Transforming the communities of Essex & East London through Christ’s presence

by Ven Martin Webster, Archdeacon of Harlow

As I retire from nearly 40 years of ministry I feel this is true and not so true. If we think that the future is going to be just a steady progression from the present (and the past) then we are probably going to find ourselves hugely disappointed. What I see happening at the moment is that a variety of events and technologies are interrupting this steady flow.

Surprises, rude or otherwise, are leaping from the side-lines and disrupting this steady progress into the future.

So the past may not always be a guide to the future in this sense.

Our lives are going to be disrupted, possibly on an increasing timescale, in ways we cannot yet imagine. This is the challenge of the age we are in now.

However, when I think of the past, when I read my bible and reflect on God’s interaction with the world and those who try to listen to him, I see something that is steady and sure and dependable. I see a God who through his people, through prophets and sometimes Kings, through his Son Jesus and the disciples that followed, shaped the world in a dependable way. Again and again through these agencies God’s Spirit acts to help bring about God’s purposes in the world, even through great disruption. This was precisely the challenge to generations in the past.

So as I lay down some of the responsibilities I have had in the Diocese of Chelmsford and seek to find what God has in store for me and my family in what feels like an uncertain future, I find myself very concerned for the disruption that is coming but also optimistic about the action of God within that. The Chinese proverb 'May you live in interesting times' was meant, I think, not as a blessing but a bit of a curse upon your life. But it also speaks about how in the middle of what feels like chaos and unpredictability, interesting and novel things will emerge, but it all depends on our attitudes.

I think this applies in the life of the Church. When we are comfortable and basing our sense of wellbeing not so much on God but on a lack of problems or major issues, then it is God who has difficulty in getting through to us or perhaps to put it the other way around – we aren’t looking very hard for what God is doing in the world and joining in.

In the disruption of our lives and their easily made plans, difficulties come but also now God can get moving in our circumstances and we become more open to new (and old) insights that push forward our mission. So, as I leave for the West Country, I share the sense of unease of the challenges facing us but also a sense that more than ever in the time of my ministry God is moving more powerfully in our midst. That Christ is becoming more visible in our lives and in our witness to the world.

My life and probably yours may be disrupted but the ageless and dependable God will be with us to show us new vistas and a fresh vision of what it is to be fully human. A humanity we see most fully in Christ.

May God bless you all and myself as we each face the future.

  • Martin Webster is retiring at the end of March. He was writing ahead of his farewell Service on Sunday, March 12 at 3.30pm in Chelmsford Cathedral.

Picture: Archdeacon Martin Webster.