The church is absolutely packed to the rafters. There isn’t a single seat to be had anywhere.
I am in the last but
one pew in the side aisle, sandwiched between a chatty woman from Chertsey and an elderly military type of gent who keeps telling me it is “just like Christmas!” I think he is referring to the size of today’s congregation and comparing it
to the annual Midnight Mass. He is having a bit of trouble finding the right hymns in his hymn book as the numbers on the service sheet don’t seem to correspond with the numbers in his book. We compare hymn books and come to the conclusion that,
the congregation being so very numerous, the stewards have run out of one set of hymn books and have had to resort to giving out another, different set. We go through the service sheet, hymn by hymn, and mark the correct hymns in his book with various scraps
of paper. One of the hymns isn’t in his book at all so I tell him he can share my book when we get to that point of service. He says, not to worry, he’ll just join in with the Alleluias.
Mrs Chatty of Chertsey (her rather less chatty husband by her side) tells me they had no idea that it was Father Edward’s Retirement Celebration this morning but when she found out, well, they just had to come. He
had conducted the funerals of both her mother and her father, she told me. In town to tackle the clearance of her parents’ home, it seemed like serendipity that the retirement gathering was this particular Sunday. I wonder to myself how many people
in church today have been similarly beholden to Father Edward for his particular way of understanding exactly what his flock needed to hear – whether in times of celebration like christenings and marriages or in times of grief. A number too great
to be reckoned in 28 years of ministry in one Church, I decide. No wonder the pews are packed today.
Father Edward gives the address. If I peer between the pillars
I can just about see him in the pulpit. He tells a funny story about a new priest taking confession for the first time, then reminds us of those adverts that appeared in the newspapers a while back. Do you remember them? "Who was your favourite accountant?"
one read, and another: “Who is your favourite solicitor?” In small words at the bottom of each advert, the telling words: “You always remember your favourite teacher.”
more than anyone else, have a chance to make a lasting impression on the children they teach – but we can all strive to make a difference to the people around us, to our town, to our community. So says a man whose contribution to this church and this
community will last long after he has gone into, God willing, a long and happy retirement.
“What on earth will you do without him?” asks
Mrs Chatty of Chertsey. It’s the unspoken thought in everybody’s mind as we listen to the speeches, watch the presentations, applaud in all the right places. Father Edward knows what we are thinking, of course – he reassures us that, contrary
to anything we may have read or surmised, there is no truth in the rumour that Dawn French, aka the Vicar of Dibley, is poised to take over his stewardship. The military gent next to me gives a shudder.
My chatty neighbour now wants to know all about the history of the Church and asks me lots of questions. I am ashamed at my inability to recall the basic facts in the explanatory leaflet which I used last summer when
I was on Church Watch. I hazard a few guesses. Mrs C of C says she will check for herself after the service when she plans to have a look round the building armed with a history of the Church which she plans to purchase from the book-stall.
I can only hope I am not more than a hundred years out...
On my way out of church, having bade a fond farewell to the military gent and the Chertsey Pair,
I phone Mr B on my mobile to tell him I am on my way back home. I thought he might have been worrying about me, given that the service has lasted two and a half hours - but he has had a Torrid Time in Tescos and has hardly noticed my absence.
I know how Father Edward and his wife, Janet, must be feeling. It’s less than two years, after all, since I took the momentous step into retirement and a whole new way of life.
I know he will look back on the amazing turnout for this, his final service, and be proud and happy that so many people wanted to be there. I hope he will “retire in style”.
For him - and for our Church - this is, indeed, the End of an Era...