Sermons: Youth Sunday

Psalm 148
John 13:31-35

Two of Westminster’s graduating seniors preached on Youth Sunday.

High: As some of y’all may know, Jack and I are somewhat inseparable.

Dozier: But, what you may not know is that back before the age of 1, we were inseparable and also apparently interchangeable.

High: It was your usual Sunday morning, our parents were in church and we were in the nursery downstairs.

Dozier: Our parents walked down the stairs together to pick us up after the service ended just as they normally would.

High: When the people working the nursery handed us over to our parents to leave, I was in Jack’s car seat and he was in mine.

Dozier: To be honest, blond-haired blue-eyed boys named Jack were probably not that hard to mix up.

High: Just to be clear, I am Jack High…

Dozier: and I’m Jack Dozier.

Dozier: While John’s message seems pretty clear and straightforward, understanding the true meaning of this passage can be difficult if taken out of context. Jesus’ new commandment to the disciples is told on the night of the Last Supper during Holy Week. Jesus knows his death is near, so he chooses to share one final meal with his friends before his departure. Once the meal ends, it’s up to the disciples to spread God’s word and continue Jesus’ work in his absence.

It seems odd that Jesus would be saying this now. The disciples have spent years following him, listening to his teachings and witnessing how to live life the way God wants us to. Why would God make such a big deal out of the ten commandments if we could just follow this one, easy-to-remember commandment? Why reveal this big secret now after so much time? The new commandment isn’t really "new," but more of a summary of everything the disciples have learned over the years. By using his last words to plant this seed in their minds, Jesus hopes we will remember this one message if we don’t remember anything else, and by doing so and showing love to everyone we meet, everyone will know us as Christian.

It’s also important to note that Jesus just foretold his betrayal by Judas, who was sitting at the table with them. Judas left the room to sell out Jesus immediately before he gives this new commandment. Even with this fresh on his mind, he avoids talking about it and goes on to tell the disciples to love one another, no matter what.

High: Jesus knows fully well what is going to happen– that Judas is going to betray him and this will lead to the end of his life on Earth– but he somehow still finds a way to love. I personally know not a single person who is able to love as unconditionally as this, but that is no wonder since he is Jesus. In our daily lives, we find the smallest things that deter us from loving one another, yet here Jesus is loving the person who is handing him over to death unconditionally. We hear all the time about the golden rule- "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and this text from the Bible is a perfect example of Jesus showing how this is done.

Dozier: This new commandment of love is one that can be both given and received. Throughout my entire life and experience growing up at this church, I’ve been on the receiving end more times than I can count. Growing up in Chapel Hill, my church community was completely separate from my community at school and at home. After participating in Sunday School every week, Vacation Bible School every summer, churchwide events like the musicals every year, and hundreds of youth group trips and events once I was in sixth grade, I developed some of the closest friendships I’ve ever had.

Two years ago, when Jack High and I were sophomores in high school, these friendships strengthened even more. Anna Rosemond and my brother Will were seniors, and Allie Ruffing and Jack Mountain were juniors. No longer having older kids in youth group to hang out with and look up to, they turned towards Ben Mountain, Jack, and I. It started with Sunday School, where we were all finally in the same class together. We developed a weekly routine, eating all three meals of the day together on Sunday: Bruegger’s Bagels at Sunday School, lunch together after the 11 o’clock service, and dinner at youth group. They showed us unconditional love, driving us to lunch, taking us on ski trips, bringing us to Bible Studies at Panera, spending time with us on mission trips, and hanging out with us throughout the year even when we weren’t at church. Even as we’ve gotten older and they’ve gone their separate ways for college, we’ve all stayed in touch, still go on trips together, and still hang out when we’re all in town for breaks. Without this church, I would never have met these people. This love is an amazing gift that I am beyond thankful to have received.

High: Westminster is so special in that we have so many opportunities to live out God’s love that we would not have anywhere else. The best example for me of giving love is mission, whether that be through service nights at Youth Group or summer trips to places like Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta. A specific time I remember during a mission trip that i really felt like i was giving out God’s love was in Chicago while working at a thrift store right next to the church where we were staying. It was run by a little old lady who, although pretty capable, had no employees and could not get much done alone. We cleaned out the store, rearranged all of the items and lifted all of the heavy things that she could not lift by herself. To say the least, she was extremely grateful for us that day. We came in the next day and she looked happier than ever, explaining that she was thinking about giving up on the store, but we made her change her mind. This is just one example of many where I have really felt like I was giving out God’s unconditional love.

