I parked my car and got out to stretch my legs. I had been on the road for a good few hours and my back and arms were protesting, a gentle ache circled my shoulders. I looked around me, it was a small city, smaller than Southampton, I had wondered my way through the one way system confused and hesitantly. Here I was in the midst of houses by a large park, a few streets away from my final destination.
I had no idea how the parking would be so I decided to stop here and walk the rest of the way. I left the park behind and headed through the streets, I passed a couple of coffee selling establishments and a second hand book shop. It seemed quite suburban but down at heel. I passed by a Gurdwara, this was more cosmopolitan than I was expecting, in fact a whole lot less salubrious. There ahead of me was the street I was looking for and at the end of it, a large three storied Victorian house. It was not however a palace.It was in an area that once upon a time might have house moderately wealthy industrialists but now the other large houses had been turned into multiple occupancy and even one rest home for the elderly.
Next door the house had been demolished and replaced with a long building with a strange slopping roof. This was the office attached to the large building, and it was here I was heading. I buzzed in and the receptionist greeted me.
"Simon Stevens to see the Bishop of..." I paused of course here he was just the Bishop. "...to see the Bishop."
I was shown through past a door marked 'Chaplain' and into a door marked 'Bishop' and there he was the man I had been journeying all day to see.
"Simon, Simon good to see you." his opening words. He motioned me to a couple of chairs one side of the room he took one himself. I looked around the room. He desk over one side by the window. A couple of honorary doctorates on the wall and a very large map of his diocese. It felt like a very calm office, measured almost. He was wearing a navy blue chunky jumper, his purple shirt peering out at the neck. As we spoke he played with his half rims.
I'd served my whole ministry in Winchester Diocese. It is not often I got to meet other people's Bishops. In fact I had only ever met the Bishop of Liverpool and the last Bishop of Truro. Still I now had one more to add to the list.
We spoke for about 45 minutes. He asked me about my view of chaplaincy. How I understood it. What my priorities were, what was going on in Southampton. Whether I would stay or not. I asked him almost as many questions as he asked me. We talked about the role of Archdeacons and the wider diocesan education policy. He had three full time HE posts in his diocese and all of them were currently vacant. There seemed a lot of room for new ideas in that set up, and each time he spoke, calmly and measured, I became more excited about the situation he was describing.
Finally I rose to my feet. He shook my hand warmly and thanked me for coming.
"Will you pray." I asked him. "for the situation in Southampton, and what will come next."
"Well" he said "This may be an answer to those prayers."
As I got back to my car, I was confused. I had assumed that God wanted me in Southampton. I wanted a miracle. I had stood up in my local Church in Highfield and loudly said "I do not believe in a God who sets budgets. I believe in a God who raises the dead" quite a few cheered but most of the Church did not. When the Area Dean had said "If plan A is not working then God has a plan B" I had resisted. It seemed to be letting the diocese of the hook. It wasn't 'we are going to trash your ministry' but 'God doesn't want your ministry any more' and yet here was a plan B I actually wanted.
I put my confusion aside and started my engine, I had a long journey ahead of me. I would have plenty of time to think. I began to weave my way through the streets again. It would be easier to find my way out, I just needed to follow signs for the M1.