A couple of years ago my wife & I wrote some reflections of our experience of the Methodist stationing system, as we traversed its delights (?) for the first time in 11 years, looking at the early stages, the 'matching', and a spouse's perspective on the process. The result for us was that I was matched with the Kendal circuit as Superintendent (for the first time), and we subsequently moved here from Sheffield in August 2015.
Getting used to a new geography, albeit a very beautiful one, and a new role and responsibility, presented the usual challenges: names, faces and locations to remember; contexts and histories to learn. My standard practise in these situations is to take time to 'get a feel' for a new place, and the same goes for the new role of Superintendent minister that I was coming to terms with. All was going reasonably well, and then, on December 5th 2015, Storm Desmond struck the North West and large parts of Kendal were submerged, including the church at Sandylands. Still working out what my role was in normal circumstances, I was left struggling to adapt to this new situation.
One of the things which attracted me to the appointment from the outset was a priority in their profile to 'enable the completion of the Circuit Strategy', which I took to mean that work was on-going in this area. Unfortunately (and maybe I should've picked this up earlier) little if anything had actually been done towards this, and that work took centre-stage on the Circuit Leadership Team (CLT) agenda almost from the off. Again, this was probably a little early for my natural inclinations of taking stock.
Finally, in the spring of 2016 the treasurer of the main church in Kendal, Stricklandgate, informed the Church Council that on its current financial trajectory the church would be effectively bankrupt within 3 years. We resolved to embark on a Strategic review of the church's life, to ascertain its viability in the context of the wider place of Methodism in Kendal, the on-going circuit strategic review, and the ecumenical framework across the county.
I was conscious of feeling increasingly swamped, as if a 'perfect storm' of problems, issues and challenges was brewing, over which I had very little control and for which I felt increasingly ill-equipped to cope. By the summer I was beginning to question whether I was in the right place, or whether I was in the right 'job' - as Superintendent or even as a minister. Fortunately (or serendipitously) I had a 3-month sabbatical planned from August to October, which gave me the chance to get away from the situation and re-assess where I was and what I was doing. On return earlier this month I met with the Circuit Stewards who asked me how things were going: so I told them! Thankfully they had also felt that something was wrong, and were relieved when I confirmed their feelings. After some discussion we reached the conclusion that perhaps the gifts and skills that I had to offer were not after all what the circuit were looking for in their Superintendent at the present time, and it was agreed that I would speak to the District Chair about a possible curtailment of the appointment. This I did the following week, and we concluded that, both for me and for the circuit, this would be the best course of action.
It's easy to look at such a course of action as an admission of failure or defeat, but I don't think it is. For me it is a recognition that sometimes things don't work out the way we would have planned them, or the way we want them to. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes it causes more upset not facing up to these things. One of the hardest things for me in all of this was standing in front of my 2 congregations last Sunday and telling them that I would be leaving them next summer, and from what they've said to me since then, it was equally hard for them to hear it. God's people are, on the whole, wonderful, kind, understanding and gracious, and they have demonstrated that many times over the past week.
Sooner than I had anticipated, I am back in the stationing system - the next round of matching is on Monday. I believe that God's hand is on what will follow (as I believe God's hand was on our coming here), and look forward to the next stage of my ministry journey in anticipation and faith.