I fear the time has arrived when we must acknowledge a reality that has become increasingly apparent recently, namely that my current state of health is incompatible with being incumbent of a parish such as St Mark’s.
Back in 2009, those involved in my appointment knowingly took a risk – that I would be able to manage the symptoms of Pernicious Anaemia and a form of heart failure known as Atrial Flutter in a manner that would enable me to undertake the duties and responsibilities of the post. Initially, this seemed to be the case until our fated summer holiday of 2011 when my heart went into permanent fibrillation once more. Although surgery in December more or less re-established normal functioning (though, I still experience bouts of arrhythmia), I never regained the same level of fitness in terms of energy and stamina and have struggled with fatigue ever since.
Then, around Easter 2013, without any obvious cause, I developed sciatica which has been my constant companion ever since and which, despite surgery and other medical interventions, shows no signs of easing, requiring me to take potent pain relief so that I can attempt to work. Medication with its own debilitating side effects.
As hard as I have tried, my output has continued to reduce to the point where I can no longer make the level of contribution that can reasonably be expected of someone in this post. What is more, I have found living with acute pain distracting and wearing, making concentration, clear thinking and decision-making particularly difficult. Nor is it easy, for all that I am grateful, to minister when you personally have become a focus for the concern of those you seek to serve.
To this end, in consultation with Bishop Steven and, of course, Liz, who are both supportive, I have decided it is time to stand down on the grounds of ill health, having been reassured by Steven that I will be replaced and as a priority. Hopefully, with time, my body will mend to the point when I can reengage in ministry once more.
I am enormously grateful to my colleagues on the staff team, together with our churchwardens and Bishop Steven, for all their support as well as their willingness to experiment with different working arrangements. Without their cooperation this decision would have had to be made some time ago. And I am only too aware that my departure will add to their work-load on the short term. I am no less appreciative for the many kindnesses you have extended to me through all this. They are precious.
Let me say two more things. The first is a general point, namely that long, productive incumbencies such as you enjoyed with Adrian and Christine are often best followed by a briefer period of transition and stock-taking. With this is mind, Bishop Steven was expecting me to be with you for somewhere between five to seven years – we are now within that window.
Secondly, something that to my mind emerged with renewed clarity and urgency from our 50th Anniversary celebrations – recognition that St Mark’s, which has long championed the role of women within the life of the church, 20 years on from their being ordained priest, still hasn’t managed to appoint a female incumbent. Whilst having no part in choosing my successor, I would urge you to remedy this situation.
I don’t think this is supplementary to the future of St Mark’s – an optional extra, if you will; I believe it to be seminal to your vocation, especially within a Diocese where so few women hold senior appointments, to the extent that, had my health been sound, I would still be giving serious consideration to whether it was time to move on to enable this to happen.
So there we have it. Thank you for listening. There will be opportunities for farewells on another occasion and my final Sunday as incumbent will be 12 October; although, perhaps, there may be ways in which I can continue to make a contribution.
I am sorry if all this has come as a bit of a shock and I deeply regret the circumstances. Hopefully, you will be able to look back on this relatively brief ‘arranged marriage’ (as I once described it) and recognise it to have been a fruitful and worthwhile period in the life of St Mark’s. Above all, please remember that together, inspired by the spirit of the lively dead man (as I like to call him), you constitute the church and possess all you need to embody Christ’s risen presence in this place.
Ian Wallis, vicar.