to my eyes the next day.
‘You’ll be back’, so many people said. ‘This is not goodbye.’
They were right. I will be back. I will see many of the people again.
But it will be in a different context. And the relationship will be different.
What I remember are the eyes of the people I have come to know and love looking back up at me as I pronounced the words of absolution. I see the pain in the faces. Stories etched into every line.
I see the hands reaching out, open and vulnerable, as I say the words, ‘The Body of Christ’, the lightest whisper of skin against skin as I place the host in outstretched palms.
I see heads bowed as I silently make the sign of the cross with the monstrance held high.
I feel the dailiness of the office, sometimes holy, sometime obligation, the haze of sleepiness surrounding the words of morning prayer, the softness of the voices rising up from the other side of the chancel, the faint smell of incense in the dense cool air.
For two years, I was priest to the community of amazing, creative, maddening, funny, broken, hurting, healing, welcoming, fragile, loving and beloved children of God.
Two years was nothing. And yet everything.
Because in that time, that community taught me what it means to be a priest.
Oh, I still have plenty to learn. Absolutely. But that community has seen me through so many growing pains. So many failures. So many lessons learned. And they have loved me and accepted me. And have sent me on to this next stage with innumerable blessings.
For wisdom and kindness and love and acceptance of training incumbent and congregation alike, I give so, so much thanks.