I can only attribute much (all???) of what has happened to me since arriving in these parishes to the hand of God at work somehow in all the mess of life. For better or for worse there has been a huge amount going on which I have often felt deeply privileged to have a part in. From riding with the Satan's Slaves (still rather amazed at that) to running a pub (as a part of a community effort, obviously) these are not things that, as a priest, I ever expected to do.
Now due to some of that there are a whole load of other things which are opening up and contacts I am making, and pastoral opportunities and friendships which I simply wouldn't ever have expected. It's not all been great, alongside the ride with the slaves - as many of you will know - was the great sadness at having lost one of them, a member of our community, in a tragic accident. I have been involved in a number of powerful and moving funerals (not all of which I have officiated at, so please don't think I am 'blowing my own trumpet'). I have been privileged to lead the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance in the market town of Honiton (where I grew up) - a great honour on my part, but also a sombre reminder of the horror of war and the sadness of loss.
I have taken some very unusual weddings! And some more conventional ones. Even the conventional ones don't always go smoothly, including the one where the groom's lung collapsed in the week before the wedding and it could only go ahead because the best man was a qualified medic! Or the one packed with security consultants, and staff of the EU in Baghdad. Or the one with the black labradors accompanying the groom up to the Altar.
I suspect my experiences resonate with many clergy, and that the unusual is usual in most lives - but up until this move to Devon I have never experienced quite so much 'difference' all in one go! I am starting to feel as my previous Team Rector must feel - she seems very prone to the most amazing and surprising things happening in her ministry (and I am glad I had the opportunity to learn so much from her!!!
And as I reach my first anniversary of being inducted into this post, which is Tuesday this next week, I realise that in all of this God has been at work. I have felt the presence of Grace tangibly in many of the situations I have experienced. It has been a humbling experience, and an encouraging one too. As Gerard Hughes reminds us (in a wonderful book of the same name) God is a God of Surprises.
And those surprises continue - having had five seconds of 'fame' on the 'River Cottage' TV show it looks as though the next 14 minutes and 55 seconds are going to come from the pub project! The TV show featuring all of us is due for airing in late December, and the novelty of having a Minister working in and supporting a Community Run Pub has got the attention of a few local news outlets and even Premier Radio, the national (DAB/SKY/Freeview/Internet) Christian Radio Station! For those interested, I will be interviewed on the premier breakfast show on Monday 9th at 7.45am.
But as well as that, the coming week contains a greater surprise. I will be taking a funeral which will have Richard Dawkins involved. I have to confess my admiration for Dawkins, and I am looking forward to meeting him, despite it being such a sad occasion. In my list of things which might happen in my life, sharing a Church with a renowned Atheist wasn't one of them.
If I had ever played baseball, I might end this post with 'God knows how to throw a few curveballs'. As I haven't then I will end with God is a God of surprises!