Where have all the years gone?

At the turn of the year I received an invitation from the Ministries Council (121) to attend the Renewing Ministry Conference at Kinnoull Monastery in Perth for four nights/ five days. This conference was aimed at ministers in their fifties with 15-20 (or more) years of ministry behind them and around 10 still to go. I now find myself in that category. Where have all the years gone, I found myself wondering? The conference was intended to be an opportunity to take a few days to step back from the parish; to reflect on gifts and skills; to contemplate which aspects of ministry were encouraging and energising; to consider hopes for ministry and mission in the next few years; and to develop an understanding of how ministers relate to others. At the same time, strategies for self-care and for planning for the future were to be introduced and experienced.

The programme all looked very intriguing, but I decided not to attend.

Then I received another invitation to attend a 2 night/3 day Reunion at Princeton Theological Seminary, USA, for all those who were students in the Graduating Class of 1993. The invitation confused me initially because on it was a class photograph of the students standing on the steps of Miller Chapel. I could not recognise anyone I knew in the photograph until I got out my magnifying glass and eventually found myself standing two rows behind and to the left of the President and his wife. Of course, then I had a full head of hair, as Catherine kindly reminded me! Once again, I found myself wondering where have all the years gone? Would it be good to return 25 years on, at present I am undecided!

In a strange twist of events, though I did end up attending the Renewing Ministry Conference at Kinnoull, although only for an afternoon. A friend was due to be one of the speakers and at short notice he was unable to go, and 121 asked if I would be a late substitute for him, so off I went. Of the twelve ministers, about half of them were known personally to me – former Glasgow students like me, and some former colleagues from throughout Scotland and the other half were folk I had never met.

One colleague during one of the two sessions I was leading reflected on how he now had less time in front of him in terms of ministry than he had behind him. Many of us found that quite profound. Where have all the years gone, I thought?

This year Valentine’s Day also happened to be Ash Wednesday, which I cannot recall having coincided before. But that may just be my memory. On Ash Wednesday, in some traditions of the Christian Church, believers have ash imposed on their foreheads on the first day of Lent. This tradition which dates to at least the tenth century involves a blessing or prayer over the ashes, traditionally made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, followed by an imposition on the forehead. This is accompanied by a verbal formula to remind believers of their mortality or an exhortation to faithfulness or both. Such a combination of word and action for many are a powerful beginning to the season of Lent.

As I move into yet another season of Lent, I am again pondering the question of where all the years have gone. But as I move through this Lenten season I am aware that Easter is coming. The promise of new life and eternity does lie ahead of us all. That is strangely comforting as I look at old class photographs from 1993. Now wasn’t that a good year!