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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday 14th October 2012

Reading Ecclesiastes
1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The God-Given Task
9What gain has the worker from his toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
14I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been  pursued .


I suspect each one of us has as a child been asked what we want to do when we grow up? As children we find our imagination fueled by stories of many types and as we grow our lives end up often with some sort of objective shaped by childhood but also things we encounter in childhood. This last week I returned to a place I grew up on the East Coast,  a small town called West Mersea. It was here I realized my dream of learning to sail, and this had been shaped by none other than Arthur Ransom in his books about children, most known being swallows and amazons. Here children go to camp on an island in the Lake District, and do so in a sailing dinghy. Ironically as I looked in a second hand shop there in Mersea High street: in a great pile were most of Arthur Ransom’s books. I had read them all at one time or another. It reminded me of so much in the past, an old lady I used to sit next to once asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to go to sea, and she said “oh don’t do that I would be worried for you.”

Perhaps as an adult my thoughts are often in line with the poem by John Masefield
Sea Fever..

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

This year I got sea fever and this time it was a severe dose of it, that fever is still is with me. It hit me very hard on the day I came to fly back to the UK. It was also then I knew I had to have more of as John Masefield puts it “the vagrant gypsy life”.

Later in life I discovered my work was not to be as a sailor, but felt called instead to a life of ministry. I think my biggest disappointment was not being able to combine the two loves of my life. I often think I would have loved to be a Royal Navy Chaplain but sadly the RN was not open to non-conformists or to gay clergy come to that.

What I discovered however was owning my own boat was for me a spiritually refreshing way of coping with life in ministry.  Often when drained spiritually I have found my spiritual batteries recharged by my sea fever.

The difficulty has been knowing when to go to sea and when to stay ashore! For many years I have had a dream of sailing the Mediterranean in my own boat and being a sea gypsy. When I first came along to Westgate some five years ago now, I said I would help out for a year and now 5 years on I am still here although a lot has happened and many changes have taken place here since then. In those years I have had what might be termed a love affair with Westgate. My first reaction on coming here was it would be such a shame to see it lost as a place of worship. That thought has been with me ever since I arrived and is still with me. Westgate as a Unitarian Chapel has a lot to offer people in this town.  I have at all times been trying to get this message out to people, but the message has not exactly got through as well as I would have liked. But it has had some impact, and sometimes that impact takes a while to show results.

While away this summer I had a lot of time to dwell on things at Westgate, and to consider if I should renew my yearly covenant to continue. After agreeing to one year each year has come along and I have said I will continue. In some ways I was looking for some way of knowing what to do this year. As we traveled the rivers and canals of France we met some interesting people, one of which was a lady called Sue. We met Sue because we could not get the tap to open on the quayside where we ended up moored for the night. It was very hot, we were out of water and desperately needed a shower to freshen up. Sue is an Australian Lady who keeps her big Dutch Barge on that part of the canal bank, so I asked to borrow her key to the tap.  It was one of those unplanned but seemingly intended meetings you can have with someone who you hit it off with immediately. She asked me to make a good case for borrowing her key to the water tap, and laughed as I pretended I was going to make her sniff my arm pits! We hit it off instantly and later that evening found us all sharing a meal together and quite a few beers,(Australian Ladies only drink cold beer) in her Gazebo next to the canal quay. Sue was actually an immensely spiritual lady, her love of art keeps her flying to France for the summer to live on her barge and paint in France. In our winter she paints in Australia.
It was Sue in passing told me in that rather blatant manner Ozzies can say things, that I had moved on from Westgate now. I was actually quite annoyed when she said it, thinking who are you to know? I did not at the time however say anything.

