In this newsletter:
- Andy Storch our new curate introduces himself
- Though I walk through the valley…
- Youth Group News – and Invitations
- Hospitality: Extending our focus
- Dates for your diary
Andy Storch our new curate introduces himself
From Lawyer to Priest
Why would an established criminal defence solicitor step away from his law firm and spend 6 years training to be a vicar?
Of course, the answer is that sense of vocation, but as we all hear from God differently I will sketch out the points at which I particularly felt that sense of vocation.
I arrived at University aged 19, having no personal relationship with God. I honestly thought churches were a business to make profit from the collection! But when the gospel was explained to me one-to-one this time, I gave my life to Christ. Within a week I was thinking how much I would like to be ordained, which seemed the natural next step. However, it was pointed out to me that my ambition – to be a legal aid lawyer – would give me huge client interface, and I could minister to people as a full-time Christian without having to be ordained!
The next time was when I was now married to Janice expecting our first child and I found myself explaining at a work appraisal that being a priest was a serious option for me in the future, as was being a stay-at-home dad. It transpired that I became a stay-at-home dad, and set up my own criminal defence law firm from home.
My third “call” came on a day in 2013 when Chris Grayling MP announced that all criminal legal aid would be scrapped save for the biggest 4 firms in Thames Valley (there were 100). After a sleepless night, facing the likely closure of my firm, I turned again to my dormant aspiration of ordination. Michael Gove MP later replaced Chris Grayling and we were saved from the cull.
Finally, in 2014, our vicar and his wife suggested that I pursue ordained ministry. At this point I had been preaching occasionally and enjoying it. One particular week I felt the balance shift: my Christian activities that week were now what attracted me more than the legal work I was doing. We decided to take things further, and my growing conviction that, having helped people in the here and now, I should be helping people with the now and forever, was confirmed by the Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) in 2016. Since then I have been training at St Mellitus College in London, whilst establishing my firm, now twelve people strong, in a central Reading office. I will be ordained as deacon on 29 June, 2019, in Christchurch, Oxford.
Janice and I now have three children; Freya has just finished drama school at Central in London, Phoebe is about to go up to Queen Mary to read History, and Rory is about to start his GCSEs.
I am looking forward to being in CTM parish, working at St John’s first of all, and then across the other churches, learning what God is doing in this place and how together we can serve this community.
So, I look forward to being 100% curate and 100% lawyer – depending which side of the river I find myself!
Though I walk through the valley…
When I wrote for the March CTM news Simon was in hospital with a non-functioning bowel, having had major surgery on New Year’s Eve to remove a large mass of cancer and all the organs it had attached itself to. Within days of me writing, we were told by our consultant that CT scans had shown the cancer was re-growing aggressively, further surgery wasn’t possible, and without a working bowel chemo would be ineffective. He couldn’t tell us exactly how long Simon had– “two months, perhaps longer with IV nutrition…..but you won’t see Christmas”.
Simon came home under the care of the community palliative care team. Mentally he was fine, but physically he was weak and getting weaker. A plethora of disability aids were provided by an imaginative occupational therapist and we installed a stair lift. It seemed to me that Simon aged from 54 to 84 in a matter of weeks, but he remained astonishingly positive and good-humoured. On occasions when I got too morbid, with a twinkle in his eye he’d remind me, “I’m not dead yet!” His philosophy was that he was alive today, he would probably be alive tomorrow, so we should make the most of every moment. I was so thankful to be given the time to be with him and care for him, precious, intimate time together.
We enjoyed wheelchair trips along the river, and our new, 52” TV which we bought using vouchers Simon had been given as a long service award for 30 years at Henley College – we watched every episode of The Crown, a lot of football and cricket, all of David Attenborough’s documentaries, and the last episode of Game of Thrones. In his last weeks Simon also enjoyed ‘Homes under the Hammer’, the show in which builders buy derelict properties and transform them into something beautiful. That seemed to me a very good analogy of what would happen to Simon’s body when he died – it would be ‘in beauty glorified’ .When that day came I felt strangely peaceful – relieved that he wasn’t suffering anymore, sure that in Jesus presence he would be healed and whole.
In the days that followed, my overwhelming emotion was thankfulness – thankfulness for the palliative care nurses who had suggested I call the boys home earlier than I had planned, which meant we were all together when Simon died; thankfulness for our GP who visited so faithfully through Simon’s last weeks and came to certify the death; thankfulness for Mike’s wise and gentle ministry to us throughout the seven month ordeal; thankfulness for so many years of fun and so many happy memories; thankfulness for the love and prayers and practical help we received from our family and from so many friends and colleagues. Thankful for every card, text or email that brought comfort.
