I have just enjoyed another wonderful evening in the company of the civic community of Aylesbury, the town where I minister. It was the annual 'Mayor-Making' ceremony, where one Mayor stepped aside for another.
Last year, I shared the chaplaincy to the Mayor, and you will be aware of some of the exploits that the Mayor and I shared during 2011. The first was a tandem bike-ride, the other a tandem sky-dive. They were both examples of the civic and ecclesiastical working together well, and in a reciprocal and warm way - in my modest opinion. My time as a chaplain to the out-going mayor has been a remarkable time for me, and I think for him too. Both of us have done things we would never have thought possible a year ago, and as such we come away from such experiences better. That we got on so well to start with was a great help.
I am now firmly of the view that the church has a place in civic life. We are all in our jobs to the same end - to serve the people among whom we live. We do it, I think, less with a spirit of self than with a spirit of service. Of course we all have our passions, and it was clear that Cllr Webster's passion was for the betterment of the young people of this amazing town. It is a thing that I share with him.
Part of the 'arrangement' is liturgical, of course - with a number of large civic services required during a normal year. The greater benefit is to be found in the constancy of the relationship. We the priests seem to have been known by almost everyone this evening - and in good ways. We had a place there, official or supportive. In either case, we were legitimate guests at the figurative and literal table. A lot of this is about being public figures with other people on our hearts. A clear acknowledgement of that shared aspiration makes for a potent and very mutual end result. I don't think that this is simply limited to Christian circles either. Part of the arrangement sees me and my Rector as members of a Council that negotiated and advocates for ethnic and credal minorities. That we are Christians is less important than the fact that we are people of faith. The events surrounding the demonstrations of fascist and racist groups in our town a year ago is further proof, if any were needed, of the great good that people of faith can do in the right circumstances.
On a personal level, this evening represented the beginning of a long ending in Aylesbury. My assistance to the mayoral chaplaincy is now ended and a few goodbyes made, even now. As a curate, a priest in training, my time as Graham's co-chaplain will form a treasured memory among so many of working alongside those men and women who devote so much of themselves and their time to champion a town and its people. Sadly, the community in its zeal to react to wider political circumstances, did not re-elect Graham to its council this year, which is a considerable pity and a significant loss to the town. For me, there are just wonderful memories of some whacky times, but times that will always prove to me that the church and faith have a voice and place at the table of civic life.