So Long, Farewell

Like me, some of you are old enough to remember when the film of the musical ‘The Sound of Music’ came out in 1965. I think I went to see it the first time, aged 11, with my Nan! I fell in love with it and went back several times on my own! The words of it’s last song, ‘So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye’ have kept on coming back to me as I thought about writing what is, as I prepare to retire, my farewell article for Reaching Out. Just as  that film still evokes strong feelings in me, so the thought of leaving St. Augustine’s, a sense of  sadness yes, I always think of my dear old Nan when I hear that song, a nostalgia and yearning for the past, definitely, anxiety for the future certainly –and yet like the Von Trapp family there is in saying Goodbye a brave looking forward to that future whatever it holds – at least my wife and I haven’t got to climb any mountains or cross any streams!

I have kept every copy of Reaching Out, mainly because it is the only record I have of all that has gone on over the last 30 years! I well remember launching this leaflet, delivered to every home in North Town, in 1991. I churned out over 3,000 copies on a far from reliable photocopier, having to turn the paper to produce a double sided leaflet! My first very brief  article was about  the Church of England’s Decade of Evangelism, there wasn’t any humour and no political comment, both of which there has been plenty in the years since, as I have tried to match the proclamation of the Gospel with daily life!

Where have all the years gone, the endless round of daily parish life, the Baptisms, around 1,000, weddings, I wish there had been more, and the funerals too! The fund raising and social events, Boot Sales, Jumble Sales, Bazaars and Fairs, Teddy Bear’s Picnics, Junior Discos, before they started at the Prince’s Hall, Burns Night Suppers, Italian evenings, Tea Dances, 

Western Nights and Quiz Nights, Friends of North Town Christmas Dinners-in the old days a pint of milk to take home from Stay’s Dairy, the Horticultural Show, Harvest Suppers and Lunches, Garden Parties, Coffee Mornings and Bingo! The many special services in Church       celebrating National events or the various liturgical feasts we have celebrated with some of our Bishops, always with plenty of food and drink to round off the occasion and share in fellowship together. We have of course always tried to keep pace with changing times, what worked in 1990 isn’t necessarily going to work in 2020!

As well as all the  happy memories all these things bring to mind I am pleased to say that although like, most churches we struggle with diminishing congregations and lack of funds I leave St Augustine’s in good heart. When I arrived in 1989 the chancel was collapsing and the church was looking forward to being reordered, a work recorded as starting ‘very soon’ in that first Reaching Out. At the time it was a leap of faith financially but we did it together and so the beautiful, light and airy church visitors see today. The Hall too has had a number of ‘facelifts’ in those past 30 years and people remark on how good the facilities are! My hope and prayer for the future is that the church in North Town will continue to Reach Out to the parish and the local community, strongly committed to the work of proclaiming the Gospel and faithfully celebrating the sacraments; I also hope and pray that the right Vicar will be appointed to replace me in due course, bringing a fresh pair of eyes and a new vision as we move forward into the 2020’s.

As the Church looks forward to celebrating Eastertide there is always beyond the sadness of parting, new life and joy to come. Whatever the future holds Jesus never abandons his flock, whether that be  his presence we celebrate every time the Mass is offered, his intercession he offers for us in Heaven, or the guidance He offers through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We all have a faith journey to make, for some of us, we are like Abraham, we are stepping forward on a journey into an unknown land, for others we are, despite some uncertainty, on more familiar territory! For all believers the words of Jesus echo down the ages, ‘Lo I am with you, even to the end of time!’

                      your friend and priest,  Father Keith