We need our routines, all of us
It’s Friday morning – which means “Write your blog.”
So here we go. We had a great weekend as we marked my final Sunday as vicar of Christ Church. A truly enjoyable family get-together in the Ministry Centre on the Saturday evening, even as embarrassing photos from my distant past appeared on the big screen. Then a memorable set of services on the Sunday, my final 8.15 and 10.45, along with the hotpot. So many people went out of their way to support us on this special occasion. May I say a big thank you to all those who worked so hard to make this all happen. And another thank you for all your varied cards and gifts. We were bowled over! However, following diocesan policy I’m still vicar for a further month, until Tuesday, 8 May. Hence this blog on Friday morning. For routine can be very important – especially during times of rapid transition, which Jacqui and I are about to experience. It is important to maintain those rhythms which remain. We’re not just talking about the spiritual disciplines here, themselves hugely important, such as early morning prayer and Bible reading (known to previous generations as Quiet Time). I also include our regular routines such as the Ormskirk ParkRun each Saturday at 9.00 am. I’ll be there as usual. For many people, routine appears as a negative word in that we feel restricted, hemmed by the daily and weekly round. However, that simply means that we should create healthy routines rather than pretend that we can live without them. Routines need a rationale, maintains pastor Jon Swanson. He writes: ‘That’s because routines are about how to live. They need to have a why.’ Those routines which created and develop relationships are the key. And sometimes they need working at. The one routine which had huge significance for me and my family lasted for nearly 40 years, virtually uninterrupted. Each Sunday afternoon, between the morning and evening services, Jacqui and I complete with children would drive over to Crosby, to have lunch with Auntie Rita, tea with Jacqui’s Mum and then sandwiches with my parents along with my sister’s family. Each visit was carefully timed – my mother as last in the sequence saw to that. To begin with, it was easy – just four miles from Litherland to Crosby. Then on moving to Heswall, 40 minutes’ drive either way. Still doable. But on moving to Rochdale it became absolutely imperative, not least because we had moved to a highly stressful situation and into an alien culture. We found the transition, all of us, very difficult. Thankfully, great motorway connections meant the journey was no more than an hour each way. This simple routine kept us going. Everything else had changed in our lives – except Sunday afternoons. It was a fixed point for the whole family – and it made all the difference. Sadly this annoyed one of my churchwardens no end. He actually shouted at me for neglecting my ministry. He simply had no idea that this family routine was necessary for my mental health. As far as he was concerned vicars cope. Nevertheless we persevered and on moving to Aughton nine years later, we stayed with this pattern, even as our daughters left home one-by-one. The final Sunday afternoon was just five years ago as my mother, our last surviving senior relative, died. Looking back everyone benefited – Jacqui and I, our children, our parents and consequently our congregations. Our relationships need to be nurtured and routine can make all the difference. Jesus, of course, as an member of the covenant people of God, practiced routine, daily, weekly and yearly. Neal Samudre observes: “We see Jesus himself practice routine. In the mornings, he would typically retreat by himself to go pray. And then when he would arrive in towns, he would teach and heal.” Of course, at the heart of his routines were his relationship with his Father. He even went out of his way to maintain these rhythms, such as making himself unobtainable by going to a deserted place while it was still dark. (Mark 1:29) But his other routines were relational, with his family and neighbours. Luke tells us that it was his custom to attend synagogue on the Sabbath (4:16) and to travel to Jerusalem each year for the Passover (2:41). In fact, the Hebrew scriptures are filled with the weekly, monthly and annual rhythms which evolved over the course of God leading his people. So the writer to the Hebrews challenges his readers to prioritise their fellows Christians in their weekly routine. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24f) We are defined by our routines. It is how God has made us.