Clergy Blog - November 2017

I got a shock/frisson of excitement when I opened the Church Times on September 22nd and saw on page 43 a prominent advert headed Philip Cousins“Vicar of Llandudno.” “ Wow, that’s my old job up for grabs” I thought. However, I ought not to have been surprised because I knew that my successor in Llandudno was retiring (they still send me their parish magazine) at the end of October. It seems, though, that the Diocese of  Bangor is wasting no time in order to fill that most desirable vacancy.

After listing the scenic attractions of the North Wales coast, this Church Times advert concluded by saying “ the new Vicar will lead a  warm, diligent and collaborative church community into a new chapter of its life and witness.” Well, that is a credit to my successor (and, I hope, a little bit to me too) for all that we tried to build up there in recent years.

I genuinely believe that those very same sentiments apply here at St. Edward’s.  In many ways – apart from the lack of a seaside ! – the parish of Dringhouses  is rather like Llandudno, which is why Janet and I have been so happy here since leaving North Wales thirteen years ago. Let me try to say why this is so. We have here a body of able and motivated lay people who, in their manifold roles (listed on  the front and back pages of this magazine) are indeed ”diligent” in carrying out their tasks in the congregation and indeed the community at large. We are “collaborative“ in working TOGETHER towards a common goal and, as with the preaching team currently providing this leading article, we do operate as a team – or, shall I say ,as a set of interlocking teams. Lastly, we are “ warm “ (not just in the fact of having well heated premises !)but really friendly and welcoming to all comers, I truly believe. You know, when Janet and I first arrived, we came to St. Edward’s on our first Sunday as strangers and were immediately noticed, chatted with and invited to coffee afterwards. That did it ! We were on board !

In another recent copy of the Church Times I noticed a phrase which both alarmed and instructed me. It was in an article about parish life today and the phrase was “parish possessiveness.”I can’t remember what the writer of the article meant by it but those two words spoke to me. They reminded me of how incumbents tend to identify themselves exclusively with their particular parish. It’s a “holy “version, I suppose, of “being married to the job .” I remember being carried away from St. Matthew’s, Addis Ababa in tears because, with all its frustrations (including a revolution) I had so enjoyed running my own church for the first time. it had been “my patch.” But I have had numerous successors there in the past fifty years and St. Matthew’s is still going strong. In other words, that church did not “ belong “to me personally. I did not “possess “it.

It’s  been a hard lesson to learn, then and since. Parish possessiveness is, dare I say it (and I do dare it because I have been guilty) a” clerical error-“ but not in the accepted sense of those words but in the sense of a” parsonic misconception.” No parish. however much loved, belongs to its priest, however long he or she ministers there. It belongs to the people of God in that place and they, like their priest, will change over time. So the key concept in parish life has to be continuity, embracing perhaps hundreds of years of worship and witness. That is why I can rejoice that a new Vicar will be coming to Dringhouses  - and to Llandudno.

To whom does the church ultimately belong ? The answer has to be Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Philip Cousins