Whilst preparing my address for the A.G.M. this year I was reminded of a few words from that beautiful Hymn: “Abide with me”. “Change and decay in all around I see, Oh thou who changest not abide with me”. For although changes may come, one thing abides the love of God. There’s a saying “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Meaning that no matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. Robert Burns “To a Mouse”. Perhaps another modern example of this same caution is “I sit and talk to God and he just laughs at my plans”. “Feel” Robbie Williams.
Mr. Chairman, when we met last year there was angst in the air; now, after the laps of 12 months I dare to hope peace has come. I reported to you at that time how changes were about, not only for the Guild but also for me too, and how we needed to embrace change, almost make a friend of it, if we are to have any chance of a future. I myself have experienced first-hand the rigors of change, and in many ways I stand before you today very much a changed man, indeed a changed priest; or in the words of Dickins’ Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”: “I’m not the man I once was”.
Last year I not only faced a significant birthday (60) a significant Jubilee (25) but also a new appointment which would mean leaving the familiar and embarking on a very uncertain future with three churches and three schools to navigate. Alas I was not strong enough for the task given and depression, isolation and despondency took hold and within a few weeks, having lost two stone in weight, I was recalled by the Bishop to stay at Cathedral House to “reenergise and convalesce”. But as is sometimes the way with these things, mental anxiety lead to physical ill health and for me the initial prognosis seemed bad. Indeed when I presented myself to the Consultant Urologist at that very early stage, they were looking at a 60 year old male with prostate cancer which had most likely spread to the bone.
The future was looking bleak as I realised, like many of you here, of a certain age, and those absent who have sent in apologies due to doctors appointments and post operation issues, we have far more years behind us than we do in front. For me funeral arrangements were thought about as was the prospect of telling nearest and dearest that this may very well be our last Christmas together; a very dark time indeed. And then, “I sit and talk to God and he just laughs at my plans”, as now the future is looking less bleak and the initial prognosis has changed indeed it’s possible my initial infection had been so severer that it had masked the symptoms of cancer and I’m awaiting the results of my second MR scan and trusting in the providence of God. I’ve now regained some of the weight loss and have been reappointed to a new parish that is very close to both my siblings. So the future is looking decisively better.
My reason for sharing this is not in search of your sympathy but to remind you as I’ve been reminded, we travel this way only once and for a very short time. Our pilgrimage is brief in the grand scheme of things, and how we interact and care for our fellow travellers along the way is our lasting gift, Hopefully they will remember us with fondness and as they do, we are, for those brief moments, alive within them once more. The Guild like ourselves is no stranger to change or loss. Very recently 28th May I received a message from one our loyal members P.C. Steve Clay, Essex Police, who not long after messaging me passed away. He wrote:
Dear Father Barry I hope you are well? I have some bad news I am afraid. I have been poorly for the last weeks and been in and out of Colchester General Hospital. My symptoms include a swollen tummy area which is effecting my diet. They have drained the liquid twice. I am told it is linked to cancer. The CT scan also shown a sprinkling of cancer on the membrane above my bowel area. Sad to say it is not the starting point of the cancer. It has already spread. I am told it is not curable. Could I ask you to pray for me please. And I am glad to say that my newly found faith is giving me some comfort. Peace be with you. Love Steve. Steve’s funeral took place on Tuesday 2nd July.
My prayer for the Guild and for its members, is one of peace, unity, compromise and understanding. Our common aim is one of support through the faith we share. That same faith that Steve Clay found comfort in as he accepted the hand and invitation of Jesus who once said “come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest”. And it is that same faith which allowed the bereaved and tearful Jesus to say to the grieving sisters of his good friend Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life”. None of us know what the future holds in store, we have no crystal ball that tells us the future. But we do have FAITH, faith that does tell us our future is with God. Sometimes that future may appear dimly as though seen through a veil, but together in peace, unity, and compromise, any fears or doubts we may ever have are premature. For as St. Paul reminds us “with God on our side who can be against us?” So together let us embrace the future and any changes necessity brings about, as we faithfully follow the way of the Lord.