As most people are probably now aware Father Richards last Service prior to retirement was on 9th July 2023. His last sermon is shown below followed by his reflections on his time at St Andrews. A presentation was made at the coffee morning on 4th July 2023. We thank all who contributed to his leaving gift of a Communion Set.
Some photos from this are also shown below.
Our Service times will now be subject to change or cancellation depending upon the availability of stand-in clergy. It is envisaged that it will be some time before the Diocese appoints a new Vicar to the Mission Area.
The Coffee mornings will continue to take place each Tuesday.
Fr Richards Last Sermon
I suppose we could say that it is holiday season now. People will be packing bags and preparing to go away. I don’t know about you, but I am not good at travelling light. I am a bit better than I used to be, but still take too much stuff – more than I really need. It makes for a heavy case. It is always a relief to plonk that case down at the other end and take a rest. Carrying a heavy load might be all right if we have some end in sight and something to look forward to, but carrying it all the time would be no fun at all. Sometimes we can carry our burdens for far too long without respite.
At this point I should probably make clear that this is not a metaphor for my experience in Hoyland. The past fifteen years has been a time of many blessings. It’s always a real privilege as a priest to walk alongside people in their daily lives and to share something of their joys and sorrows. I hope that in some small way I might have been able to remind people that we don’t have to carry all these things alone. Jesus, in today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel, invites us:
“Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.”
Our burdens are sometimes ones that are impossible to avoid, such as illness, or grief, or the loss of financial security. Such things can certainly weigh us down in spirit. But there are other burdens that are self-imposed. St Paul speaks in the letter to the Romans about the difference between living spiritual and unspiritual lives. When we are slaves to the kind of things that distance us from God and damage our relationships, then we are held back and oppressed in spirit. When we refuse to forgive other people or to release ourselves from the burden of guilt then we are carrying a weight around that prevents us from moving forward freely. Our sins and the burden of our guilt keep us from being transformed by the presence of Christ among us.
A rousing hymn by Charles Wesley – “And can it be” – echoes some of the words from the writings of St Paul about freedom of spirit. It rejoices in freedom from the burden of guilt and oppression:
“My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed thee.”
Paul discovered this kind of freedom even when he was still in chains or facing the hostility of the world around him. It wasn’t an easy time to be a follower of Christ. Our struggles today, in this part of the world, are very different. We don’t face persecution but we live with other challenges. It’s hard to be part of a minority of people who sincerely try to walk in the way that Jesus invites us to go. Sometimes it can seem easier to buy into the values of the world around us. But Paul, in the letter to the Romans, reminds us that to obey our unspiritual impulses leads us away from life. When we live by the Spirit that has been poured into our hearts, then we find life, not only for a season but for eternity.
My relationship with Hoyland in fact goes back further than the fifteen years that I’ve been incumbent here. I think back to how things were twenty five years ago when I was curate. Society and church had already changed quite a lot from what people were saying to me back then. Now, a quarter of a century later, I can see for myself how far we have come. But we can’t wish ourselves back to a golden age. Financial difficulties and trends in our society have meant some sweeping changes for the Church. We might not always agree with the solutions, but we have to reckon with them all the same. Administration can seem more burdensome than ever before and it can feel as if more and more is being asked of us.
If ever there was a time to remind ourselves of the invitation of Jesus in the gospel, that time is now. We are invited to put aside any unnecessary burdens. When he says: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me”, he is not inviting us to take on an even greater load. This is because the task he sets us is simple: to become our true selves. He wants us to be the person God intends us to be and to be formed by our baptismal life as disciples of Jesus. We have him as our teacher and he shows us how to be gentle, both with ourselves and with others. When we or other people are in need, it is not the burden of rules and of judgment that helps us out. When people find it hard to connect with God or with the Church, they don’t respond to being assaulted with theology or moral judgments. Instead they need to know the one who brings Good News and new life.
This is a time of new beginnings. At every new beginning, it’s good to take stock of what has gone before: to repent of past wrongs and to remind ourselves of the promises we made to God in baptism. Jesus shows us that the most important place of all to begin is in prayer. In the gospel, he enters into communion with his Father, praising him for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom of God to people like you and me. We can never understand all of those mysteries here on earth, but in the Scriptures and through the sacraments, we come to see more clearly that we are loved and that God is leading us through rough times and smooth alike.
I finish with a prayer from the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen:
“Dear Lord, show me your kindness and your gentleness, you who are meek and humble of heart. So often I say to myself, ‘The Lord loves me,’ but very often this truth does not enter into the centre of my heart. Let these weeks be an opportunity for me to let go of all my resistances to your love and an occasion for you to call me closer to you.” Amen.
When Bishop Jack Nicholls asked me to come to Hoyland in 2008 I hesitated slightly. This was not because I didn’t like the sound of it, but because I had been here previously as Curate (1998 – 2000). It is easy to underestimate how different those two roles are. Curates are usually popular, because they do not have overall responsibility and can usually avoid having to make tricky decisions. They get most of the nice things to do! Still, I have no regrets about the decision to return. I found lots of goodwill in the two churches where I have served, and a community that I already knew and loved.
I had to adjust to living in a different vicarage from the one I had lived in as curate. Being in the centre of Hoyland back then meant that there was lots going on around me and there was quite a buzz on Market Street. Now I was living further away from the centre, but still managed to pop into Hoyland quite often.
There has been plenty of change with the redesigning of the town centre. This contributed to the decision to sell the parish hall. Although it was sad to see it go, it meant a greater degree of financial security at a difficult time. Things did not get easier, especially with the effects Covid lockdowns and we have had to face various challenges over the recent years.
Throughout all this, the worship at St Andrew’s and the pastoral work with the congregation and community have sustained me. The difficulty came with trying to adapt to a changed model of church and ministry, which has inevitably consumed more time and energy in the past couple of years. It was this, above all, that brought me to the decision that I could no longer remain in the same role.
Leaving is sad after so many years, especially as I had envisaged staying to a more “normal” retirement age! There have been so many blessings though and I shall always be grateful for the friendship of the people here at St Andrew’s, at the coffee morning, and in the wider community. Hoyland will always be a special place for me. I remain a priest and as a sign of that I have received a wonderful gift of a communion set from the people here. My thanks and prayers are with the people of St Andrew’s and the community of Hoyland at this time and in the time to come.