Church of England Diocese of Bristol St. Martin Knowle

A message from Ruth Harding... 21st August

21 Aug 2020, 6 p.m.

A year ago in September I started my placement at St Martins, taking a year away from my regular churches in Frenchay and Stapleton. I wrote a letter for the magazine introducing myself, and, here I am, just under a year later writing to say goodbye as I finish my year with you and start my third and final year as an ordinand at Trinity.

I have learnt so much over the last year from my studies and from all of you, so I thought I would take the opportunity to briefly summarise some of my experiences and what I have learnt.

Throughout the year St Martins takes students training for lay and ordained ministry and we are very grateful to you and Becky for this opportunity. The churches I come from don’t have incense, the gospel read in the centre of the church or a community café every week throughout the year, so all these have been new experiences for me. You have made me so welcome. I have been struck by talking to you that people come to church for many different reasons and from many different places, but all are encouraged at St Martins to participate in a way they feel they can. I thought that a church with incense, processing, Eucharist most weeks, wouldn’t appeal to such a wide variety of people and I have been shown to be wrong, and I am pleased about that. I have found the services to be sensory, inclusive, worshipful and they have been a privilege to be a part of whether I have been up front preaching, serving or sitting in the congregation or, more recently on Facebook. Thank you.

The ‘rituals’ such as crossing myself, bowing, processing the gospel, carrying the cross, waving the incense have become rituals and practices that I came to appreciate. They have added something special to my worship, recognising God to be holy, and reminding me that it is a privilege to come and worship God, and it fills me again with awe and wonder at our amazing God. As we processed the gospel, lifting it high, and lifting the wine and bread high at the Eucharist I was reminded of the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus and of the word of God in the Bible.

When I felt a call to ministry I saw myself as a servant and called to serve God and was reminded by the bishop, when I was confirmed a few years ago, that the stole (scarf) placed around the priest’s neck represents the towel Jesus dried the disciple’s feet with after washing them. I felt very awkward being served by the MC when I was leading the service or preaching, holding the order of service or the gospel for me, when I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. I was reminded that in doing that the MC is serving God. It was also great to have somebody else there who knew where I should be and was ready with the right place in the order of service. There is a hymn ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you. Let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant to.’ As a Christian I am not meant to do serving all by myself, but am meant to be alongside others, enabling them also to serve. I am due to have an operation in the next week, and again, this lesson was brought home to me as people offered to help and my first reaction was that I’ve got this, I don’t need any help. May I continue to learn the lesson to let others serve, and have the grace to do this.

I have also learnt more about mission over the past year. I have enjoyed volunteering in the café and managed to do one shift at the Foodbank. We are all involved in God’s mission and I am hoping to take some of what I learnt about serving all the people in our community back to Stapleton, allowing our church run toddler group to become more accessible to all.

Over the past year I have spent more time sitting in the congregation than I normally would and this has allowed me time to get to know more people and not be continually busy every week. I am going to take this back with me, and, while I can, spend time worshipping and getting to know both of the churches in our Benefice better.

Thank you for all you have given and shown me over the past year and letting me get involved in your community and the family of St Martins. I had resisted for a long time doing a placement for a whole year anywhere, but God had other plans and I am so glad. Last year I was so nervous about starting a new venture and sad about leaving my churches, now I am sad to be leaving all of you and a bit nervous about going back.

I have been doing a lot of waiting on God recently to see what is next, and this has been a time of waiting on God for many of us. But God is faithful and we have a hope in God’s word, knowing that we are loved. ‘I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.’ May God guide you all as you enter into new ventures, waiting and serving together.

Love Ruth