Lydford Parish and Community Magazine,
At the start of a new year, some reflections on the journey of life which took up most of last year and in which Diana and I, married in 2009, found ourselves transformed from our home on a Liverpool housing estate to a very different setting in Lydford, looking like a picture-postcard in the winter snow.
So, you are asking, how did someone so steeped in the city decide to take a plunge into rural life? You presume, correctly, that it took some time to get to the point of saying 'yes' to the Bishop of Plymouth and the people of the five Devon parishes of Lydford, Bridestowe, Sourton, Bratton Clovelly and Germansweek.
Our journey began back in March last year when in one of our favourite places, in the west coast of Scotland, our eyes were drawn to a document attached to the noticeboard outside Iona Parish Church: 'Wanted: a Minister, for this and two other churches on the Ross of Mull'. This was quite an awakening for us. The dawning of a realisation that a new start in a new place was probably what we needed, and wanted. The feeling of a thrill at the idea that somewhere like Iona and the Ross of Mull could be a fruitful and interesting place for me to minister, a very different environment offering interesting new challenges. Our enquiries eventually came to nothing, but our appetite for change had been whet, our imaginations opened to new possibilities in the rural.
Then followed months of enquiries and travels around the country, triggered by the jobs ads in the Church Times and lengthy and late-night trawls of the vacancies pages of all the diocesan websites; over and over again.
Months of travels - to spy through hedges at vicarages and rectories in Cheshire-set villages and English Heritage ecclesiastical sites; to make reaquaintances with friends and colleagues from previous stages on my journey - taking their invitations to 'come and see' places which they thought might just be the 'one for us' - a North Yorkshire market town, parishes tucked under the Clwyd hills; to collect reams of musty papers from tables at the back of ancient churches - handwritten histories, diocesan newssheets, parish magazines - taking care to place coins in metal boxes in the wall to compensate.
We went to places full of history and Iona-like potential (Lanercost Priory, Holy Island), which we loved, but the people didn't want us there. We popped in on parishes deep in green Shropshire and high on Salisbury Plain. We drove across the Snake Pass for a look at some parishes in an area returning to nature after the demise of the mining industry. We sat in the car park of a church plant in stockbroker Surrey and had an afternoon interview at Lambeth Palace, where on my arrival a staff member mistook me for a member of the visiting Papal party and nearly whisked me into a high-level multilingual talk with the Archbishop of Canterbury). I considered everywhere - Estuary Essex, distant Kent, the West Cumbrian coast; all had their particular appeal.
Midway through September a close family member in a lovely part of Sussex told us that their vicar had just announced his departure and suggested we might apply for that post. It was something which we'd dreamed about in the past. But by then we'd made our second trip down the M5 and had accepted the invitation from Okehampton, which even in those circumstances we didn't regret.
What was it about these places which particularly excited us? The lovely landscape and gorgeous villages, certainly - though we had visited beautiful places all over the country before reaching West Devon. It was more the people - the welcome which was extended to us by people who'd lived most of their lives here; and by others who shared their stories of moving here and settling happily, giving us a sense that new people coming into these villages would be embraced; and a feeling that there was something good in the spirit of the churches, their life together and their positive place in their communities... all of these things combined to convince us that this place was the place for us, right now, and for some time to come.
I have the privilege of being supported to live in the country. It still feels like someone else's country at the moment, having just arrived. We still feel a bit like guests in someone else's home. It's great to be invited to share it, we have been encouraged by the welcome you have given us, and I am sure that over time we will feel a real sense of belonging here too.
Maybe something in our story connects with something in yours. We are all travelling together through life. Whatever journeys you and your family make this year, whether physical or spiritual, I trust that like us you will be able to find the right path, find God guiding you through, and find encouragement and blessing in the new place in which you arrive.