Less than sixth months ago, Christmas - the celebration our Lord’s leaving the heavenly realm in order to live among us here on earth - attracted the largest congregations of the year. What a wonderful surprise it would be if Ascension Day – the celebration of his return in triumph to his heavenly Father – were to be observed with equal enthusiasm. It certainly deserves to be, for it is from our ascended Lord, free of all constraints of time and space, that we receive the gifts of Holy Spirit. As he said to his disciples: “It is expedient for you that I go away.”
Falling, as it always does, shortly after the annual meetings at which churchwardens and parochial church councillors are elected, Ascension Day assures us that God will always provide his Church with the spiritual resources its members need in order to fulfil their calling; and there is plenty of evidence that he does so in the often sacrificial commitment shown by those ‘whose hearts God has touched.’ In my experience that has been particularly true of churchwardens.
Here in Wentworth, Jim Gelder, who has decided to stand down after no fewer than twenty-three years in office, is a prime example. Two months older than the queen, he moved into the village thirty-two years ago, involving himself fully in its life and eventually becoming something of an institution - a local treasure. A man of many parts, sailor and cricketer among them, he has devoted a major part of his considerable energy to the service of his parish church. As churchwarden he has shared responsibility for its fabric, goods and ornaments as well as being charged with co-operating with the incumbent in the whole mission of the Church – pastoral, liturgical and evangelistic.
For several years of his wardenship there was no incumbent for Jim to co-operate with, leaving him to find priests to take services and, with his fellow warden, to shoulder several administrative responsibilities. The tasks he has undertaken have included parts of the roles of verger, parish clerk, sexton, sacristan, and server as well as printing and collating the parish magazine, organising the readers’ rota, negotiating with undertakers and dealing with the constant stream of couples who come to be married here – the ‘for better, for worse club.
I’m sure that there are many more things that Jim has done during his years as churchwarden. Holy Trinity Wentworth and its congregation can never have had a more devoted servant, and we all owe him an immense debt of gratitude. I hope that he ‘will not leave us comfortless’ after he has laid down his office. His knowledge and experience will continue to be valued, as will his presence – which has become almost a part of the very fabric of the building.
Jim will be succeeded by Lissa Higgins, who, with Stephen Clapham, will be sworn in as churchwarden by the archdeacon early this month. Please pray for them this Ascensiontide that they may be ‘endued with power from on high,’ and give them all the support you can, so that their work for God and his Church may be for them a joy as well as a duty.