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Tony and Heather Tiptoe Away

Monday, June 28, 2010

It may be a long while before I can put any organized thoughts down about the two years that I have just concluded as “Interim Incumbent” of the parish of St. Luke, Winnipeg.  It was without a doubt a good thing for me to do, and it went, I think, very well; but it was also quite a stressful time, and I need to reflect before I say very much about it in a public medium such as this.  For now, let me just tell you about my final week in the parish, particularly the very last moments:
Tony with two churchwardens
Tony and the churchwardens
A good two years

On Tuesday, June 22nd, The Rev’d Paul Lampman reported for duty at St. Luke’s.  He had been carefully selected by the church’s leadership, through a process that had occupied much of my two years.  He gave due notice in his job as a university chaplain and Dean of Residence, he completed his responsibilities there, and after a brief vacation with his family, he was now ready to begin.

I spent the rest of the week with him, walking him through some of the routines, showing him where things are, and orienting him to some immediate things that would need his attention (people in hospital, forthcoming weddings, and issues involving the constantly demanding historic buildings).

I found those few days spent with Fr. Paul to be most enjoyable.  Despite the fact that we are a generation apart, there are many little things on which we think alike.  We had a very good time together.  Adding to the enjoyment, of course, was the anticipation of my re-retirement – so close now that I could taste it.

Yesterday, June 27, was “Handover Sunday,” my last day.  Fr. Paul and I, advised by several worship leaders of the parish, had developed a formal means for me to visibly hand over the responsibility of the parish to him.  Then Heather and I embellished upon it with a plan that only Fr. Paul knew about in advance.

I began the service as I have always done these past two years.  Then, just before the sermon, Fr. Paul was escorted to the lectern.  There I took off my wireless microphone and handed it to him with the words, “Father Paul, if I were to hand you my stole, I would usurp the place of the Bishop, for that is what he will hand you at your formal installation; if I were to hand you the keys to the church, I would usurp the place of the Wardens, for it is they who are responsible for keys; so instead I now hand you this device, through which I have spoken to the congregation these past two years.”

Having done this, I took my seat beside the other worship leaders, no longer in the presiding position at the altar.  Fr. Paul preached a sermon, then went to the altar himself and picked up the thread of the liturgy.

Later, at the Peace, when the clergy generally go into the congregation and shake hands with numerous people, I very deliberately went to as many parishioners as I could, greeting them by name, and thanking them for their contribution to my two years in the parish.  However, once I got to the back of the church, I did not return to the front with the others, but ducked outside, whipped around to the Sacristy, and changed out of my vestments into street clothes.  I packed my robes into my vestment bag, then returned – with the bag – to the back of the church.  There I found Heather, and sat with her until it came time to go up for Communion.  We did that together – and I could feel many eyes upon me, noting how I was now in civilian garb and with my wife.

After receiving Communion, Heather and I visibly walked to the back of the church.  Then, as the service resumed, I picked up my vestment bag and left the building.  There was to have been a coffee-hour after church, but Heather and I weren’t going.  Instead, we went home.

This exit – this tiptoeing away – was Heather’s idea.  As she put it, the parish had been “handed over.”  The attention should now move from me to Fr. Paul.  If we were to go to coffee after the service, there would be much wringing of hands and tearful farewells, when there really ought to be greeting and welcoming and open arms for the new Rector, who is now – at long last – in place.

Heather had proposed this procedure to me early in the week, and I saw great merit in it, but also I worried about whether some people might feel slighted.  The day having been billed as “handover Sunday” there could be some who would make a special trip to the church to say goodbye to me.  I didn’t wish to slight them.  But Heather and I canvassed a number of people from among our friends in the wider church, and the response was pretty uniform: “This is a great gesture!  Do it!”

By late afternoon my worries were completely put to rest, for I received a number of emails saying that we had done a sensitive and positive thing.

Meanwhile, Rachael was in town, so after our quiet exit from church we connected with her and with Troy and went off to have a celebratory brunch.  It was very pleasant.  Re-retirement had begun.

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