Each quarter for the past 12 years, I've written a one-page article at the front of The Well, the magazine our church produces for the whole village community and distributes free of charge to every household.
Here is the "vicar's letter" from the most recent Summer 2021 edition.
“And now the end is near, so I face the final curtain.” So begins one of Elvis’s most well-known songs, “My Way”.
I write my 49th and final “Vicar’s Letter” for The Well Magazine. The end is near; a few weeks after this issue is published, we’ll set sale for Scarborough in North Yorkshire and leave you in the care of the church here, led by whoever comes to be the next vicar.
As I look back on 12 years, there are some ways in which it’s both true and good to say that “I did it my way”. I hope I’ve been true to my own convictions. Christian ministry is also personal; my ministry here has been inevitably coloured by my particular personality. Both of those are good things; they relate to integrity.
There are other ways in which it would be a bad thing for me to have “done it my way”. At times, I’m sure I’ve done things out of self-interest, or to satisfy my own preferences. I’m only human, after all (although I’ll come back to that thought). Insofar as that has been the case, I apologise. I’m here to serve others. You can’t please all of the people, all of the time, so I’m not here to be a people-pleaser, but it’s certainly not the intention that I’m here to serve myself.
Self-rumination aside, Elvis’s refrain, “I did it my way!”, is a motto of the human race. We’re fiercely independent. We don’t like to be told what to do. We all say, “I make my own decisions”.
It’s good to take responsibility for our own choices. It’s not good, however, to fail to see our need to care for others, or to see the authority others rightly have over us. If we go through life, each of us living like we’re mini gods, we’ll be on collision course with everyone we meet. The result is disagreement, war and conflict. More disastrously, we’re on collision course with the living God. He’s not someone you can pick a fight with, and expect to win.
This is the world Jesus was born into. He is the only human being who has ever lived whose anthem was never “I did it my way”. Yes, he was the eternal Son of God, but he was also a human being. As a human being, he consistently said to God the Father, “You do it your way”. He most famously rejected Elvis’s refrain in the Garden of Gethsemane. The night before he died, he’d have loved any other path than the death he was about to face. He took his anguish to God and prayed, “Not what I will, but what you will.”
Because he was the one human being to live the right way, he was the only one who could rescue us from the consequences of our own self-centredness. He went through with the death he dreaded, crushed in the darkness; he exchanged places with people who had picked a fight with God and so deserved the fate he suffered.
Of course, we all know the story didn’t end there. On the first Easter Day he rose from the dead. The one human being who is not marred by wanting to live for his own foibles and comfort is the one now at the helm of the universe. He lives to welcome all those who want to be rescued from the consequences of “doing it my way”, and who want to be transformed into better people whose song becomes “I do it his way”.
The time has come for us to leave Kemsing. If you missed why we’re leaving, you could read last quarter’s Vicar’s Letter (kmwd.org/well-spring-2021) or watch the presentation I gave to our church family (kmwd.org/leave-vid). In essence, I believe the Church of England has made Elvis’s song its anthem, and therefore a new context is needed for Christian ministry.
We’re sad to leave, but we leave with many happy memories, and many new friends. I’d love nothing more than for the legacy of my time among you to be that I have introduced you to this Jesus, or helped you to discover fresh ways in which he’s more wonderful than you ever realised.
With every blessing! Your friend and vicar,