At the end of May, many of St Mary’s congregation attended Rochester Cathedral, to be part of a service where I was licensed by the Bishop.  It was very comforting to be surrounded by so many familiar faces on the day, as I have to admit that I was just a little bit nervous!  It was a great occasion and I have been overwhelmed by the support given from so many of you.  I would like to thank those who sent cards and gifts and particularly those who offered words of encouragement.

As I write this, it has been three weeks since the service and I have been able to spend some time prayerfully reflecting upon the last three years.  As the LLM training draws to a close, I am filled with an assortment of thoughts and emotions.  For three years I have been studying and working alongside a wonderful group of people.  For two of those years, we met every week during term time and in this final year, many of us have studied together within particular modules we have chosen.  There were also three residential weekends throughout the duration and we keep in contact via a WhatsApp group.  The training brought us together and it now seems very strange not to be meeting with this familiar group on a regular basis.  Whilst we learnt a lot from various tutors, it would be fair to say that we also gained huge amounts from one another’s knowledge and experience.  We have also been, and still are, a good support network to each other.  Many personal prayer requests have been attended to and invaluable encouragement is offered, especially when the next 5000 word assignment is due.  We have shared highs and lows, we have laughed (a lot!), struggled with difficult concepts and asked ourselves searching questions about our own faith.  It has been an unforgettable time but now it is ending and that brings with it sorrow.  We will miss learning together and the camaraderie we shared; we will probably not miss the assignments at the end of each term though!  Every ending however, signals a new beginning and this was marked at the Licensing service.  Our cohort has now been licensed by the Bishop and we are deemed ready to leave the security of lecture rooms, tutors and our well-established group, to go forth and minister within our parishes.  This is both an exciting and daunting prospect and one which I have pondered a lot over the last few weeks.  During one particular time of contemplation, it occurred to me that the timing of the licensing service, between Easter and Ascension, was very apt.  To the disciples, the death of Jesus felt like the end, Jesus had patiently and lovingly taught this varied and quite ordinary group of people.  They had given their time and talents to follow Jesus but had the security of His presence and leadership.  When He was no longer there to give guidance, they could not imagine how they would continue.  They did not realise that for them, the death of Jesus would be the beginning of an amazing new chapter.  This unassuming group would be commissioned by Jesus to, ‘go and make disciples of all the nations’ with the assurance of His presence always, ‘even to the end of the age’ (Matt 28:16-20)

Three years ago, a varied and quite ordinary group of unassuming people met for the first time, with a desire to learn more about God and to follow His call.  Now we offer ourselves to God’s service as Lay Ministers and face our new beginning.  Like the disciples two thousand years ago, we also have the assurance that God is with us and will continue to guide our ministry into the future.

There has indeed been a combination of emotions over the last month or so, but I have an overriding sense of thanks.  I give thanks for the opportunity to take part in the course.  I give thanks for the support of my family, in particular Mark, and for the support of friends within St Mary’s and beyond.  I give thanks for the wonderful group of people who shared the journey with me.  I give thanks for the time and talents that so many tutors gave in teaching, advising and marking work.  I give thanks that, at this time in my life, I was able to give the work the time and effort required.  I give thanks to God for giving me strength to continue when I thought I might give up.  I give thanks that I am able to minister here in the Parish of St Mary’s, now and, God willing, into the future.

Becky Willoughby