Kelvin encourages us to paddle out to the waves!
There are 11 associate ministers in our benefice. Most of us are retired, though Sandra Tauson is working harder than ever because a hospital chaplain’s ministry during this pandemic is never-ending.
We are privileged to be in a benefice where Andy, our vicar, is supportive in giving us opportunities to contribute to our churches as much or as little as we want. Not all vicars are so generous.
There are around 12,000 retired clergy in the Church of England. Their number has doubled since 1990. In the same period the number of paid clergy in the Church of England below retirement age has decreased, so that retired clergy now easily outnumber them. And this trend will continue.
Most clergy have worries about retiring because it usually means not just the loss of support and companionship enjoyed at work, but also the loss of home, friends, and the familiar surroundings of the places where we have ministered over a period of years. So for us it can feel like Abraham, who in his mid-seventies ‘by faith […] set out, not knowing where he was going’ (Hebrews 11:8 NRSV). Just as the years of active ministry held all sorts or surprises, so too the years of retirement can hold all kinds of surprises for us. God alone knows how many years lie ahead of us; God alone knows how long we shall be blessed with health and strength. But one thing we do know, and that is that God promises to be with us, and so he will continue to be with us in all the twists and turns of the journey.
But maybe it’s a different Old Testament leader we should be inspired by. The eighty-five-year-old Caleb discovered that there are still mountains to climb (Joshua 14:10-13). Caleb asked for a challenge, not a cushion. He wanted more adventures in his ‘retirement’ years. There is a future to look forward to, and not just a past to look back upon. After all, as Paul Tournier wrote in his book Learning to Grow Old: ‘Of God alone can the Bible say that on the evening of the sixth day of creation he had completed his work.’ Which reminded me of the farmworker’s response to the vicar who told him off for working on the Sabbath, the day when God had rested: ‘Twas all right for ‘ee – ee’d finished ‘is work.’
So when will our work for God finish? When will God call time on our ministry? One of my former curates decided to stop when she turned 80. We are all different and who knows how I will feel at 80 – and yes, it is some way off! But I’m reminded that some football games go into extra time, and then there is the penalty shoot-out! Camilla Cavendish, in her book Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World, wrote: ‘”Extra time” is the period when there’s everything to play for’ and: ‘We need to see “Extra Time” as a starting point, not as the beginning of the end.’
Your associate ministers are still here with everything to play for and glad to join you in worship and working for God.
Learn to paddle out to the waves; wait for the right one; don’t worry if you miss it as another will be coming; be encouraged by other surfers and learn from them …
Kelvin Randall, assistant minister