There is a wonderful section in the Book of Ecclesiastes that says: 'There is a time for everything under Heaven'. The words are extremely realistic in its portrayal of human life and living, saying such things as 'A time to be born and a time to die' as well as 'A time for mourning and a time for dancing'. The passage, which can be found in Chapter 3, concludes with this delightful advice: 'There is nothing good for anyone except to be happy and live the best life they can while they are is alive' (vs 12).
This passage is very much to the forefront of my mind, as my family and I prepare to say our fond farewells to our many, many friends in Suffolk and the Eastern Regions. We are soon to head back to West Yorkshire our home county. It is amazing to think that we left Yorkshire over 19 years ago, not realising that we would spend thirteen years in Clacton-on-Sea, and then, just over six years ago, venturing across the border into Suffolk as we responded to the Call of Christ to serve through the United Reformed Church in these parts.
During our time here we have witnessed many beginnings and endings in which we have both cried as well as laughed. We have known the unity and peace that Christ seeks to offer, but equally known times of tension and uncertainty. There have been times when we have seen growth and transformation in the life of local churches and communities, but equally times of resistance to change which I know only too well is a necessary part of living together. I know there have been many times when our relationship has brought great joy and blessings, and for these I give my humble thanks, but, equally, for the times when things haven't quite worked out as planned, I can only acknowledge, along with St. Paul, that 'I am but a cracked pot' (2 Corinthians 4: 7)
But, as with many endings, these things are beyond our control, and there is the realisation that 'Now is the time to say goodbye'. Given that my retirement has been put back twice, I am extremely grateful to those who have expressed surprise at my age! But retire I must, and, within the United Reformed Church, there is the requirement to move away from the pastorates to which a minister has served - hence our return to West Yorkshire.
We leave with hearts that are heavy, knowing we have made many dear friends in our time 'down South' who have blessed, sustained, encouraged, supported and cared for us as a family, and enabled us to serve the Lord faithfully and obediently in our time among you. We take with us many wonderful memories that will sustain us as we venture 'From the old to the new'.
We can say without a shadow of doubt that we have been extremely happy living amongst you, and have considered it a great honour and privilege to have been given this time to live among you all. We hope that we have managed to repay your trust and goodwill by living 'The best life that we have been able' - all to the greater glory and praise of our God.
Many of you will know that I have a great passion for all things that are Celtic. Let me leave you with one of my favourite blessings:
'May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
From the bottom of our hearts, we want to say a big THANK YOU for walking with us on this part of our journey of faith and service.