OPINION: My last column - time to say goodbye

James Marston says there are plenty of similarities between life in the church now and 250 years ago

James Marston is excited about continuing his religious journey as his time as a newspaper columnist comes to an end - Credit: Archant

We often don’t like change much do we?

As we face the relaxation of restrictions I can’t help note that while we trusted the scientists and government when they were enforced, many of us are now finding the idea of mask-free lives and facing people again a hurdle to overcome.

My view is that fear has controlled our behaviour for long enough and that the time has come, of course, to learn to live again – not least because the vaccine works and human ingenuity has responded to the challenge we face.

Though I do understand that at there does seem to be some discrepancies in national policy – the masks, the topic that everyone is talking about, were to be worn, we were told, not to protect ourselves but to protect others.

Now mask wearing is to become a personal choice. We are to decide whether to protect others or not. I can’t help thinking that masks, particularly the types most of us were wearing, may well have made little difference, but I know this view isn’t mainstream.

The effect of masks, it seems to me, is perhaps more psychological than physiological. And while the advice continues I think many of us have simply had enough of hearing it all – I know I have.

Nonetheless the pandemic and experience we have all been through, whatever one’s views on it all, has shown us the level to which our world, our communities are interconnected.

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This last weekend I was at St Edmundsbury Cathedral for a service of ordination. I watched the next cohort of priests in the church take their vows to serve God as ministers of the Church of England.

As you might imagine this made me think of my own ordination to the priesthood, now nearly a year ago. And for those who have followed my vocational journey from curious beginner to theological student to deacon to assistant curate in east Suffolk – from Mr to Rev – I cannot help but reflect, as my time as a newspaper columnist, a job I have loved for so long, begins to draw to an end, how much I have changed in the last few years.

It has been a journey, will all the usual ups and downs, and it is a journey that continues. I have moved house, taken on a life-changing new role, and become, in many ways, someone else, or at least perhaps become more myself than I was before. I have experienced and sensed something of the ontological change that those who were priested on Sunday will experience in the months and years to come.

This is hard to explain in words, even for a journalist, but I think it is about how I view the world and communities around me – I see with what I feel is an ever growing clarity through the lens of faith, not least how vulnerable and fearful and fragile we all are.

I still often feel unworthy of this calling. I still often let ego get in the way, I swear too much, I still like a cigarette, and am far too selfish, I have faults as we all do, but through this long and sometimes difficult process of becoming myself change has been the only constant, with the exception of my faith.

To be a priest is many things – not least to be selfless and vulnerable and by doing so to point others towards trusting in God in their lives – no easy task in a world where we habitually eschew the need for the spiritual, dismiss with ease the religious, and worship instead self and materialism.

Today’s subject might all sound somewhat esoteric but I think we are all spiritual beings, all influenced by the metaphysical and we are all, in the end, God’s creatures – indeed we are interconnected and intertwined by love and God’s grace far more than we are by aeroplane travel or football or having a mortgage, we just don’t often recognise it, largely I think, because belief in God challenges us to change.

Yet to begin see the world in this way removes much of the fear we all experience. To have a faith means to negate fear and live in hope.

It is this faith I hope to keep and, maybe even pass on, as I continue my journey

Perhaps now is the time for all of us to embrace change and do our best to put aside fear, and for me, to become yet more fully the priest I sense and hope I am becoming.

I thank you all for reading, for your support, questions, agreements, disagreements, and engagement with me over all these years.

What do you think? Is James right? Email him at james.marston@archant.co.uk