Simon’s funeral was an extraordinary service- a joyful celebration of his life and character, and a powerful testimony to his and our faith in Christ, who has conquered death. There were tears, of course, but also much laughter, powerful testimonies, heartfelt worship, abundant references to Star Wars, and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ in June! Simon would have loved it. He would have been so proud of the boys. We were thankful so many people came (including a coachload from Henley College!) and for the team at St John’s who organised the wake, and for everyone who baked cakes and served drinks. We then headed down to Cornwall for a weekend visiting our favourite north coast haunts, just being together in the places that are special to us as family.
And since then?
I have hardly begun to process all that has happened in the last seven months and know my grief journey has barely begun. I miss Simon. I miss his humour, his wisdom, his presence, his prayers. I haven’t been as miserable as I had expected to be. The boys seem to be coping well, we are laughing a lot and ‘getting on with life’.
But there are moments when thoughts or memories come, and tears well. Sirens trigger memories. I am beginning to let myself admit that what we went through was an agony for us all. By God’s grace we coped with each day and found love and joy in the midst of it, but I have much still to process, things that will take time to heal.
In the meantime life goes on, and there are practical tasks to get on with, all interlaced with strange questions and decisions to make – what to keep, what to get rid of? I couldn’t wait for the stairlift to be removed, but when it had gone I missed it. I threw away Simon’s tatty overnight bag, but rescued it the next day. Should I turn his shirts into cushions? What should I do with his wedding ring? Should I still be wearing mine? Why does the word ‘widow’ jar so much?
And where was – is – God in all of this?
At Easter I found myself reflecting more deeply than ever before on the journey through Holy Week, the agony of Gethsemane, “Please take this cup from me,” and Good Friday, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the day when people came together to pray for Simon in St John’s I snuck into the back of church to be part of it. I was deeply moved by the sight of so many people praying for us, and even more deeply moved as I looked at the rood cross, with Jesus hanging there and John and Mary looking on. It seemed to me that it was Matthew and me watching Simon. Through Simon’s last weeks I drew huge comfort from the cross, knowing Jesus had been there, that he had felt pain, that he had wounds, that he had been pierced, that he had struggled to breathe – that he was in it with us now, not distant and aloof.
He has been in it with us all along, whether I have felt him or not. I don’t love him any less than I did a year ago, in fact I think my love is deeper, even though there are huge unanswered questions in my heart. When I pray, I find I want to just be with God rather than engage in deep conversation or ask the “Why?” questions. Simon once said that at the end of a week on teaching practice he and his fellow trainee teachers would just sit together in a room in silence, staring into space, united by the shared trauma of their classroom experiences! Perhaps it feels a bit like that with me and God. He and I both know it has been horrific, and knowing he knows, and that we were in it together, is enough for now.
It helps, too, to know that this isn’t the end. Death is a defeated enemy. Sometimes when someone dies young, when people have been praying for a miracle, it can seem like a dreadful defeat. But for Christians death is never a defeat – it’s a doorway into an eternity with Christ, something Paul longed for (Philippians 1:23). I may have questions about suffering and healing and the power of prayer and a million other things, but I don’t have any doubts about Simon’s eternal destiny. That makes a big difference to me as I grieve. We will be together again one day. Simon came to faith in Christ at a Billy Graham rally at Bramhall Lane, home of Sheffield United. After he died a friend sent me this quote from Billy Graham, which Simon would have echoed.
“Some day you will hear that I have died. Don’t believe a word of it, I will he more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Yes, Lord. I do. I am grieving, as I know so many others are, too. The journey through grief is unique to each of us, but we don’t travel alone, and we don’t travel without hope. This side of heaven I will always miss Simon, but in time I will find a new normal here, and can look forward to being with him again one day, in God’s presence, for all eternity.
Youth Group News – and Invitations
As many of you know, we started a Youth Group last autumn, and are now coming to the end of our first year. It’s been a fun year, trying out new things and getting to know each other. The group is open to children year 6 and above, and leaders and members come primarily from the churches of this parish and from Caversham Baptist church – but we’re very much open for others to join in.
