Commitment-Phobe: Farewell tears
Grieving for my minister
I never expected to become friends with the Vicar. Being only recently converted from atheism, I wasn’t so interested in vesting authority in the person guiding the spiritual life of our church. But then I became close friends with the Vicar’s wife and then our children went to nursery together and became best friends. I knew I wasn’t ever going to get weird about the Vicar in a churchy way though. For example, a friend who recently became a minister in another denomination told me they have rules prohibiting a retired minister from worshipping at the same church – ideally they should leave that location and live somewhere else. “Whatever, for?” I asked. I was told that it was to avoid undermining the new minister, conflict and divided loyalties in the congregation. “It’s just a job,” I thought. “Everyone is being too highly strung.”
On learning that our Vicar and his family were leaving to go to another church, however, it turned out I was not the cool former atheist I thought I was. I was totally devastated, and angry − because in normal life your friend doesn’t announce their departure publicly without having told you anything about it for the four months it took them to decide! I found out as everyone else did, in a public announcement. I thought I was one of the special friends. Was I just one of many parishioners supported by this family in a sociable and friendly way, but nothing more? Was this relationship a one-way conversation, with me asking for help and advice, and them giving, but getting nothing in return? And didn’t my child deserve to find out differently about her best friend leaving?
I noticed a lot of “me, me, me” in that, and it wasn’t sitting well with me. We’ve had friends move away before. This will be the fourth set of friends who have left London in the last three years. One friend went to France, another to Australia. We have weathered these changes with grace, goodwill and hope. What is so different this time? As a family this is our first church relationship, and I had not realised, until now, just how many aspects of one’s life it enters. There is the spiritual, obviously; there is the local (schools, bumping into people walking around); there is the constant Sunday repetition of saying hello, hanging out briefly and checking in on each other; there is the camaraderie as you volunteer for one event or another; and there is the general alchemy of friendship that is harder to explain. This family has entered so many aspects of our lives that their parting is a grief that cannot be easily compartmentalised. There will be constant reminders – going past their vacant home on the walk to nursery, their absence at the nursery gate, their space on the front pew and in Sunday school…
This is an extract from the April 2016 edition of Reform.