Regular columnist Philip Young reflects on the events that have shaped his life over the last four years.
As I checked over the Marriage Registers on October 10, there it was, plain to see - the groom was a ‘Writer’ and the bride a ‘Staff Nurse’. It is not unusual for a Vicar to check the Registers before everyone signs them - I had done so many times before, usually well before the service, just to make sure I had filled them in correctly, knowing how very easy it was to make a mistake.
However, this time I was the one getting married to Ann, and the Reverend Elizabeth Corker from St. John’s Felixstowe was the ‘Vicar’ filling in the Registers. It was rather shocking to see myself described as ‘Writer’ but really I shouldn’t have been at all surprised; after all Elizabeth, only a few weeks earlier, had asked me how I wished to describe my profession.
February 2012 seemed a very long time ago. Almost another lifetime, as so much had changed since then. Back then I had been Vicar of St. Thomas Heigham in Norwich for nearly five years and married to Anna, Nurse and Midwife, for nearly twenty-two years. That marriage came to an abrupt end when, on the last Saturday of that month, Anna died of a heart attack and I became a widower. After the initial shock I had felt desperately sad and very lonely.
Over the following few months the pain and grief of sudden separation gradually eased. The support of family, congregation and friends helped me through the complex mixture of feelings that confront a suddenly bereaved person. It helped that I was willing to talk about my loss openly, even to the extent of sharing my thoughts on Radio Norfolk with Matthew Gudgeon just over five weeks after Anna died. I also wrote an article for Network Norfolk in May - Finding Completeness in God’s Love. I think that to share feelings when you feel ready, and able to do so, is a really important part of the grieving process (although not necessarily so publicly as I did).
My life continued to change rapidly during the rest of 2012 so that by the end of that year I was engaged to be married again and was working for the Diocese of Norwich as their Environmental Officer. I was very grateful to Graham, Bishop of Norwich, in the way that he helped me, as a friend and my boss, to work through the healing process of bereavement, and the special circumstances of becoming widowed whilst serving as a vicar.
In July 2012 I went on a silent Franciscan Retreat in Ely and started a conversation with Ann, a Nurse from Ipswich. We soon fell in love and both of us have, since our first meeting, become members of the Third Order Franciscans. We continue our journey joyfully together trying to follow Jesus after the manner of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Ann has helped me enormously to continue that process of healing and feeling whole again. I can confidently say, in more ways than one, that life continues after death.
After we married this October it seemed natural to go on honeymoon with Ann to the Franciscan Friary at Hilfield, in the deep countryside of Dorset, just as the autumn colours were beginning to turn. One of the First Order brothers, Brother Samuel, led us in a brilliant conference entitled, ‘Towards a Contemplative Ecology’.
We stayed on for a couple more nights to enjoy the Franciscan community life with its gentle rhythm of shared worship and work in the beautiful surroundings of the natural world. We enjoyed freshly baked bread and freshly laid eggs from the chickens that were running around outside of our Friary guesthouse. The guesthouse, along with all the other Friary buildings, was heated by the new biomass boiler, and the electric car was plugged in and charged up ready for the community to use.
So now we have returned home and are thoroughly enjoying living by the sea in Felixstowe, within easy walking distance of my new mother-in-law, who has been a Third Order Franciscan since the 1970’s. Ann continues her work as a nurse at Ipswich Hospital whilst I try my hand at being a full time writer.
As I contemplate my writing I am able to look back at over 50 published pieces I have written since 2010 for Network Norwich. (If you are interested you can access these by doing a search on their website for ‘Philip Young’). I am very grateful to Keith Morris and his team for this opportunity to write over the last five or so years. It has inspired me to want to write more and to explain at greater length my desire that peace, love, and care for our shared planet should be our priorities as we develop our desire to love God and our neighbour.
In my Franciscan Rule of Life, which I try to follow, I have written, ‘I will work at my writing, trying to be self-disciplined, and to set aside time to wait on the Holy Spirit for inspiration, and to write words that are helpful and liberating for other people.’ Please pray for me that God will be with me as I write.
To end this piece I wish to share with you a prayer, which I first came across in 1977 when I was in Cambridge training to be a vicar. I pray it again now as I dedicate my time to writing, but I hope it might be a useful prayer for your own use.
It is by Charles de Foucauld and is known as ‘The Prayer of Abandonment’
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
For I love you, Lord,
And so need to give myself,
To surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.
The photo of Philip and Ann is courtesy of John Young.
Philip is an Anglican, Quaker, and a member of the Third Order of Franciscans. He has recently moved to Felixstowe. Until July 2014 he was the Diocesan Environmental Officer for the Norwich Diocese. He is now a freelance writer on spiritual and political matters and is currently writing his first book called, ‘Vote for Love’. He is available to give talks, presentations or to preach, and has Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Norwich and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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