During the year, we’ve had a whole range of activities, and met in different places. We often use Church House, but we’ve also had a couple of evenings using the games facilities at the Baptist Church, and been able to make use of the Parish Rooms at the Rectory as a base then for going out into Caversham Court Gardens. There may not have been much good weather yet this summer, but we’ve made use of what we’ve had! We even had a night time session in the Gardens early in the year. We’ve built things together (see photo 1). We’ve done craft together (see photo 2). We’ve played lots of different games together – some more active, some more sedentary, but all pretty noisy. We’ve eaten (a lot) together. But most importantly, we’ve spent time together. Where two or three are gathered in my name, Jesus says, I am there in the midst of them. We will be marking the end of the year with a BBQ, to which we will be inviting everyone who has been involved in the Youth Group over the course of the year.
Next year there will inevitably be changes, both in the membership (as this year’s Year 5 are invited to join), but also in the leadership, where there will be some turnover. We really want to make sure that the group stays strong, and so would like to invite anyone who has an interest in helping the Youth Group grow and evolve, to come to a YOUTH GROUP SUPPORTERS’ EVENING: Tuesday 16th July, 8pm, in the Parish Rooms (next to the Rectory). If we have too many for the size of the room – that will be a great problem to have, and we’ll just head up the hill to St Peter’s!
Left: Spaghetti & marshmallows — literally a team building exercise!
Above: Youth Group ‘Christmassy Trees’ on display at St Peter’s Christmas Fair, raising money for the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Please do come along if you would like to hear more and support the group.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org ☎ 0118 947 3783
Hospitality: Extending our focus
Did you hear recently of the events concerning a non-verbal autistic boy who was asked to leave a service on Evensong in the chapel of Kings College Cambridge because the boy was behaving inappropriately in the chapel staff’s eyes (see an open letter from the boy’s father and the reply from the Dean of Kings)? I wonder what your thoughts are on this scenario? How might you have reacted?
We all want our churches to be welcoming. But it is very easy to not be welcoming to people who don’t fit in with us. How might we pay greater attention to ensure everyone, regardless of need or background, are generously welcomed and placed at the heart of our church life? What areas of our church life, small group life, do we need to change so that we have porous boundaries that make joining in easy for new people? Can we undertake an accessibility audit (much more than physical accessibility) for our churches?
When I read the Gospels I see Jesus always meeting the persons needs first, before talking to them about their need to change. All too often however, the Church wants to tell people (explicitly by our words or implicitly by our behaviour, actions, and values) how to live first, before we offer any welcome. As churches who want to become Christ-like, we need to regularly look at how we include in order to become generous in hospitality.
So we could discuss the above scenario about how we are hospitable to people with definite ability needs. But there are many others areas we could discuss – to name a few:
- the welcome of children at communion;
- our place journeying alongside people of other faiths;
- our responses to people who have a different gender identity or sexuality to us;
- what more we could do to make our congregations more reflective of the economic, race
and ethnicity profile of our community.
Might we go on a journey over the next few months to open up conversations about these and other subjects and how our hospitality might affect them. I would love us to open up conversations at all levels of our parish life – amongst clergy, in PCC and CLTs, in small groups and in congregations. We need to be sensitive with one another as we do this, for we won’t all agree, and some issues are very personal. But we shouldn’t shy away from difficult issues. Healthy churches are places where difficult conversations can take place. Our first conversation together will need to discuss how we talk about some of these subjects, and how we might agree to disagree well.
But I do think we need these conversations starting across our parish, praying that God will make our hearts more generous as we seek to Become a more Christ-like Community? What do you think?
Dates for your diary
|6 July 10.30am
|St Peter’s sidespeople training
|9 July 7.30pm
|St Margaret’s CLT
|10 July 7.30pm
|St John’s CLT
|11 July 10.00am
|St Peter’s CLT
|13 July 1.00pm
|Caversham Church Fete, Caversham Court Gardens
|17 July 7.30pm
|20 July 6pm
|St Margaret’s Day service
|21 July 6.30pm
|Choral Evensong, St Peter
|Bishop Steven walking South to North across Reading Deanery – all welcome to join him.
|Baptism Tea Party
|11 September 7.30pm
|St Peter CLT
|11 September 7.30pm
|St John CLT
|Ride & Stride
|Launch of Stewardship Campaign in all churches
|18 September 7.30pm
|22 September 9.30am
|Harvest St Peter and Harvest brunch
|24 September 7.30pm
|St Margaret CLT
|Barn Dance, St John
|29 September 11.15am
|Parish-wide service, St Margaret
|6 October 9.30am
|Harvest St John
|6 October 11.15am
|Harvest St Margaret
Other newsletters are in the newsletter archive