To the kids:  From being downstairs in preschool every day to singing with Guitar man on Sunday mornings, Westminster was a huge part of my childhood. As a kid at Westminster, I grew up absolutely admiring and looking up to the youth. I couldn’t wait until I finally could come on Sunday nights to hang out with all the cool older kids, and soon enough I was there. But the thing about not yet being a "youth" is that there are still so many things to do before you get to 6th grade that prepare you for it. Go to Sunday School, go to we form, and do whatever else you can before you get to youth group. And remember, you only get to be a kid once, however awesome getting older may seem.

Dozier: To the Youth: If you haven’t already realized it, youth group is pretty awesome. There aren’t many other groups you can be involved with that will give you such a fun and enriching experience. As you get older and some of your friends stop coming to youth group when their lives get busier, I strongly encourage you to keep coming back. Make the time to come to church every Sunday and go on at least one trip every year. I guarantee that you will look back on your middle school and high school years and be thankful that you stuck with it. Also, no matter where you end up in your life’s journey, remember to show love to one another. Be welcoming to new people you meet and show kindness to everyone, no matter what their story is. A small action can go a long way.

High: When I think of the congregation of Westminster, I think about some of the nicest people that I have ever encountered. I think about the people who give me blessings as I depart for a mission trip, and the people who welcome me back after a long, hard week. I think about the people who greet me at the doors of the sanctuary every Sunday morning and welcome me once again. I think about the people that pray for myself and the rest of the youth day in, day out. Jesus’ new commandment is based on unconditional love, and I see this concept in action throughout the congregation.

Dozier: To the Parents: Thank you for bringing your children to Westminster. You have one of the biggest responsibilities of demonstrating your love to your kids. Encourage your kids to sign up for youth group and stay in it as long as they can. Sign them up for as many mission trips as you can, and continue to support them as they grow both physically and spiritually. Help your children to structure their day and their time to get their homework done ahead of time and make youth group a priority. Get involved with youth group. Being a sponsor is awesome and we truly appreciate everything they do for us. However, you don’t have to be a sponsor to be involved. You can provide a meal, host a class dinner, or chaperone a trip. By investing in the youth group, you will be helping the youth become people who will spread love to everyone they meet.

Dozier: Jesus said to the disciples, "Where I am going, you cannot come." As Jack and I head off to college and embark on the next chapter of our lives, you all cannot come with us. We will always remember the great times we’ve had growing up in such a nurturing community, but now we are leaving. Even though we will soon be gone, we leave knowing that this church will continue to do what it does best: love one another.

High: Moving on and making big changes isn’t easy for anyone, but I know that as I move on, Westminster will always be a part of me, and I know that I will always be a part of it. As Jack and I move forward, we know that Westminster will keep doing its thing and giving out God’s unconditional love in every way it can. And though we’ll be gone, we will always remember how much this church became a part of us.

Both: Amen

Sermons: Youth Sunday

Psalm 13
Luke 24:36-48

Three of Westminster’s graduating seniors preached on Youth Sunday

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To be a witness means to have seen something with your very own eyes, and to be able to tell it from a firsthand experience. The disciples were witnesses to all the things that Jesus said or did, and then it was their job to go out and bear witness, they had to tell the story. I wanted to share my story with you today.

I’ve been given the opportunity to be a servant in this church in a different way: I’m the church’s first youth elder. That comes with a lot of responsibility and requires maturity, and thoughtfulness I wasn’t sure I possessed. Helen Tharrington was the nominating committee member who called me and told me I had been nominated, and I remember hanging up the phone and thinking to myself, "what could I possibly have to offer? Why would they choose me?" I was really nervous about what was to come when I said yes. I didn’t have anyone like me who had ever done this before as a high schooler who could help me. And to be honest, that made me feel vulnerable. I thought all these adults I would be going to this Elder training class with would have all the answers. It took me a while to realize that that’s not true. No one has the answers, and that’s all part of the vulnerability. But in that training and ever since then, We’ve all learned more about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to trust God to help us shoulder the burdens of servant leadership in our church.

I think Jesus probably knew about that level of vulnerability when he told the disciples to go out and bear witness to his Word. It’s hard and scary to try something new. To go out on a limb means to take yourself out of your comfort zone and test yourself. I was certainly tested this year when Chris asked me to hang out with the Inquirer’s Class (I say hang out, because that’s basically all I did. Anne Vann, a fellow elder, ran the entire show. I was just there.). The problem with me helping in the Inquirer’s Class is that I’m not really good at meeting new people. I get really nervous, I start to talk fast, and I get really awkward. It makes me feel vulnerable.

But the thing about that is that’s what it means to bear witness. We’re all witnesses; we just have to learn to trust. I can witness the new members being brought into are church, and I can bear witness to that by speaking to them afterwards, maybe telling them how excited I am to see them, that they’re new members of our church. Witnessing in this way, I am stretching myself, leaning on God to help me and sharing what I have seen in our church as God’s love. When the disciples went out and bore witness to what they had seen, it’s because they had witnessed something that was so amazing and humbling and had to go out and tell the world. I think we have to do that as well. That’s what it means to bear witness.

