I finish as Vicar of St. John's Roslyn this Thursday, so today was my last Sunday. I was awake at 4:30 am, so had no bother being on time for the 8:00 am Eucharist. I wasn't very pleased with the way my sermon went at the early service: it seemed more like something for starting the next chapter rather than finishing this one; so between the services I swapped it for something else. Just before 10 I gathered with the choir for the last time and said my vestry prayer, then, also for the last time walked down the aisle as Vicar of St. John's. Or as Vicar of anywhere as a matter of fact. It's been 11 quick watch us as we zip past so darned fast you won't see us unless you're very sharp years here in Roslyn. But it's been 28 years since I first walked down an aisle as the Vicar of somewhere else. Half my life, more or less.
Today we had two visitors, so I knew who the other 162 people were although that didn't stop me having a couple of mental blocks regarding names when they knelt at the altar rail . For the last time I looked down at those sacred spaces made by two upstretched palms. Kneeling at the rail were people whose weddings I presided at and others beside whom I have walked in bereavement and illness. There were people who have told me things they have told no-one else alive. I knelt to bless children I have baptised. There were many of all ages whom I have watched grow - physically, intellectually, spiritually - in spectacular ways. There were people I admire. 164 of them.
At the end of the service I sat with Clemency while the choir sang to us, and then we followed the parish banner from out from our church. There was morning tea, then speeches and a lunch. People spoke with great eloquence and sincerity while Clemency and I sat and looked back at a great sea of smiling, encouraging, but pensive faces. The parish gave me a spectacular and astonishingly carved kauri crozier and a simple silver episcopal ring. We were given a stunning work from our parishioner, the renowned printmaker Audrey Bascand and a graceful and strong Oamaru stone carving by Craig McLanachan. Alan Firth wrote me a poem in the style of JRR Tolkien in which he compared me to Gandalf. I told Clemency that red beads weren't a great idea today as they brought out the colour of her eyes. I was glad I wasn't wearing any.
Then, after the hugs and kisses and handshakes, we carried our gifts and our cards and a little book in which people had written kind things back into this gracious house, which has sheltered us for the last 11 years; and the tiredness swept over me and washed me away. The first step on the road ahead means leaving the road behind. The way ahead is as yet unknown but its not daunting. As time goes on, my sense of what may lie ahead keeps on growing: it all promises to be quite exciting. I have no doubt at all that I am going where I am supposed to be, but today was a time to savour the past, and gratefully and sadly acknowledge what we are having to forsake in order to take the path that winds ever on and on.