It was tears and no church on Easter Sunday for this retired vicar. This is David’s valuable story.

When I retired, ten years ago, I nearly went to pieces. I had been in the same church for twenty six years. And my wife, Sue, and I knew it was time to leave, for our sakes as well as the church.

Longer ministries are a good idea, but there are limits.

In the final weeks everyone was kind. Remembering to look sad when they bumped into us. But beneath the surface there was gathering excitement about the next phase of the church’s life.

And we were excited too.

In my mind I was more than ready for this new stage of life. New adventure, new freedom. Lots of time to sit and pray and read and think and write- and visit Waitrose coffee shops. And walk the dog.

But in the end it came like a body blow.

I don’t want to alarm you, but retirement for a clergy person is a triple bereavement. You lose your job, your community and your home. And, understandably, you are not encouraged to hang around.

So we left our lovely rectory and moved to a pleasant semi-detached house ten miles away. Because my father had been a vicar I had lived in large detached houses for much of my life and I was about to discover I was a snob.

Sitting in our new garden one day there was a sudden eruption of noise from over the fence. ‘What’s that?’ I shouted. ‘Dad,’ said my daughter, ‘it’s neighbours. Welcome to the real world.’

It was close to Easter and for the first time in about a hundred years I didn’t go to church on Easter Day. I looked out of our lounge window and cried I know it’s a bit pathetic, but it’s true.

What’s the point?

Long story! Sue sometimes says to me after a sermon. ‘Great story, Dave (it’s always Dave when she wants to wind me up) …and your point?’

Well the point on this occasion is that in the process of ‘running a church’ I had got confused about my identity. I had come to see it as bound up with my role.

‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m Rector of St. Saviour’s Guildford.’ But of course identity is to do with who we are first, and only then with what we do.

I think God was simply telling me that in retirement I remained his beloved child. It was like he was telling me to sit still, to look and listen and wait. ‘You’ve done enough damage over 40 years, now just calm down and wait and know that I love you.’

What came home to me was that I am a sheep under the care of the chief Shepherd. That is my identity.

Why is this so important?

It’s because identity brings security and we can only function well out of a place of security. Secure in God’s loving call we are able to relax, to listen, to care, to love and to forgive.

Conversely the unidentified life is a brittle one. Uncertain of who we are, confused maybe about our worth to God, our attitude to others becomes uneasy and inconsistent.

It’s a valuable lesson I have learned. And that’s why I’ve shared it.

Adapted from David Bracewell’s blog Essentials: Identity – letters to a church leader in their first job in charge. To view or subscribe go to Church Leader Blog.

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For more on ‘identity’ see the AfterWorkNet webpages on Status.

David Bracewell.

David Bracewell was a CofE minister for over 50 years. Now, mid-70s, he lives in Derby where he’s a member of St Werburgh’s in the city centre. David mentors a few young people, travels a bit teaching and preaching and continues to run a much loved Mazda MX 5 sports car.

The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife