What does it mean to be a Real mayor? The task of the First Citizen
Address for Felixstowe Civic Service, St John the Baptist Felixstowe
Sunday 18 June 2017.
[With apologies to Margery Williams…and also Nick Barber the new mayor of Felixstowe and his guests, those wonderful servants of our towns affectionately known as ‘the chain gang’.]
‘What does it mean to be a real mayor?’ Asked the newly elected councillor as she sipped a crafty cuppa with the Town Hall caretaker before the meeting of the Finances and General Purposes Committee.
“Does it mean having to buzz around like a busy bee each day and have a diary overflowing with meetings and fêtes, consultations and tea dances?
“Real mayors aren’t made,” said the caretaker, “It’s something that happens to you. When you love a town and its people for a long, long time, not just for the year of your office but for every day of your life, then you become a real mayor”
“Does it hurt?” asked the councillor?
“Sometimes”, said the caretaker, for he was always truthful. “When you are a Real mayor you don’t mind being hurt. In fact you come to expect being hurt but you turn your hurt into a smile for those around you who are hurting as well”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” she asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the caretaker. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are a Real mayor, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose at the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are a Real mayor, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Thank you, my dear friends, for being brave and selfless enough to begin the journey of becoming Real.
It will not be an easy journey, and those of you who still have some hair left may find that it may not so much have been ‘loved off’ but more than likely ‘pulled out’ in frustration by the end of your mayoral year! I do hope and pray, however, that none of you will find your eyes drop out or your joints become loose. As to being shabby I’m not sure I am the person to make any comment on your sartorial elegance or lack thereof. After all the wise amongst you know well to never ask a vicar what they are wearing underneath their cassock.
The year ahead will be a challenging one for all of you. No matter how much you resist it, your diary will be overflowing with events. You will be bored to the hind teeth with yet another set of meetings about people cycling on pavements, inconsiderate car parking and, inevitably, dog poo!
You will have to learn to listen very carefully to the elderly of the town, though as their hearing fades they do have a tendency to raise their voices a little too much; and at the same time ‘get down’ with the younger generation who seem to be able to live life with the volume knob perpetually set at 11! May I suggest you invest in purchasing a pair of Mayoral ear defenders?
You will, as is the nature of our society, spend time amongst the bright lights of the Great and the Good of our land and also become heartily fed up with the sight of yet another round of tea and scones.
You will also, if you are very fortunate, spend time in the dark and dirty places of our town where there is only shame and hunger. On those days you yourself will be called to become the bright light for those around you.
You will tire yourself out in love for everyone in this town. Your beloved will wonder when next you will have some time together. Your children will find you even stranger than usual. And, to crown it all, the family dog (unused to your presence) will mistake you for the Amazon courier and start barking at you each time you come home.
And, at the end of the year, you will remove your chain of office, look plaintively at the Town Clerk and say, ‘Is there any chance I can serve as mayor for another year?’
To be a Real mayor is to cope with boredom (I’m sorry there will be many moments when you will have to stifle a yawn) and yet still be interested in the minutiae of other people’s lives and concerns because you are their voice to the town
To be a Real mayor is to challenge those who repeat the mantra of ‘we’ve always done it that way’ and call others to imitate the selflessness that you will model for them.
To be a Real mayor is to be spent in love for your town. This will be your special joy. And you will find most joy when working amongst the very young and, shall we say, those who have been young at heart for a very long time.
You will learn the truth of Kahlil Gibran’s words ‘On Love’ and you will willingly and gladly pay the price of love. 
For it is this love for our town and its people that will drive you forward when you are tired, encourage you when you are disheartened, and refresh you when you are worn and empty.
Our scripture reading describes being Real in these terms:
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3v18)
Real mayors are those who have given up on loving themselves and, for a season, give themselves completely not only in word or speech, but in truth and action for the love of their town and its people.
This is what it means to be the ‘First Citizen’.
It is not about wearing gilded chains – though by the end of your term of office you will have a love/hate relationship with them.
It is not about attending every official event and fundraiser going – though you will attend many such.
It is about loving your town in such a way that when people look at you they see not you but your town, and rejoice that here stands someone who is Real.
Then, regardless of hair loss, droopy eyes or shabby joints, you will know the truth that you and your town can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
God bless you as you go on this journey of love.