Immediately after Easter I will be leaving the Potteries after 23 years.
We all moved here in the Summer of 1992 when I became the Church of England Vicar of St Werburgh’s, in Burslem. We arrived with our five children, aged from 3 to 14 years. At that time Stoke and Vale were both in the newly formed Division Two. It was the first year of the Premier League: yes it is that long ago!
Since then I have become a Catholic, trained as a teacher, trained teachers, been ordained priest, served as parish priest of Bentilee, Hanley and Fenton, spent a little time as chaplain in hospitals, a prison and schools , given 10 years as Dean of North Staffordshire, and during all this time seen our family increase by 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
So, as I now creep closer and closer to my sixtieth year, the Archbishop of Birmingham feels I am “ready for a new challenge” and has appointed me the parish priest of St Mary’s, Cannock. (Mercifully at least, still in Staffordshire).
What will I miss most? someone asked me recently. I thought about this. The answer may be a little surprising.
Of course, I will miss some special places. This wonderful location in Hanley - so close to the Coachmakers, Robertos’s, Jaflong and the Venus Fish Bar each of which I have frequented perhaps a little too often. I will miss the charming beauty of Our Lady's Church, at Fenton, and the magnificent glory of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Hanley, the most stunning in the City.
I will miss the annual carol service at Hanley, our exuberant celebrations of Pentecost, the Fairs, and the Pea-and-Pie suppers.
I will miss Our Lady's School in Fenton, which I have served for the past five years, and the group of nine schools in the Newman Collegiate in the north of the city: so many dedicated teachers and enthusiastic children, who have been a great joy to know.
I will miss so many people in numerous other parishes too: the ones I got to know during my years as Dean and who still great me with warmth and affection.
I will miss my occasional articles for The Sentinel, the interviews on BBC Radio Stoke (usually early in the morning!) and the staff in the local media who have always been so supportive and helpful.
I will miss the volunteers who give extraordinary amounts of time as school governors, fund raising, managing Church resources, and leading parish activities.
I will miss meeting again the children I have baptised, the couples I have married, the bereaved I have accompanied through sadness - and parishioners who I have laughed with, learnt from, preached to, infuriated and sometimes, perhaps, even inspired.
I will miss colleagues: priests, our parish deacon, and the sisters of the Immaculate Heart; and also others: teachers and other school staff, doctors, nurses and care assistants, funeral directors and cemetery attendants and yet more, too many to count, who have become more than colleagues.
Of course, all these I will miss, yet this might be said by any priest in any location moving on to a new post.
But what I will miss most of all is the richness and diversity of this wonderful city, and Hanley, itself, which can never be matched wherever I may go.
I will miss the ordinary folk of this city, and the tremendous diversity of those who have made their home here. I will miss those who bring the 25 or so different languages to our current community: the ordinary Potteries folk with their warmth and humour and deep roots in the city; the Filipinas for their wonderful culinary contributions to our celebrations; the Nigerians and other Africans for their piety and devotion; Zimbabweans, Ethiopeans and the Keralan Indians for their kindness and generosity; the Eastern Europeans - Czechs, Slovakians; and the priests of the Polish and Ukrainian communities who I have been privileged to work with so closely.
To be sure, the diversity of our city certainly brings its challenges, but also, for a priest some small rewards: I have helped an Eritrean woman get a visa for the United States, appeared before a tribunal to plead for an Iranian man to be given the right to reside in this country, and supported many applications for Citizenship. I have helped get children of asylum seekers into schools. I have heard harrowing stories from people who have suffered persecution and violence and who have fled to this country for refuge.
“Do you prefer being here?” I said a little sceptically to one family of Roma (gypsys) who had moved here from Eastern Europe, where they are a persecuted minority. They were living in far from ideal conditions, crammed into an unpleasant flat in the City Centre, with little more than the mattress they slept on. “Oh yes,” said the Father, “in my country, people shout bad things at us, and spit on our children in the street: but never in this country. ”
I will miss Hanley. I will miss Stoke-on-Trent. Love your City and North Staffordshire. It is a great place to be, to live, and to be valued.
This was originally written for publication in the Sentinel newspaper on 20th January 2016. This is a slightly expanded version of the article.