One last goodbye

This will be my last Blog, fittingly to say Goodbye to the wonderful family of St Peter’s and community of Harold Wood after 20 years as the Vicar of this parish. My last services will be the morning of Sunday, April 15. I have said my Thank You to the children and young people of the church and to leaders and partners in the local community on the morning and evening of Palm Sunday, and to a packed all-age congregation and local partner churches on Easter Sunday morning and evening – all memorable occasions for me. I gave my thanks to parishioners at large via the Easter edition of Cross section which goes to all 5,200 homes in this parish, and a pastoral letter of Thanks will go to all the St Peter’s family in the ‘Advance News pack’ for members over this final week-end. Yes, it’s Thank You all round. And now it’s time for Goodbye in a final Blog from me …

‘So long, fare thee well’
Words from one of Fagin’s great songs in the musical ‘Oliver!’ as his boys set out for a day’s ‘work’. In fact I sang the part in my distant teaching days in the 1970s with a memorable cast combining pupils, staff and local community. What a romp it all was – I should probably admit that I sang and danced the part. As this song Be Back Soon really got going on stage, I just found my feet flying with the kick steps of the Charleston – and it stuck. So to this day, whenever that sort of rhythm strikes up (eg also The Mavericks and Dance the night away), I’m a gonna and just have to go with my happy feet. But I digress ….

Cheerio, but be back soon. I dunno, somehow I’ll miss you.    
I love you, that’s why I say ‘Cheerio’, not ‘Goodbye’. 
Don’t be gone long, be back soon. Give me one last look, God bless you.  
Remember our old tune – Be back soon!

We must disappear, we’ be back here – today, perhaps tomorrow.  
We’ll miss you too, it’s sad, but true, that parting is such sweet sorrow. 
But when you’re in the distance, you’ll hear this whispered tune:     
‘So long, fare thee well, pip pip, cheerio – we’ll be back soon’.

The song turns it all into quite a long goodbye, a phrase I heard far more poignantly recently as yet another couple faced bereavement of a parent after prolonged dementia. But, yes, for me I have been saying Goodbye more or less ever since I announced my retirement back in November. It has been a rare privilege to visit more or less every ministry group and age-group in the church and offer a few final words of encouragement and farewell. So I have played Sleeping Bunnies and Froggies with ABC, our pre-school groups, and reminisced with Good Companions at the other end of the age spectrum. I have played ‘the Zin Obelisk’ with CYFA, our Youth Group, and celebrated ‘It’s a Man’s Life’ over Breakfast and Lunch with the men. The very last group was Causeway, a group close to my heart ever since Catherine used to work at Dycorts, one of the local Special Schools. Causeway is a lovely Christian work among adults with learning difficulties and their carers and St Peter’s hosts the monthly Havering Causeway group every first Saturday.

Yes, I dressed up as Fagin and we sang the song. We pooled the fantastic array of words we use when parting – so long, cheerio, see you soon, good luck, till the next time, ciao (pronounced chow, it’s Italian), mind how you go, look after yourself, farewell, pip pip, adios amigos, go well, all the best, good bye, bye for now, tarara-bit (yes, in Oldham), etc, etc. I had a friend who signed off ‘Toodle pip, then’ – I wonder if he still does? What a fascinating load of words and phrases. The French say Au revoir and the Germans Auf wiedersehen, which both literally mean ‘Till the seeing again’.

But our European neighbours have yet another word – Adieu in French (remember the children in The Sound of Music singing good night and Goodbye – Adieu, adieu, adieu) and Adios in Spanish and Italian. Break the words down and each word is in fact two words: a Dieu and a Dios. It then is obviously seen what the words are actually saying when two people part company. They are commending the other ‘to God’. What a beautiful, moving and godly way to sign off with another person. We may have to go our separate ways, but we never go without God. The Lord walks with his people wherever they go. So let us ‘be European’ in this at least, that we commend one another to the Lord’s care and leading whenever we part.

goodbye-3083944960720However, we do not have to speak another language. Our own English Goodbye will do. When you analyse and break that word down, you discover it is a shortened form of ‘God be with you’. Isn’t that just the same, then? We send people on their way with a prayer for God to go with them with his peace and blessing. That is what Christians do, that is how we live, it is how we think and know as we go through life with all its meetings and partings, its ‘chances and changes’. It’s just what the apostle Paul did when he finally left the Ephesians elders. He ‘commended them to God’. You can read his final words in Acts 20.17-38. Verse 32 sums it up:

I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all the saints.

The faithful Lord God will go with us and his word of grace will keep us, keep us going and growing all the way ahead, all the way home to our promised inheritance in glory with all his ransomed and sanctified people. That is some promise on which to part – Goodbye, a Dios for now and always.

David Banting, Vicar (1998-2018)

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