One of the programmes I love to watch on the television is “Yes Minister”, and its sequel “Yes Prime Minister”. In fact I have two books, supposedly containing the diaries of ‘Jim Hacker’. Edited by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, the two books tell the story behind each individual programme. In an episode entitled “Party Games”, the entry in the diary for December 9th recounts the tale of a “frightful misunderstanding”. Sir Humphrey comes in to see Jim and informs him that their relationship is “approaching the point of irreversible bifurcation, and …. in the propinquity of its ultimate regrettable termination”. Jim, of course, fails to understand and asks for clarification, so Humphrey replies that he (Humphrey) is on his way out. He continues in terms of accepting what fate has in store and passing on “to pastures new, perhaps greener, to put oneself finally at the service of one who is greater than any of us”. The misunderstanding deepens, as Jim expresses his regret and asks if his wife knows, and then how long he has been given. Just a few weeks, he is told. Jim thinks that Humphrey is being very brave. Humphrey replies “Well, I am a little anxious, I must admit – one is always frightened of the unknown, but I have faith. Somehow I’ll muddle through”. It transpires that Humphrey has been appointed as Secretary of the Cabinet, but not before Jim has burst into tears and said how sorry he is. Obviously Jim had misinterpreted Humphrey’s words and thought that he had suddenly received news of his impending departure from this world.
This paragraph seems strangely relevant at the moment. Another relationship is fast approaching that same point of bifurcation. What a lovely word that is – bifurcation – my granddad always had “birfucated rivets” in a drawer in his bureau – but I’m not sure what he ever used them for. I still have them somewhere but don’t know whether I will ever find a use for them! The relationship of myself as Rector of Stourhead with my parishioners is also about to come to an end. I too, like Sir Humphrey, have to report that I am on my way out – though like Sir Humphrey, not from this world, I hope! After seven years in this Diocese we have decided to pack up and move on into retirement. My late mother was keen that I should retire at the earliest opportunity.
The last few months have been something of an emotional roller coaster. I can look back across thirty-two years of ordained ministry, spent in two suburban curacies and three incumbencies. In all I have served in twenty-one parishes. I can recall various people I have known in each place, and have tales to tell of particular incidents from those parishes. Ministry to people at times of the most profound joy and the deepest sadness has always been a highlight for me of the work I do, through baptisms, weddings and funerals. I like to feel that these important family events have always been handled with care and sensitivity, reverence and dignity. It is a privilege to walk alongside people and help them at such times of joy and of sadness, and to have played a little part in their lives.
Whilst going through (and clearing out) enormous amounts of paper accumulated over the years I came across the sermon preached by the late Bishop of Dunwich the Rt Revd Clive Young on the occasion of my institution and induction as Rector in Kedington on October 4, 2011. The Bishop reminded us of the words of the Archdeacon, that this benefice is “a jewel in the crown of the Diocese…. with its beautiful churches and stunning setting…. Blessed with able and dedicated lay people”. The Bishop quoted from the letter to the Ephesians “We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”. He spoke about the themes of that epistle, being unity, diversity and maturity. Seven years on and growth is very much part of the agenda for the churches in our Diocese.
Bishop Clive told us to “relish the maturity in our life together in Christ: we’re not perfect, not there yet, not fully grown. But our relationships in church and communities, when we value each other for what we have to give, rather than what we can get, transforming selfishness into selflessness, we begin to discover that in church and community, it is better together, that many hands make light work, and that it can be fun. It’s a great calling as well as a challenge, to be the church in these places at this time….” He went on to question what the role of the Church is today.
“To bind up the so called broken society? To break down barriers between people? Yes a bit. To smile a lot, love a lot, laugh a lot and be kind to our neighbours? Yes. That we’re still on the ground in our parishes in 2011, is pretty amazing in itself. It is not I think our job to enforce piety and strictness; that won’t work. But a Church committed to God’s mission: to work for the unity that is God’s gift, in our life together, in the created order; to discover our dependence on each other, in parish and in world, to make this world work for the good of all, to discover that deep down now and in the end, we are somehow one with the very life of God who made us, the life of God which we share in Jesus Christ by the Spirit through the Church. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. That’s where we start out and where we end up….
[“The Complete Yes Prime Minister” was pubished by BBC books in 1989, ISBN 0 563 20773 6]