I have (and perhaps more significantly they have) survived my first year as the incumbent, Vicar, parish priest, and village idiot! And what a year it has been.
I remember saying, at the bunfight after my Big Service, that I was never called to be at college or else to be the trainee - but that I was called by God (in line with those called to parish ministry) to that moment and to this year - to Vicardom. Whilst I was richly blessed by all the formative experiences, this for me was the job 'for real' and having completed the first year, am utterly convinced that I am doing what I was born to do.
It is said that the learning curve of curacy is nothing when compared to that of early incumbency. Whoever said that spoke the truth, though I suspect that they may have been thinking about other things - because for this newbie Vicar it has been a year when I have learned not so much about the job but about me. Put it another way, I end a year knowing how the next will be different, for me.
Becoming the Vicar in a parish that had had a long vacancy/interregnum (and in this case a very positive one, I think) is interesting. No-one wants to change anything during that time and the mindset falls into one of 'survival' at all costs. In this parish, some wonderful things came to life in that liminal space and some of those opportunities have gone on to yield much fruit. However, it is also fair to say that the parish I took on was one where the 'systems' were creaking and where the flock were, to a greater or lesser extent, tired.
So, how did I approach my first year? The first thing I did was to fall in love with 'my Whitton'. If you don't love the place you cannot properly serve it, and in loving it you set your heart to doing what you can for it. I am a territorial priest, and my manor is my manor - for me to minister to with those who walk with me. The next thing was to come up with a million inner-resolutions about how I expected to proceed - all of which were disregarded fairly quickly, truth be known. This year has been about the 'packaging' of parish life - the building, its money matters, processes and practices. Are we properly hospitable even in our absence? What does the passer-by experience in us and our buildings? Each of those considerations brought specific change - not for its own sake, but because the answer to the questions begged an action or a new direction.
What have we achieved in this year? First, we have survived the year! Second, we are a church whose doors are open daily, and have been so for most of the year. It is bearing fruit, much fruit. We have renovated our parish hall from the dismal wreck that it was to the modern venue it now is. We have changed the access arrangements at the front of the church so that prams and wheelchairs can get in without ascending steps. More importantly, I believe truly that we have learned a little about enjoying our worshipping life. That isn't to say that the liturgy is diluted or dumbed-down - quite the opposite, but I think the faces at the door afterwards speak of renewed enjoyment. We have come to a place where we recognise that we need to define ourselves properly and our mission to Whitton. We have broken down some of those minor fiefdoms that seem to populate parish life. The Sunday-Club tendencies are passing and we are now seeing that we are a parish that is open to all - and that when they come, we feel good.
As for me, I do far too much and in that I fail. This year, having done the work of seed sowing, will be a year of pruning and shaping. Some bits of Operation Cloakey will need staking so that they don't topple in the next storm, but perhaps more importantly, after the weeding and tilling, there will be some feeding. It has been a wonderful year where I feel very much like I have come of age as a disciple. I seem to make a small difference and I don't appear to have wounded anyone permanently.
May God bless 'my Whitton', this wonderful parish, this gift of priestly ministry placed into these unworthy hands, the family who support me and love me even when I am in my darkest mood, and the dog who eats my arms - often.