Yes, it's good to be back though I had a very good holiday, but I have hit the ground running since return last week.
As a minister you know you've settled in to a new Parish when you start to really love your Parishioners. Most of us would say (I think) that you come with high hopes and a sense of love and duty as priest and pastor but its when you start connecting, feeling, hoping, more than is strictly necessary that one is becoming the minister and priest of that parish (or group, or team, or Mission Community). I would certainly say I felt that of the last Team I was in, and made good friends and felt at home there. Even those who weren't friends (or even friendly in some cases) I felt a great deal of affection and care for. Those of a certain wing of the church might talk in terms of 'having your heart turned towards the flock' and actually that's not a bad image, of inclining yourself in a particular direction and facing up to responsibilities and joys that come with that.
It didn't take long for me to feel comfortable and welcome and a part of these new parishes. But it was on my return last week that I realised I loved the people more than just loving them because it was my job.
And that's because of a sudden death, an unexpected death, a loss that deeply saddened me not just as 'the Vicar' or because of my concern for the relatives or because I liked this person, but a loss that saddened me as her pastor, colleague and (I would hope, though it was still early days) as a friend.
We will be holding the funeral next week, and I realise that this death is, as well as being a surprise and a shock, something that causes a deep sense of loss in me and a realisation that I love this place and I love these people.
I have officiated at funerals and tried to help people with their bereavements over the past weeks and months and have experienced many visits that have made me sad, some of which have been a shock, all of which it has felt a privilege to take. This one is different, though, and I will remember it as the one where, as a minister, I felt I was 'at home' - not always a comfortable feeling, but a good one. May God continue to give me the strength, grace, love and joy I need to serve his people in this place.