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.

Found this helpful? Then do please share using the links below.

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.


  1. Hang on in there our lovely one. You are SO loved by God, but many, many people all over the country, and other countries too love you to bits as well. WE certainly do and love your humour, your sincerity, your book (s) and much much more…working with you taught me a lot! Our Mazda MX5 sits in our neighbours garden, so we can just see it, but not drive it any more 🙁 Keep in touch! That’s why God gave you so many friends!!! A friend of mine from Greyfriars sent me this David moment and I shall sign up to the mailing list right now. When you’re feeling a bit down…remember Beardy hugs. Best love, Gill and Nick

    1. See above…Looking forward to your late Christmas card…keeps us waiting for your news…Enjoy the coffee…xx Hope the first comment got through!!

  2. Yes! As one clergy wife, who together with her husband had served a similar (25 years) in a large, thriving, Lakeland parish once shared with me “it is cruel on retirement to move away from house & home, community and friends!” Although, after over 23 years in my last post I was ready to move in to retirement I was welcome to assist a colleague – if so led – in a church where I had served as a curate 35 years previously. Although some 23 miles away it became a delight to motor in and out; and I was as happy in one of the pews as, on occasions, in the pulpit. Relaxed, refreshed, reinvigorated and renewed for the occasions when invited to preach, pray or encourage those leadership. It is not always easy, but I took a lesson out of John Baptist’s approach -“he must increase and I must decrease!”

  3. Very good article, I resonate very much with what you say, but from the Vicars wife position. Very hard to move house church and job/position all in one go. Not sure too many other professions have to do all three. The wife also suddenly has ‘no’ role in some ways. Retired clergy are always required to help out in a new setting but the vicars wife simply becomes another member of the congregation. I agree that there are always gifting that God gives us we can use, but there is still a sense of loss.

  4. Change is difficult for all of us. As foreigners moving to the UK everything is different. We loose our homes, family, friends, community, environment and employment. Almost all the people are decent and considerate but our history and culture does not align and making new friends is super challenging. TBH my wife is forlorn and devastated. I have found meaning and human contact being a roving Carer for old folk in their own homes. Nothing however will really replace the wide vistas, climate, wildlife and warmth of the people in South Africa. My prayer is that we are constantly renewed but the process is painful.

  5. Thanks David, especially your openness and vulnerability in sharing your experience. It is indeed a massive change of role, social standing, occupation, home, location, fellowship and friends. Even with foresight and planning this level of change doesn’t happen without affecting us emotionally, mentally physically and spiritually. But in the grace of our Lord Jesus we are able to learn more about ourselves and who He is for us, through this pain.

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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