The long view – The Rev’d Mark Rudall explores how retired clergy can harvest their experience and become encouragers to those who minister in a very different ‘now’

The Rev’d Mark Rudall is a retired priest and was formerly Director for Communications in the Diocese of Guildford

It was a bitterly cold winter day. But heavily armed with an oxy-acetylene blow torch, a Stilsons wrench and a copper-faced mallet we were dismantling the heavy boiler we had just removed from its accustomed setting with the aid of a convenient oak tree, a block & tackle and a length of chain. Wrapped up as warmly as possible in overalls, gloves and a woolly hat, my companion commented: ‘Of course you realise we could both simply spend our days playing golf!’

Wiping the frozen dew-drop off the end of my nose, I reflected that neither of us play golf or have any desire to, but a lot of our friends do. However, our present project was immensely satisfying and well worth the trouble. It was the boiler from my small steam river launch that, last summer, rather embarrassingly failed as I was about to take friends out on the river to enjoy companionship and sunshine, maybe even a glass of wine. Having determined what, precisely, had failed, we were on the way to restoring it to health.

All my life as a writer and clergyman I have been a closet engineer fascinated by old technology. So much so that over many years particular care had to be taken to ensure that hands and fingernails were clean enough to Preside on Sundays. Eight years into retirement I became a Vice President of one of the heritage organisations that celebrates what to me are fascinating aspects of the UK’s colourful engineering history. Most importantly, it brings me into contact with an amazing range of people. Yes, some are Christian while others are as divorced from Christian and Church life as can be imagined.

Essential lubricant

I make no apology for slightly indulgently banging on about my interest in old machines, because I noticed many years ago that whether we are looking at Christian or secular assemblies of people, the human dynamics are precisely the same. All people groups have something in common with old engines: without the right lubricant they will break down and may fail completely. There are endless different grades of mineral and vegetable oils used in the mechanical world, but in the human context the universal lubricant is ‘grace’. The Grace of God is a central concept in Christian theology, but at every other level of society there will always be failure if some level of its human outworking is missing.

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