As we continued on our journey I was aware of feeling I was being tested and yet at times also being acutely aware we were being looked after.  Like the day our dear little dog Tilly had a heart attack. She had been enjoying the trip although we knew time was limited and she was on heart pills for the last month or so; but she showed signs of being happy and content. My last photo of her is looking over the side of the boat in happiness. Those who know me will know my father Leonard passed away a few years ago now, and my friend Isabella passed away earlier this year. Having been lying in the sun Tilly had gone below for a drink and at that moment a big barge passed us going the other way. It was flying a skull and crossbones and the name of the barge was Isabella. It was at that moment Tilly had her fatal but quick heart attack and died. We were both very upset and yet it was like a message to me that Tilly had gone to be with Ella as she was known. As we continued along the river looking for a quiet place to stop, it was eventually at a small jetty where we tied up and set about working out what to do.   Here we met an American living in France who showed us great kindness helping us to deal with Tillys body and interpreted for us helping us to have her collected by a vet. France is a country with lots of rules and regulations and had not that American been there we would have struggled with obtaining the death certificate and so on. Someone fluent in French and English was so important at that time. A dog death In France is treated like a human death and Chris was so helpful allowing us to use his address,  they would not after her cremation send the ashes of Tilly out of France. Our only other option would be to have stayed at the jetty until Tilly was returned, however it was August and France closes for August. So he kindly allowed her to be sent to his home and then sent her on to our home for us. It was after all this that I discovered the Jetty was right next to an 11th century Chapel. The Chapel of St Leonard, yet another thing that seemed to indicate to me, Tilly had Ella and my Father throwing tennis balls for her now in heaven. 

In other matters as well, we found ourselves looked after, when our engine failed it did so where we could get spares rather than in a remote place where we would have been stuck. Some people call these things coincidences but for me they are all a part of feeling there is a higher force at work, in my life I am so blessed with this. I could give countless examples but what I want to say to you here at Westgate is a message that comes from all this. If it is meant to be it will be. The old lady who said she would worry about me being at sea, missed this vital factor. In our film nights we once watched a film here about a Catholic Priest, in the film he is forced to move on from his post. He spoke of following his light into the future as he said goodbye to this parish congregation.

My last day in France as we prepared to leave our Yacht and come home, sea fever came upon me and it was then I knew Sue had been right. I also realized if I gave up this chance to follow my dream and covenanted to stay at Westgate another year I would not do any good now. There is a song whose lyrics go “I left my heart in san Francisco” and I knew when I flew home I had left my heart behind. It is time for me to move on from Westgate trusting in my leading light that bids me set a new course.

It is not that I do not believe Westgate has a future, but that ultimately that is not up to me. It is up to you and that higher power to keep the doors open and keep the place open as a spiritual home for those who come along. If it is meant to be it will be, is the message I bring to you as I start to stand down from what I have been doing here over the last years. I have done my best for Westgate and it is on a different footing from the one we started with. It could with a new leader grow from the foundations again. In our reading this morning I looked at versions of the words and discovered in the Hebrew a difference tense to the last verse which I adapted our reading to state..
 God seeks what has been  pursued
Here at Westgate we may or may not believe in God, we may have many different models of what a god is or is not.  I myself do not agree with a traditional theistic model of god, but I do feel there is something and in the traditional religions we can often glimpse what they are getting at.. For myself I have felt since being at Westgate that my work has been to bring a message that is about reinvigorating the congregation here and those last few words..I believe are in line with my vision here and for me, as I move on at the end of this year I feel God seeks what has been pursued by my ministry at Westgate.
I hope you feel this as well…
I hope you will do what you can to keep the doors open here as a place of worship free from dogma, free from creed but full of love one for another..
Let it be so…


  1. This is a very moving blogpost, and very good to know you were being looked after.

    I also loved the books of Arthur Ransome as a child and still re-read them from time to time. I have been sailing a few times and always enjoyed it. The first time I went sailing, I knew what to do thanks to all the talk of jib-sheets and reefing in the books.

    I wish you all the very best with whatever you do next after your ministry at Westgate. I am sure you know what you are doing and that this is the right time to move on.

    Yvonne xx