Even though it is quite long - do read this!
We hear from Fr David Hawthorn about his Assistant Priest Fr Simon Sayer who has now completed his second year at St Margaret’s & St Chad’s, Manchester.
Simon has continued to settle in the community and is a familiar sight as he takes his afternoon constitutional walk around the parish at break-neck speed – chatting to folks as he goes. Generally speaking the community values greatly all we do to enhance, where it is possible, the lives of our citizens through community development as well as advancing the Gospel and seeking to promote Kingdom values and the building up of God’s kingdom in this place. This is what we, as priests in this place, are about. I mentioned last year the importance of the ‘trivial round, the common task’ as the well known hymn ‘New every morning is the love’ (John Keble) reminds us. That heart beat., that pulse of the Offices and the Daily Mass are the tokens of love we continue to offer in order that everything we do might flow out of them. This for Fr Simon has become the reality as the second year of his curacy began. An elderly priest once told me ‘that the life of any priest is always shaped by what he does and what he says. Fr Simon is an able, gifted preacher and so homily preparation and delivery continue to be important to him and to us all. Fr Simon continues to be involved in the preparation of couples for their marriages, of infants for Holy Baptism, the training of parents and god-parents; numerous arrangements surrounding the Funeral Office (none of which are straight forward!)
………………I reflect on the immense weight and responsibility that God places upon the shoulders of his priests – it is not something to be taken lightly and indeed the Ordinal is quite graphic and leaves you in no doubt, that being ordained a priest is indeed serious stuff – we share in Christ’s priesthood; it is not ours to own. So it was that after Simon Benedict Sayer had hands laid upon him by the Bishop assisted by priest colleagues (including Father Derek Sayer, Simon’s father), that he was anointed, vested and received sacred vessels, and Father Simon Sayer began his priestly ministry in the Church of God…..
Whilst others were at the WYP2011 Fr Simon presided at his first Solemn Requiem for another of the faithful who had died (Gertrude Wood). I mention Gertrude by name for lots of reasons – we took her holy communion every week – as it meant so much to her – but the main reason I mention her is that she taught us both so much – and whilst we went faithfully as we did and were able to offer her the sustenance she desired, we always came away having been given so much more by her – a truly remarkable disciple of the Lord, who in spite of a debilitating illness, always found time to pray even in her darkest moments – she taught us more about priesthood than any text book!
….Fr Simon approached his first wedding in the manner I have come to know and respect – prayerfully and considerately – the couple were delighted – Fr Simon could breathe again –they had been legally married and went off for champagne – he went off for his customary pineapple juice!
Fr Simon did a fair bit of the work involved with updating our baptism policy.
More firsts! Although unconventional Fr Simon (himself a penitent – of course) heard his first confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was wholly appropriate and in his reflection he recounts both the privilege and the grace he felt as God, through him, channelled his unlimited forgiveness to the penitent. I should say that Fr Sayer, before ever he was ‘the reverend’ was, and remains, a Spiritual Director of the Diocese and is a very capable director….. hearing confessions will, I know, be something Fr Simon would want to do more of – I feel confident that those who will benefit from his ministry in this way will be blessed and grow in grace.
A lady to whom we had been ministering off and on for several months and dying in the hospice, called the clergy and her few close friends and family to her bedside – she wished to be prepared for her dying and death. It was again one of those immense privileges to be involved in, and in its way, pointed us to whom and what we are – Priests of God, channels of his love and mercy.
Fr Simon preached and presided at the Midnight Mass of Christmass and blessed the Crib. Again, as I reflected on my first Christmass I was taken to the words ‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’ and how this is both a reality in terms of the Word made Flesh coming to live among us as man, and in the readiness to become for us flesh; food in Holy Communion, in our Bethlehem, the House of Bread. It was as ever a powerful Christmass celebration, which Fr Simon presided over beautifully.
