I really love conkers. I've never been massively into playing with them, but I love holding them. They fall at a time of year that always seems like I need something to hold onto and reflect with. The leaves are changing colour and the sunlight gets very low, throwing long shadows down the pavements and over the fields. As autumn draws in, the change in nature always prompts me to look back at the transitions that have happened, at what has changed for me, for the people around me and for the world.
For me lots has changed in the last four months. I left Trinity College in Bristol where I had spent three years training in Theology, Ministry and Ministry and moved to Woking to start my first job, to live in my first house (not a university room or my parent’s house!) and to be ordained! I had huge fun in Bristol, made brilliant friends, played lots of sport, went deep into the Bible and loved living in the close community of college. But I relished the challenge to step up and out with Jesus into something new, and by the end, I had the perfect sense of the time being right to go out from that place.
It has been a complete pleasure to begin to get to know you, here at Christ Church. For some we have shared stories over a beer after the evening service, others over a meal, some even whilst putting up tents at New Wine, and others still over a football sticker album! I have felt so welcomed and absorbed into your shared life here in Woking. Thank you for your generosity and your care.
The first three months have been shaped by Peter's announcement of his new job in the diocese. Not every curate finds out that their training incumbent is leaving on their first day on the job! But I have so enjoyed working with Peter even in this short time, lapping up his leadership skills and perspective, juicing him for wisdom and tips in leading large church and reflecting on what God has done in and through him and Clare in this place. For many of you, as for me, I suspect this change is hard, though maybe not unexpected, and perhaps inevitable. And whilst we can be tempted to wallow in the uncomfortableness of change and transition, God tells us throughout scripture and in the seasons, that old makes way for the new (Isaiah 43). Not for better or for worse but for more, for going, as C.S Lewis writes in his novel 'The Last Battle', 'further up and further in.'
That is my prayer for us in this season of change: that as the leaves change, the conkers fall, the light is lower and days shorter, that we would go further up and further in with God, trusting that as the quiet winter makes way for the fresh spring, he would draw us each closer to himself. I include a poem I wrote this time last year. It is entitled Warm Autumn, as last year was a particularly warm lead up to Christmas. It meant that I was able to site outside right to the end of November to say my prayers and reflect on the changing times, with my face the sunshine, a gentle reminder that God was there with me in it all.
I challenge you to do as the poem recounts, to pick up a Conker and carry it for a week. Keep it in your pocket, hold it, use it to pray through the changes, your worries, your celebrations, the highs and the lows. Feel it get smaller and smaller as you share those things with Jesus through the week. And then prayerfully leave it at the bottom of a tree somewhere, or on the Communion table at Church: choose to instead hold the bread and wine of Christ's sacrifice; who knows what it is to live this human life, and whose meal we will share until he comes again in glory, when all things are made perfectly new.
The Conker in my pocket has fallen from a great height
Released from a spinney shell either by the inevitability of time,
Or by the sheer force of it hitting the ground.
It seems too early this year
Surely not quite yet it’s time.
The leaves have turned yet the sunshine graces us still
And so I can sit out to ponder the change,
Face coloured by the rays.
Change is good,
gives way to the quiet of Winter and new life of Spring.
Hold on to the Conker, carry it with me. Hold it when the change feels hard,
When you miss friends and close ones,
A void of knowing and being known,
Stand at the beginning of a new chapter,
Sensing the pull of the future and yet the good things of now and here.
Of this place and these people.
Carry my Conker all week,
And it gets smaller and smaller,
Pray with it and for it and about it.
And then leave it, all of it.
At the tree -
Take and hold the bread and the wine,
Of the in between times.