This article first appeared in the April edition of Itchen Valley News
Many of you will now have heard that, after nine years of ministry in the Itchen Valley (first as curate, then as assistant priest and finally as Rector), I am stepping down from leading the church here during the course of this month. My appointment as Rector was temporary and comes to an end on 15th April. My last service as Rector is on Sunday 11thApril. The Diocese are keen to extend my term. However, I am now 65, a time at which a number of people put down their professions and this seems the right time to do so. Fortunately, we are able to remain living in Martyr Worthy and so will continue to run into you now and again and Lucy (who has been by my side in everything) and I will help out with the church from time to time, particularly until my successor is found and begins his or her ministry.
We felt a very strong call to this beautiful place with its wonderful inhabitants. I, in particular, found connections with so many of you through my family, through schooling, the Army, through my time at my law firm – Lucy and I stopped counting after 20 completely unexpected links to people who live here! The time as Rector has provided the opportunity to bring all the experiences of my life to bear into leading the church and I have been able to use them, as many of you will have heard from my preaching. It has been a great joy for both of us getting to know so many of you, both those who attend church regularly, those who attend occasionally and those who never darken the doors! It has been such a privilege to be with you at moments of great happiness, such as baptisms and weddings and moments of great sadness and distress such as funerals. We have loved chatting to you and praying for you as we have walked around the lanes.
When someone remarks about an English village ‘what a beautiful place’, I have often responded, ‘a place is only as beautiful as the people who live in it!’ Midsomer Murders has an endless supply of plots because beautiful villages can belie the character of their inhabitants! But the Itchen Valley really is a very beautiful place with some wonderful people who make up the communities in each of the villages.
So why does this place work in a way which some village communities just do not? In my view, this does not happen by accident. Over generations many, many individuals have been willing to give their time (however busy they are) to get involved in village events, to take responsibility for the village jobs which need to be done: to be willing to be Parish Councillors, to organise plant sales and village fetes, to stand on the committees for village halls, to participate in litter picks, to look after grass verges, to be editors of the village magazine, to be governors of the local primary school, to take part in boules and tennis competitions, to lead the cricket club, to perform in the pantomime; to run village cafes, to organise the Safari supper, and (under the umbrella of the church) to visit the lonely, to help with toddlers and teenagers, to cook for our CAMEO seniors lunch, to act as church wardens, PCC representatives, vergers, sacristans, sidesmen, choir members and leaders, flower arrangers, fund raisers, lesson readers, intercessors, eucharistic assistants, band members, coffee makers and bakers, administrators, and regulatory representatives, to name but a few!
In all these activities we get to know each other. We make friends across the generations. We look out for each other. We start to see that we all have strengths and weaknesses and, as we do, we become more understanding and forgiving of momentary lapses and selfishness. The result is that it is fun to live here and we build our community into the lovely group of friends that it is.
But, of course, it takes every generation of those moving from outside to see how valuable it is to live in community, when it is quite possible to close your door on the world and never see anyone, except your friends. Each generation has to learn this lesson anew and it is easy for that special something which makes a community to slip away.
There have been so many highs of our time leading the Parish in Itchen Valley and a few slightly hair-raising moments too. One of course was the celebrated case when I blew myself up at the Itchen Abbas Primary School harvest festival (fortunately no-one was hurt although I did have singed eyebrows for a while). Then there was the Who Cares programme when Lucy and I (and several others) knocked on all your doors to ask you to take part in our survey to identify what hurt the most – which gave us such a great insight into the challenges that so many people face. Together we have so enjoyed running Lent Courses, Parenting Courses, Marriage Courses and Alpha and getting to know so many of you through these. Lucy’s Free to Be ministry for those with mental health challenges was another high for her, as was her time as Parish Administrator. She has so enjoyed her ‘walk and talk’ ministry with so many of you and hopes that this may continue.
We had two periods when we prayed as a parish for 24 hours – each taking responsibility for one hour – for Sonia Cragg who was facing dialysis and then a few years later for Lou Lou Stirrup who was in danger in hospital during the pandemic. In both cases the Lord stepped in. It was thrilling to see. For me acting as Simon Cowell in the Easton Pantomime was quite a moment as well. Baptisms in the River Itchen have been another high. There have been beautiful services, great festivals and moments when the Lord’s presence has been almost tangible. But it has been seeing Jesus in so many of you which has been the greatest highlight of all. Thank you.
Revd Alex Pease