Disaster or what! Towards the end of the year Fr Simon had a serious bout of laryngitis which meant he was unable to be at Mass during the octave (thankfully after Christmass). Illness is a peculiar state for the clergy – we either don’t do it well, or we don’t do it! Clergy are very good at ministering to the sick but when it comes to their own health and welfare – we fail miserably. We need to listen to what our bodies are telling us and less to the guilt trips we might send ourselves on are saying……………… I hope we prepare our junior clergy in a way to deal with illness that empowers them in their ministry not to make them feel “well my head is hanging off but I still have Mass to say…” Is that really what we expect? I guess some will say yes…. I pray that they are in the minority. Another of the faithful to whom Fr Simon had been ministering since his arrival, a black jamaican who had lived here most of her life by the name of Pearline, was prepared for her dying and death being fortified with the rites of Mother Church. I had warned Fr Simon of the customs of some of the Black Churches, their congregations and of our own congregation in welcoming them – how we must embrace those customs. He was not disappointed! The coffin was opened in Church and family and friends filed past to pay their respects, some chose to say a ‘few’ words and, at the graveside, the male members of the family assisted with the filling in of the grave whilst the women sang with gusto favourite hymns. Knowing Pearline she would have loved it!
After February’s General Synod Fr Sayer and I jointly prepared a statement which we read out at the end of the Parish Mass. I/we believe it is so important to keep the folks as informed as possible on where the Church of England is up to re these decisions – as not all people take the church press or have access to internet.
At the beginning of the February half term holiday, I took a phone call late one evening from our Head Teacher at St Margaret’s Church of England Primary School to say that one of our pupils aged 9 had very suddenly and tragically died. As Chair of Governors and as Parish Priest I immediately went to be with the family at hospital. After some time myself and family were able to go into the room where the child lay and to say some prayers. This was not going to be easy – but the family made it so! They were grateful. Although I didn’t show it, I was angry with God for them – remarkably they weren’t angry at all. I had informed Fr Simon of the events of that evening. During the next few days I met with the family to plan the little boy’s funeral. With Fr Simon we planned for Church to be open for the lighting of candles, and for prayers to be said and offered. The Staff came to church for their own vigil. A ‘shrine’ was set up in school and a celebration assembly of the child’s life for the children held in school after half term…. Fr Simon and I conducted the funeral jointly. With the class teacher and head teacher being involved too.
………………Fr Simon was close to his father, also a priest as previously said. They spoke often on the phone …..Fr Simon received the news over the phone that his father had died suddenly at home. Fr Simon was insisting that he remain in the parish for the Annunciation as he was to preside at this Mass whilst I was on retreat. I suggested the Mass be cancelled and that he go straight away home! He thought he would be better in the parish. I said “No Father, you would be better at home with your family……..He went home! His Father’s death was a huge blow to Fr Simon……………… the funeral was on the Wednesday of Holy Week……I told him that he was on compassionate leave, that I didn’t believe it was in his best interests to put himself through those liturgies, and he agreed.
Here were two traumatic deaths – both affecting Fr Simon at two very different levels…. We have talked a lot since and I think he realized that being priests doesn’t mean we are no longer human – that it is OK to cry and that it is fine to take time out and especially when it is a family bereavement.
It has been a year that many would have shied away from. Fr Simon has faced the year head on….. he has faced the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the rollercoaster journey, with absolute conviction and in a prayerful manner.
We continue to support the ACS through our Lent Boxes and Petertide collections etc and we are delighted to be able to do so. Parishes like St Margaret’s could not manage were it not for the generosity of the ACS and its benefactors. May God continue to bless Fr Simon in his final year and the work of the ACS who have made his being here possible by resourcing the parish with its financial contribution and sustaining us with their prayers.
(This is an abridged version of the report – many more run of the mill incidents were related. I thought it important to show most of this report on the Web as it reflects the ordinary day to day running of any parish but, more importantly, it gives an insight into the priests role. This report is honest, humble and in part humorous and…… it has life! The other important issue is how we care for our fellow priests.... they too get sick, they too need some tlc, preferably before they get ‘burn out’. Thank you Father David for so faithfully guiding your protégé and thank you Father Simon for being willing to be guided. I can’t resist a plug here……………… more funds : more clergy, to share the load. Ed)