St Bride's: Sermons

The uncertainty of Advent

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Are you, I wonder, one of those people who likes surprises, or are you just the opposite? That surprise birthday party for instance, when you thought you were coming home to a quiet evening with a couple of friends or the surprise holiday when your partner tells you to pack a suitcase and bring your passport and you'll find out your destination at the airport check-in.

Surprises can be exciting, or they can be a bit of a risk, and we tend to greet them with slight apprehension because most of us, if we're honest, like life to be predictable. And yet this is Advent Sunday, when we are invited to look ahead to the future, with all its uncertainties, with hope and expectation: When we are almost encouraged to celebrate surprise: keep awake, for you do not know the day or the hour.

Well, this Advent Sunday I have a sort of surprise announcement to share with you - and its indirectly connected with the Advent theme. Today I want to share with you that I plan to retire from full time ministry next summer. By then I shall be 67 years old, I shall have served for 40 years as a priest in the Church of England, I shall have been Rector of St Bride's for 14 years and Archdeacon of London for 5. I am still very happy here, and loving what I do, but I feel it is always a good idea to leave while you are ahead and things are going well. It seems the right moment to step aside and to hand on the baton to someone else, and I am making this announcement now so that the parish has plenty of time to plan the process for appointing my successor.

During the past thirteen years we have achieved a number of significant things: we have sustained our links with the media industry, we have developed our involvement in the Livery and City world, our Sunday congregations remain strong, our visitor ministry has grown, and our music is as impressive and vibrant as ever. Financially we are on a sound footing and we have successfully completed the first phase of our restoration project. Phase 2 will be launched next year. None of this could have been achieved without the enthusiastic support of many people, and one of the really encouraging things over recent years has been the involvement of growing numbers of people in the congregation in the day to day ministry of this church. I believe that St Bride's is in good heart and good shape for the future.

I will be sad to leave all this, and all of you, behind next summer, but Rosemary and I will begin a new stage of life and ministry when we move to Kidlington, just outside Oxford, and back to the City where I was born and the Diocese where I spend the first 27 years of my ministry.

I will be officially retiring as Rector of St Bride's on Easter Day next year, remaining as Archdeacon with the Bishop's permission to officiate within the parish until 31st July. This is a legal fiction which will enable the formal process of appointing a successor to begin well before the summer. The Churchwardens and PCC will be managing the process and liaising with our wider constituencies, with the Bishop of London, and with our Patron, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. They will keep you informed as things progress. Meanwhile, of course, the work of the church goes on, with a busy Advent and much else over the next six months.

So perhaps a surprise for some of you, but not unexpected by others - certainly the next twelve months will be a time of change and challenge. So yes, most of us like life to be predictable, but Jesus in the Gospels often challenges us to live with uncertainty. And often living and working with uncertainty does bring good things. It allows us to imagine things being different, and better. Not knowing the future encourages us to dream and to embrace new possibilities

Advent challenges us to rekindle our imagination, to be alert with anticipation and, yes, a degree of uncertainty and apprehension. We are invited to give ourselves over to the journey with an uncertain ending, trusting that Christ who is in charge of the journey, loves us and guides us, and that at the end of the road there will be good things which we hadn't begun to imagine.

Lord, you are the journey and the journey's end. Go with us as we travel into the future, and especially over the next twelve months, help us to live with hope and expectation and always to rejoice that wherever the journey leads you walk beside us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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