Almost two hundred people were present at St Thomas’ on 5th February for the Eucharist that marked Robin Whitehead’s retirement. At the end of the service, presentations were made. Churchwarden, John Rodley, spoke on behalf of everyone as he thanked Robin for his ministry in Winchelsea, Icklesham and Winchelsea Beach. This is some of what he said.
Looking back to your induction in November 2013, the number of times you tolled the bell back was meant to represent the numbers of years that you would be with us. Well, I think I counted at least eight. So you are only just at half time! But I’m sure we see this as a very small omission on your part. You came here as a single house for duty priest on a four-day-a-week basis. You’ve ended up doing the job of two clergy on a full time basis without being paid a penny for it. Clearly something has gone badly wrong!
I think we can all recognise that enough is enough and must just consider ourselves very fortunate to have had you here at all. We therefore wish you every future success and happiness. I also want to make it quite clear that these sentiments extend equally and most sincerely to David de Verny and we cannot lose sight of his very significant contribution in all sorts of ways to your ministry here.
That ministry has been rich indeed. I feel I can speak on behalf of all the church and chapel wardens here, at Icklesham and at St Richard’s and say that it has been an absolute privilege and a pleasure to work for you. Of course, there have been the odd differences of opinion, but let’s face it, you’ve been in charge and have had an uncanny ability to get it right, be it a major festival or a small intimate service. So you were right to ignore advice.
I would just like to touch briefly on three aspects of your ministry, which has, frankly, been such a breath of fresh air.
First, you’ve brought us drama and humour. Liz Hurley couldn’t be here today, but she dropped a note saying if you wanted a walk on part in The Royals, just let her know, but please bring Stewart Elms with you. Her director was as impressed as we all were, when, following accidental double charging of the incense machine, you delivered a faultless cameo performance of the last moments of Archbishop Cranmer, thrusting your hand into the fire and disappearing behind a smoke screen.
Your sermons have always been equally rich in entertainment as well as relevance. They’ve thankfully made watching television largely unnecessary. Although, rather like the impact of the Battle of the Horns of Hattin on the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, you always said that your ministry would not long survive the demise of Downton Abbey.
Second, you have brought us a new and challenging political dimension. Fairly soon after your arrival, in the heady pacific days of coalition government, you revealed that the then Prime Minister, Dick Cleggeron, was in fact two identical people crammed into the same suit. Some of us have not got over that revelation and you too have had your political disappointments along the way, which you have bravely borne.
Third, you have brought us growth. Of course, you don’t really like statistics. You know I do, but I’ll let you off with just one. The fact that average congregation size has increased by a little over 40% during your time here must indicate that you’ve been doing something right!
But your ministry has gone well beyond numbers. Essentially you have always put the well-being of people first and very far ahead of yourself in both the material and the spiritual sense. It is simply not possible to measure the good you have done here. Nor is it possible to describe the way in which you have enhanced the lives of so many people. You have done this through the brilliance of your services. You have done this through the great sensitivity of your pastoral care.
It’s more than this, though. It has also been through your encouragement of music and of those who provide it, of the schools and, most importantly, through the time you have given to everyone who has needed you. We’ll all miss you immensely and I suspect you may miss us a bit as well. I believe your legacy here is the openness, welcome, consideration and fair treatment that have been the hallmarks of your stunning ministry and we must all seek to carry that forward.
Robin, thank you so much all you’ve done for us and for how you’ve done it. We wish you every future happiness, success, enjoyment and good luck as the next chapter of your life opens.