Dear Friends …
I discovered a long time ago, when I was working as a verger in London (at another church named after St. John the Evangelist, just by chance), that clergy should go out of their way to be generous with their “thank yous”. Noting the difference between those clergy who offered thanks freely and those who did not — more specifically, noting the difference in my own attitude towards my work, my managers, and my sense of my own work’s value — I swore all those years ago that, if I were ever ordained (and thus in a position to ask for work and dedication from others), I would always seek to be one of the former. In the many years since, as I’ve grown from verger and student, to ordinand, to trainee, to curate, to priest-in-charge, my perspectives on the church and its workings have often grown and changed with me, sometimes radically. But this particular lesson has never left; quite the opposite: every new perspective or role I’ve gained has only served to deepen and enrich in my mind the importance of the simple “thank you”.
For Christians, it is a theological truth as well as a practical one. It is written into the scriptures themselves, when St. Paul tells us that, not only are we the body of Christ, not only do we exist as a community of people or not at all, but that each of us has a role. The foot, says Paul, cannot say “I’ll only be an eye” because the whole body isn’t an eye, nor would it function if it were. Rather, each of us has skills, talents, and passions that, only when put all together, contributes to the well-being of the whole. We become what we are — indeed, we become better than what we are — because the Spirit draws together all of our gifts for the thriving of God’s Church, and through that, for building the firstfruits of his Kingdom. This is the order of things, and — insofar as it is also the way of God the Creator — it is necessarily so.
So let me pause at the turning of a new year to express my heartfelt appreciation and thanksgiving for all who have worked so hard to make our church shine throughout these seasons of Advent and Christmas. In these four or five weeks, we have had several hundred people flow through our doors to hear our music, see our lights, enjoy our flowers and decor, to join in our hospitality, and even to bagsy a bargain or two at our Fayre. It is by no means lost on me how much effort goes into making these events successful. Most of it, if I’m really going to be honest, is not my own; despite my public-facing role, my ministry and our ministry would be impoverished indeed without everyone who contributes so regularly and gives of themselves so that we all might thrive together.
This is just as true throughout the year, as well. Advent and Christmas may be our most high profile time of year as far as the general public is concerned. Yet, day to day, we sustain a far higher number of Sunday (and Wednesday) parishioners than most; funerals, baptisms, and weddings ministries that reach thousands in the course of a year (and which certainly do not run themselves!). There are songs to be sung, flowers to be arranged, floors to be cleaned, coffees to be served, people to be greeted, children to be taught, liturgies to be acted out, prayers to be prayed, computers to run, buildings to maintain, funds to be managed, an office to organise, constant discussions and consultations to be had — all in concert, just to keep the show on the road. All of this, when you spell it out, is a huge undertaking — almost all of which is given to St. John’s by its people on a voluntary basis for the benefit of us all.
I cannot but look at the array of people serving us, each in his or her own way, and be humbled. If I were to name names, this letter might take up the whole magazine. But I am reminded at the new year of that lesson I learnt so long ago: that (as Christ himself said) “the worker deserves his wage”, even if that wage is only as simple as a sincere expression of thanks. It reminds me that, if I walk out of a church on any given day without having said “thank you” to at least one person, I will have failed in my duty to you and, indeed, to God. I hope, of course, that we all will be looking to thank one another, not only for what we do, but for who we are, in the course of the coming year, day by day. But if the clergy’s job is anything, it is to try (in our own flawed way) to set the tone. So let me begin by saying thank you to all — all who have given, all who would have given more if they were able, and all who have stayed amongst us to pray, and to love, and to welcome the children of God to the house of God. You are far more of a blessing to us, and to me, than you probably know.