Dear brothers and sisters,
I am afraid to say that this is the end – it is the last weekend here in the parish.
As I finish tying loose ends in the office and presbytery, I have had the opportunity to reflect in the past three years in Bishop’s Stortford, Sawbridgeworth, and Much Hadham. I remember coming in, fresh off the Cathedral floor, ruddy behind the ears. I’m sure that you too were worried. You just had Fr. Fortunato serving here for two years, and then, gone. A 27 year-old-priest was on his way.
But then we hit it off altogether. Sure, it took some time. Perhaps I was serious looking and unpredictable; but, as many of you have mentioned, we met each other at ground level. You encountered a priest who can reach to you, can make mistakes, and can have a sense of humour – in short, you found a human priest.
And in discovering this human priest, you encountered one who can approach and speak to. The visitations to your houses were a great resource for me, as I got to know you and your families better. Some of you managed to catch a glimpse of my dance moves at parties. Perhaps you enjoyed ‘Soaking the Father’ at the Summer Fair, promenading at the Barn Dance last year, or listening me to ask questions during the Quiz Nights.
I often think what constitutes the mission of the priest. Is it the theology he has learned, the liturgy that he practices, or the projects he carries out? Sure, these things make the characteristics of each priest, but that is not the mission. I believe the mission is simple: to be present for his people. To be present does not necessarily mean that he agrees all the time: his duty is to counsel, warn, and even admonish at times; but the presence of a lending ear and union of his formation and experience helps a parishioner know that a priest is not someone who lives on a different plane from everybody else, but lives in the same world as his people do. Speaking with you in the past few weeks, I believe that I have completed my mission of service in the Parish.
As you know very well, no priest is perfect. Therefore, I ask for your forgiveness for my weaknesses, misgivings, or even moments that I have caused you any inconvenience – moments in which I may have not been charitable or just plain old harsh. I hope you have accepted a 30-year-old, hot-blooded, American for who he is.
I think you can agree with me: I did not expect my first three years of ministry to happen the way it did. Obviously, I cannot have served you with the best of my ability with your help. I cannot forget to offer my gratitude firstly to Fr. Peter and to Debbie. Fr. Peter has helped me to embrace the beginnings of priestly ministry – to go all out and enjoy it and to embrace the many pastoral responsibilities that a Parish holds.
Debbie can best be described not only as a fountain of great resources but also a lending ear. I owe my gratitude to them in helping me in these past three years.
The list to thank is exhaustive, but I take an opportunity to offer my gratitude for the many people who have helped in one way or another in the past three years. I thank the Parish Council, Church Committees, and Financial Committee for their support in the development of all three Churches. I thank those who have helped me in the preparation for Baptism, First Reconciliation and Communion, and the RCIA Programmes. Many thanks to those who helped me to reach out the housebound and those in care homes. Thanks to those who help clean the Churches, prepare the flowers, and organise the music and service at the altar. Many thanks to Bishop’s Stortford Across for the two pilgrimages we enjoyed and even to those who signed up for the Holy Land Pilgrimage. Many thanks to the staff and students at St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s Schools for allowing me to serve their pastoral needs.
Finally, I thank each and every one of you, both present here today and even those who have now gone before us. It has been a pleasure to see those of you who have passed by to say goodbye. Many thanks for the trinkets that you have left behind for me to enjoy. But I ask you for the greatest gift – pray for me that I may continue to be faithful in the Lord’s vineyard I set off to pasture’s new in Highbury. I am sure that some of you are sore about my new appointment because it is in Gunners’ territory… I’ll do my best to not to let that interfere with my ministry.
As I now end this message (or should we say, letter), let us all remember the Law that Christ reminds the Pharisee in this Sunday’s Gospel: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … [and] your neighbour as yourself.
For the last time:
P.S.: Here are the details of my new parish:
St. Joan of Arc
60 Highbury Park
Landline: 02072 260 257