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It’s good to be back. I had a wonderful three months on sabbatical leave, but it’s now come to an end – in time to be here for Steven Horne’s first week with us following his ordination as a deacon on Saturday. It’s really good to have a curate in the parish again, after more than a year without one. Steven is based at Willesborough and Sevington, but he’ll be learning from ministry across our parish, so expect to meet him in the coming months. Please give him a very warm welcome!

What has struck me since returning? That there’s so much happening to nurture faith, hope and love in our congregations and the people we serve. That I’m blessed to minister alongside so many committed fellow-disciples, lay and ordained, who cherish and support one another. And that a number of people have worked really hard to ensure that, on a day-to-day basis, the work of the parish has been able to continue without me.

That would include my clergy colleagues, both licensed and PTO, but by no means only them. Don’t forget that my role, like that of my stipendiary colleagues, has two main aspects: a ‘pastoral focus’ at St Mary’s Ashford Town Centre, and a ‘parish focus’ on oversight and governance as Team Rector. Different people (mostly) have been involved in covering each of those, and I’m deeply grateful to them all. Thank you for enabling me to have this gift of sabbatical time.

I’m conscious that my absence has brought some challenges, perhaps intensified when other members of the clergy have also not been available. Some of that has just been about stretching to cover all the services – not only on Sundays, but regular mid-week services as well as weddings, baptisms and funerals.

I know that people have had to navigate through some tricky situations while I’ve been away, and they’ve done it with skill and care. I was very clear with colleagues when I left that I didn’t want to come back and find that everyone had just sat on their hands for three months and avoided making any decisions! Church communities are living things, and the only way they stop changing is to die. And in human life, change brings the necessity of choosing.

What I’m looking forward to most of all is hearing how people have grown, in faith and hope and love, and known the goodness of God in their lives. After that, I’d love to say something about how that’s been for me.

The Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen

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