Parish of Leatherhead: Rev Mike & Carol Stewart
Last Sunday, 25 September 2011

Time to say Goodbye

Rev Michael Stewart wrote in the October 2011 Parish Magazine:

By the time you read this (assuming the usual production timetable), I shall be gone. My four year “Title” as an Assistant Curate in the Parish of St Mary and St Nicholas will have come to an end. As with any trainee curate, the Bishop of Guildford granted me a licence for four years to serve you, the People of God in the Parish of Leatherhead.

When I first felt called to ordained ministry, I thought I would be best suited to liturgical matters (ie the leading of and preaching at services). I was less sure of my abilities or gifts at pastoral matters (ie dealing with parishioners’ day to day issues, both spiritually and practically), or with the “occasional offices” (baptisms, weddings and funerals or - as they tend to be called - “hatching, matching and despatching”). It has therefore surprised me that I have found these pastoral duties and occasional offices very rewarding. However, it is a matter for you, the Parishioners, to judge whether I have acquitted myself in these areas.

But it remains true that I have felt most drawn to leading worship, in a reverential but not necessarily over-solemn way. I know that not everyone has appreciated my sense of humour. But I remain convinced that Life needs to be seen (and experienced) “in the round”. Our lives are too often full of pain and hardness: a little humour can sometimes shine a ray of light and hope into our souls. We must be able to laugh at ourselves and others occasionally: it’s what makes us human. There is a point to it all. So reverence: yes; pompousness and piety: no.

I have therefore enjoyed the privilege of leading your services of worship, and I have also enjoyed my time among you as a preacher and teacher. Now I know that perhaps not everyone has enjoyed all my sermons (especially when they stray over the 10 minute “watershed”, or contain the odd Greek or Hebrew word!). However, I am grateful to those among you who have stuck with me when I am struggling to contextualise or explain this or that bit of the gospel lection. I know that preachers are supposed to “apply” the Scriptures to our daily lives. But I remain convinced that, in order to do this, the preacher first needs to put the relevant scriptural passage into “context”, ie to explain the historical circumstances in which the text arose and the range of possible meanings of the text in its original setting. Only then can the preacher stand a chance of applying the text to the current situation in the modern world. I am also a great believer in letting the congregation apply the biblical text for themselves, ie to apply it to their own lives. My job, as preacher, is to give them the tools to do so. And so I have sought to draw the congregation into the text.

The relationship between “preaching” and “teaching” continues to exercise me. Contrary to what we’re often taught at Theological College, I still believe that they are really two sides of the same coin. If we do not really “know” our Bible, then how can we start to apply it to our lives? A 10 minute sermon every Sunday is not really enough to teach us the Bible. So that is why I am a great believer in “Small Groups”, in which bible study and fellowship can go hand in hand (perhaps together with a glass of wine or two…). So I urge all of you to join one of these small groups. Linda Hauxwell will be pleased to place you in one of these groups to suit your current stage of the spiritual journey - on which we are all engaged.

Connected with the theme of teaching, I was privileged to lead some of you on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009 (was it that long ago?). Whilst it was - in some ways - a bit of a holiday (come on, let’s be honest!), I personally found the whole experience extremely rewarding. As the spiritual leader of the pilgrimage, I had to do quite a bit of preparation behind the scenes, but I found that this served only to deepen the experience for me. It’s the same experience that I get from preparing for my sermons and for my seminar talks: whilst I have to do a fair amount of preparatory reading beforehand, the “payback” to me personally is always more than worthwhile. And I hope that the impact - on those that hear the sermon, the seminar talk or who went on the Pilgrimage - justifies the effort put in.

I have also enjoyed leading home groups on a number of different topics (for me perhaps the highlight was discussing the novel “The Shack” over a four week period in Linda Hauxwell’s home group a couple of years ago). In recent months, I have extended my teaching to larger groups (of about 25). These seminar series covered the “Old Testament Prophets”, and “Other Faiths”. It is a regret that I shall not be able to continue my teaching ministry here. But I am confident that you will, over time, come to grow as “Disciples of Christ”, as envisaged by your “Vision”.

Some of you will know that, for me, music is one of the most direct ways of experiencing God. Music can provide an “immediate” experience of the Divine, the Numinous. Normally, our experiences of God tend to be “mediated” through something - text, image, action. It was Schopenhauer who correctly identified the unique power of music to commune directly with God. Music shows us God, rather trying to tell us about Him, or trying to describe Him in words. I arrived here four years ago at a difficult time musically. Our previous Director of Music, David Oliver, was terminally ill, and after his sad death the choir struggled on without a formal leader for almost two years. The interregnum and the subsequent delay in appointing a new Organist meant that the choir had to look after itself. Richard Price and latterly Peter Steadman have provided excellent temporary support, and I myself was involved in arranging a succession of temporary “locum” organists to play for us each Sunday. It is therefore with considerable relief that I can leave the Parish with a new Organist and Choirmaster finally in post.

When Canon David Eaton invited me to join him as his Assistant Curate, he did warn me that he would not “be around” by the end my curacy. And so it transpired. Within 17 months of my arrival here after being deaconed in September 2007, David had retired. However, he left behind him two (I hope!) well-trained assistant curates and a strong team of Churchwardens and Assistant Churchwardens. Mary Cruddas and I (along with Gail and Sister Maureen) much enjoyed our short-lived freedom as your clergy leaders. We enjoyed working with the Churchwardens to ensure quality services and worship during the interregnum. I am sure that this experience was useful to Mary in preparation for her subsequent ministry as Team Vicar elsewhere. I wish to express my appreciation for the support I received from the team of Churchwardens at that time, and also to the Churchwardens before and after the nine-month interregnum.

But, as they say, all good things (from my point of view!) come to an end, and so the interregnum of course had to come to an end. Your new Incumbent was installed in November 2009 and proceeded to put into practice the changes which had been highlighted in the “Statement of Needs” and the “Parish Profile”. Change is never going to be comfortable. We (or most of us, anyway) are naturally allergic to change: “What was wrong with the old ways?” But, like the dinosaurs (forgive the cliché), we have to change or die. I know that many of you are uncomfortable with some of the changes being proposed or already introduced. But, rest assured, there is no agenda to undermine or do away with Traditional worship-style services. On the contrary, the plan is to improve and enhance those services as much as introduce new, Contemporary-style worship services. As your Rector is always saying: “it’s not a question of ‘either/or’, but, rather ‘both/and’.”

I must draw this, my last communication to you, the Parishioners of Leatherhead, to a close. I have had good times and bad times here, as in my life generally. I have not always seen eye-to-eye with the “powers-that-be”. But I hope that the excellent training that David Eaton gave me in my first 17 months here paid off in my ministry to you all during the subsequent interregnum. I am grateful to all those who have supported me in my ministry here over these past four years.

I leave you with my blessings for the future. The Peace of the Lord be with you!
The Revd Mike Stewart, latterly your Assistant Curate

Gail Partridge - Rev Mike Stewart - Rev Kuhan Satkunanayagam

Gail Partridge - Rev Mike Stewart - Carol Stewart - Rev Kuhan Satkunanayagam - Rev Graham Osborne

Mike and Sue Parrott

At the lunch in the Parish Hall: Jane Haslam - Mike - Peter Leith

Mike receives one of his gifts - a Commentary on the Book of Revelation - from Churchwarden Linda Hauxwell

in full flow

... and keeping an eye on the gift of wine

Carol with bouquet, Mike and Linda

page created 13 Oct 2011
images: unless otherwise stated, Frank Haslam