How to disengage after 24 years as incumbent in the same place? How to explain it and and then how to do it. Here's my first attempt in the Parish Magazine to explain about handing over the role of vicar:-
I have been asked some good and kind questions about retiring from being vicar. So, I have been trying to explain how it works. At issue is that unusual relationship between a vicar/rector and the people and places in which he serves, the parishes.
We are fortunate here that two out of our four parishes have resident clergy. In the changing village over the last century or so, many of the ‘community servants’ who used to live and work in the same parish have moved away. The successors to the resident head teacher, nurse, doctor, midwife, policeman, undertaker, builder, blacksmith, taxi driver, bus company, haulier of 1912 have all gone. For good reasons and bad, the model of support of a village is now less holistic and self-sufficient and more remote: professional intervention from outside. In the 21st century village, only the farmer, publican, parish clerk, shop-keeper and clergy still live and work on the same patch. The trend is strongly in the opposite direction. A more efficient use of scarce resources? Maybe. Good for building the networks of village community life? Definitely not. The wider the variety of resident workers in a village, the deeper the all round personal investment in its life.
It moves me to be currently last in a long sequence of vicar’s names on a church wall, stretching back to the 13th century. Vicar and rector are strong public roles which a number of men have filled over the years, like a relay baton passed on from one generation to another. They really have lived here too, through Black Death, Plague, Civil War and Reformation; through changes of dynasty and sovereign; through enclosures and agricultural riots, good and poor harvests, through acute poverty and comparative plenty. From this point of view, it is the role which is the important thing, not so much the people who have carried it for their few years. On the other hand, it really does matter who each person is, whether they are acceptable, accepting and accepted – whether their life and spirit can survive the 360̊ exposure to living and working in the same place.
In retiring, it is the role which requires us to move away. The incoming vicar must take the baton for his or her stage of the race without another hand also upon it. So I must give my successor, when appointed (it may take until late 2013), freedom from my interference in the role. When I leave, I cease to have any right at all to minister or live here, because the right only comes with being vicar. That of course leads me into the dilemma which I shall write about later this year in Part 2: the other, more personal side of leaving. That needs a lot of care and prayer – and understanding.