‘The long and winding road’ was played on the radio. A Liverpudlian friend loved that song; he loved all The Beatles’ songs. The songs were the stuff of personal landmarks. He would tell of the celebration of the birth of the first child of a friend. He and the friend had sat on the green, drinking bottles of wine and singing Beatles songs until four in the morning, being joined by a third friend somewhere in the proceedings.
To me, it was wonderful picture of happiness, a completely carefree abandon in celebration of the marvellous event of human life.
The evocation of the memory brought a sense of sadness. Being priest in a community means being the eternal outsider; being in the community but not of it; being aware that the people who are your people at one moment might be someone else’s people in six months time and that you have no abiding place. Parish ministry has meant three years as a curate, seven years as Rector in my first parish, three years in my second, eleven in my third, and, now, three years and counting in the present parish.
Being in a state of transit puts you on your guard against forming the sort of friendships where you could sit on the green and sing songs through the night because such friendships inevitably have to be abandoned when you move on.
Friendships last only with those who have been no part of your community or with those who share in your journey, so our closest friends, those with whom we talk every week, those with whom we sit in a ski resort bar after a day on the piste, are those who live nowhere near us, who are unknown here as we are unknown there.
It is a strange life, and I have lived it for most of my life. Being always on the edge, being there to lead in times of grief, carrying on when the tank has run dry, walking from the graveside alone as families embrace, it becomes harder as the years pass. Perhaps the isolation arises from a sense of insecurity, from a fear of forming friendships because there is pain in moving on from those whose company you have enjoyed.
The theologian Karl Rahner once wrote, ‘At the end of the day our task is to recognize that God is in the silence, the frustration, the loneliness, the emptiness. Our job is to become aware of this’.
God is present in some strange things.