St Mary’s Church was very full on Sunday 24th July as church members, local residents, Christians of other local churches and friends gathered to say farewell to Revd. Peter and Alison Wintgens.
Peter and Alison had chosen the hymns and anthems for the service, as well as the Scripture readings. Those taking part in the service represented a cross-section of church members and those who had been in leadership roles with Peter and Alison over the years. I invited Alison to read the Gospel from the centre of the church and to administer the bread, including to those unable to come up to communion.
Peter preached on these chosen passages, reflecting upon the presence of God in our lives and his invitation to be part of his journey of love. He invited us all to make the knowledge of God’s love the heart of our lives. This was well-reflected in the choice of anthems that had been chosen – the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes were sung as an Introit and Thomas Tallis’s If Ye Love Me, allowed us to reflect upon the message of the sermon in a prayerful way.
After Communion, it was time for speeches and appreciations. Debbie Apostolides spoke of the love and gentle concern that Peter Wintgens had shown in his pastoral ministry, including at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. Sue Whitley paid tribute to Alison’s pastoral care, often to those others find it hard to reach, and her commitment to making disciples through the Alpha Course and our Discipleship Conversations. I suggested three words that characterised their ministry: compassion, consistency and commitment.
Following this gifts were presented: from the very generous donations made by St Mary’s members, Peter and Alison were presented with three special gifts. A fine framed photograph of St Mary’s, taken by Leslie Spatt, spoke of their past; a wonderful illuminated Life of St Edmund, King of East Anglia, spoke of their future; and, most precious of all, an 18th Century Russian Icon of the Virgin and Child spoke of the central role that Jesus had and would play in their lives, carried as he was in this image by our patron saint, St Mary the Virgin.
Peter and Alison spoke briefly as well, thanking everyone for their kind gifts and warm appreciation, and in turn speaking of the privilege of ministering at St Mary’s. Both mentioned the fact that St Mary’s had given each of them far more than they felt they had given themselves. In response, and as an act of generous gratitude, Peter and Alison told the congregation that selling their home in Battersea had felt like winning the lottery without buying a ticket and, as such, they felt they wanted to leave a financial gift to St Mary’s, which they would like us to consider using to develop discipleship and lay ministry. Peter was reticent about mentioning the amount. It is £50,000!
The service concluded with a rite of departure: Peter and Alison knelt before the altar and the wardens and I prayed for them, while the choir sang John Chilcott’s An Irish Blessing. I then anointed both with the oil of Chrism, used at ordinations and confirmations, a sign that their ministry would continue in Woodbridge as it had done in Battersea. Finally, after Peter gave his blessing to the congregation and before Alison gave the dismissal, we sang the hymn One More Step. Peter and Alison walked out in procession together to a picnic party with Prosecco.
A couple of days later, over a farewell meal with the staff team and wardens, Peter and Alison both reflected that, although they had feared that the service would be sad, it had rather been a joyful celebration of their ministry and St Mary’s itself and they felt upheld by the prayers and love of the congregation and a sense of God’s presence with them as they go. St Mary’s, they said, seems a happy, settled church with a conviction of where it wants to go. They assured us all of their prayers.