I've taken services two days in a row at the Church of the Resurrection in Ely, as Jan their Vicar is on leave to recover from surgery at the moment. Today it was a funeral, followed by burial up at Western Cemetery, just as the afternoon temperature went down to minus five or thereabouts, and there always seems to be a chill wind up there on the hillside overlooking Ely. The car transporting me to and fro took me right back into town to the office by four, as I had some jobs to do. It took the entire 20 minute journey to thaw out - and I was wearing the ski jacket I took to Canada with me! I didn't get home until eight thirty, so it's just as well that Clare has gone out early to her study group meeting, and didn't miss me coming home for supper.
Yesterday I celebrated the midweek Eucharist in 'the Res' in honour of the Conversion of St Paul, a day late, for nine people - seven of us communicated. The remaining two were a couple of friends in their early thirties attending worship because they'd starting preparation for Baptism as adults this coming Easter. One said that his child was to be christened in the coming year. Presumably this had nudged him into starting his journey.
On the feast of Paul's conversion itself, I popped into St David's Cathedral for their midday Mass on my way to work, just across the road in Charles Street from our Business Safe Office. After all, it was the last day of Christian Unity Week, so I thought I should make an ecumenical effort and attend a service in a church not my own, even if it wasn't an ecumenical service. The Catholic Mass has been familiar to me since its introduction in English back in the early seventies, when I belonged to a University Chaplaincy ecumenical team. I attended Mass on campus at least once most weeks of term, so it became something of a spiritual second home to me - or perhaps a spiritual third home.
At University I became equally familiar and comfortable worshipping in the Orthodox Liturgy, before really knowing anything about Latin liturgy. I was blessed by belonging to a culture of curiosity about faith and worship matters during my early spiritual formation. In more liberal times, I received Communion at Catholic Masses and even con-celebrated with Catholic priests - once was in French, along with a Protestant pastor, and Catholic clergy presided over by a Swiss Bishop!. Never have I received the sacrament at an Orthodox Liturgy, however. Often, in either environment I wished I could identify more fully and feel I really belong, but that wholesome personal desire for unity with another community never amounted to a temptation to convert.
I'd like to think my non-conversion isn't a matter of having a vested interest in remaining an Anglican priest because my livelihood depended on not doing so. Such a complete change of allegiance and identity could only have spiritual value as a result of a calling from God to witness differently in a particular context, or become part of some unique mission requiring this life change. Each job move in my clerical career emerged as a calling out of a discomforting sense that what we'd moved into a place to achieve was as good as done.
It was like that when it came to retirement. But given the problems encountered in recruiting a replacement for me I sometimes wonder - did I get that one right? I rejoice in freedom from responsibility worries, being able to pray without pressure, spending more time with the grandchildren, travelling without having to organise locum duty cover first. (My darling wife Clare, bless her, organises pussy cat feeders.). I'm also glad to find I can still convert thoughts to intelligible prose. I've written nearly four thousand words over the past ten days of regular effort since I started my book project. What I miss is preaching regularly, so I hope my off-the-cuff homily on St Paul at yesterday's midweek Eucharist didn't cause anyone dismay - I'm booked in to do those midweek celebrations until Jan returns from leave.