A Final Farewell from Fr Tom

Last week I ran out of space and time as I was recounting all the wonderful initiatives that happened here over the last few years and I promised I would continue this week. But as I started writing I went off on a tangent and have written more than I had intended! But it’s my last ever chance to say what I want to you so unlike usual where I painstakingly edit and omit content I am just going to leave what I have written, a final indulgence!

I have felt totally overwhelmed by everything that has been happening over the last few weeks. Leaving the Parish, taking a break from Priestly Ministry, leaving my home, leaving Bristol, packing, moving and my Dad’s passing are huge things in and of themselves and coming together they have challenged me. But because I know how important taking time out is for me, the energy and purpose of that and your support and grace from above have sustained me.

I have learnt a lot about myself and ADHD over the last few weeks, lessons that I would not have learnt were I not making this move. I am learning that what God has held back – my lack of organisational ability – He has made up for in other ways – my gift of relating with others and their kindness. It has been demonstrated by your overwhelming kind wishes, thoughts and words in your cards and letters. I have struggled to read them because I find them so emotional.

Here comes the tangent! When we try to understand someone, we tend to look at the externals, for example many people have kindly commented on my strengths as they see them. I have been given deep spiritual and emotional strengths, in part I believe born about as a response to my condition and also gifts like empathy come with the condition. My diagnosis does not diminish them in any way. But what I think is hard to see is the interior struggle that goes with Neurodiverse conditions like ADHD, Autism, Bi-Polar, OCD, Dyspraxia or Dyslexia (they all have commonalities). For all my achievements there have been countless days lost to exhaustion and migraines that I did not show to many people.

I remember my first migraine at the age of eleven and until lockdown and my diagnosis they have been a consistent feature of my life when I have felt under pressure. They would usually confine me to bed and at worst would make me throw up. As a Priest I have suffered burnout and exhaustion as well as consistent migraines. Three years ago, I had three migraines in one week, that was a record and on Good Friday 2018 I had one of my worst migraines ever. Over the last few years I had got into a habit of taking strong Co-codamol tablets (which I had been given, a few years earlier, for an injury) to numb the pain, they seemed to be the only thing that worked. I never understood why I suffered from migraines, and I had just assumed there was something mysteriously and irresolvably wrong with me.

Now, I am not sharing this for sympathy, far from it, but to explain that a condition that impairs your ability to do something does not simply make doing the actual activity difficult. When you do manage to do it, it can cost you twice or three times as much, emotionally or mentally, as it might someone else who does not struggle but on the surface the results look the same. When lockdown came in March 2019, I felt a level of rest and peace I had not felt for fifteen years and somehow knew deep down that I could not go back to the pressure of the life I had been living. I want to share this because while God has given me many gifts there is a flip side which is harder to see. I don’t think having ADHD is a problem if you work with it but it is a problem if you are doing something that pushes against it, like a role that demands high levels of organisational ability. One of my reasons for taking time out is to work with my condition and allow the gifts it brings to flourish while, hopefully, minimising the suffering.

As the pressure valve is being released and I have a growing sense of freedom, I have found myself laughing about my ADHD with a few people for the first time since my diagnosis! I was sharing with a couple of people about why I was taking time out and was explaining how absurd it seems that, with ADHD, I was in charge of somewhere as demanding as St Bon’s, it is actually quite funny when I think about it. I hope the following little example illustrates this point; as I have been reading your cards I found some unopened birthday cards mixed in among them, my birthday was in January! Where were those cards since then and how did they end up in the pile of farewell cards? Welcome to my life! Tangent over.

As I said above, what I lack in organisational ability, I make up for with my relationships with people. And that is what I have seen in the kind and moving comments in your cards. My greatest joy and sense of pride over the last few years has come from journeying and working with you as a team and a family. I would like to say a massive thank you to all of you who have helped in the parish in the last six years it has been a great privilege and I am touched by the contribution of each person, I realise that I am going to forget someone and I don’t want to do that but forgive me when I do.

I would like to say thank you to those I have worked with in the Office; Laura, Joan, Anne and Caroline, those who have served on the Welfare Team – who visit the sick, the finance committee – who have to make many difficult decisions about what we spend our money on, the gardening team who faithfully turn up each Thursday, the stewards, the flower arrangers, the church cleaners, the sacristans, the linen washers. The live simply team who challenge us to consider the poor and the environment. The musicians who are so dedicated to serving us at the Mass. Those who gave huge hours of their time when I tried to form a ‘leadership team’ a few years ago, those who gave huge hours of their time in running Alpha. Those who helped organise and who faithfully came to Adoration which happened for 2 days a week in the years before the pandemic. That adoration, I believe, was the seed bed of all the grace that has empowered and strengthened us over the years.|

I guess it would be very apt at this point to thank God for sending me to St Bon’s, for entrusting me to you and vice-versa, for looking after us, blessing us and making this time in the parish so meaningful. St Bon’s is a special place and it has been a privilege to have been part of its life.  It has been a privilege to serve you, thank you for accepting me into your lives and for the love you have given me in my time here, it means everything to me.

Love, Fr Tom x.

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