I feel humble and vulnerable whenever I serve communion, when I’m in meetings, and when I have to talk in front of crowds. But this is what we are called to do as Disciples of Christ. I know I have the support of my church family as I learn and grow; but more importantly, I am learning to trust God to help me as I struggle to bear witness, and tackle tasks that are scary for me.

Sermons: Youth Sunday

Philippians 1:3-8

Three of Westminster’s youth preached on Youth Sunday.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he is in a far away place, but he says the he prays for his community whenever he remembers them.

This summer, I went on a trip to Scotland with the senior highs of youth group. Before we took off from RDU, I was good friends with a few people, and just youth group friends with the rest. I can honestly say that I returned home and had a better relationship with every single person who went on the trip. Learning about my fellow travelers through our 10 minute life stories helped with that a lot. Spending around 15 hours a day with each other also helped with that, but the experiences and memories we made together allowed us all to become closer with one another. Of all these experiences, one that I most vividly remember is finally arriving on the Isle of Iona.

Having already spent time in Glasgow and Edinburgh, it came time for us to travel to our final destination: Iona. Where St. Columba had arrived in the year 563, it was now our turn to become a part of the Iona community. The day began in the small port town called Oban. After a ferry ride to the Isle of Mull and a long bus ride across the island, we arrived in a place with a few houses and a big dock for the final 5 minute ferry ride to Iona. Just across the water was an island with a lot of green and a few buildings on the front. This place was Iona.

After the short ferry ride, we stepped on to this island that was filled with so many stories and so much history surrounding the Church. Most of us were in awe of the absolute beauty of the place. The ocean was crystal clear, and the weather could not have been any better. Blue skies and mid 70s reminded me of a fall day back home. We walked about 10 minutes and arrived at the St. Columba hotel, which is where we would be staying for the next 5 days. After settling into our rooms and unpacking, we had free time until dinner. So, a few of us set off down the main road of Iona towards the far end of the island. And by main road, I mean a one lane road where you would come across a chicken or a sheep every couple minutes. The scenery around the island had me in awe. Looking out over the clear blue ocean you could see a bunch of small islands in the distance. After walking for a while through fields of cattle and sheep, we could see a beach with white sand and big rocks in the distance. We headed in that direction, through fields of tall grass surrounded by small animals who kept running by our feet. We arrived on this small beach on the far side of the island. We checked out the water (which was very very cold), and then a couple of us headed over to the huge rocks that started on the sand and went out into the ocean. After some hard core rock climbing and almost getting stranded on a rock, we headed back down the road towards our hotel. On the way back, we stopped for a little while to admire the Iona Abbey. The huge stone building which was started back in 563 was rich with history and traditions of worship that are still used today. We returned back to the hotel in time for some fine Scottish dining.

Before Iona, I had heard of places being called a "thin place" and I had experienced thin places, but coming to Iona gave that saying a whole new meaning. A thin place means a place where the veil between heaven and earth is thin, and God is easily seen. I definitely experienced this in Iona, all over the small island. Whether it was the white sanded beaches, sheep grazing in the fields, or the view from the highest point on the island, I could feel the presence of God, and one of the coolest things was getting to experience that with 16 other amazing people.

Philippians 1 chapters 3-8 talks about how our communities pray for us and help to sustain us. Paul says that he thanks God for his people every time he thinks of them. Our amazing trip to Scotland would not have been possible if not for the prayers and gifts that Westminster gave us. It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I thank you all for your support for us.

As Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, "I thank my god every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now."

Truly, from the moment we are baptized, the church shares with us in the grace of God every day. Our church prays for us in our darkest times and rejoices with us in our lightest hour. Our community prays for us and with us and our community sustains us. Our community supports us in our faith and in our lives. And we give thanks.

This summer the youth in junior high went on two trips. One to Emerald Isle, for a spiritual pilgrimage at the Trinity Center. And another for a youth conference and retreat at Massanetta Springs, in the mountains of Virginia.

In his letter to the people of Phillipi, Paul talks about being a community. At the Trinity Center, the youth became a closer community. Most of our activities were designed to help us get to know one another better and become closer as a group.

During worship one afternoon, we discussed what we wanted to be when we grew up, then the other youth told us what qualities we possess that would help us accomplish that goal. I remember that I said I wanted to be an author when I grew up. Some qualities the other youth said I have that will help me become an author are: that I am good at reading and am smart. I learned a lot about the other youth this way. During this activity I learned so much about the other youth and we became closer as a group because of it.

Another activity that I think helped us become a closer community was writing letters to our neighbor. On the last day of the retreat, we wrote a letter to the person sitting to our left in the worship circle about what we had learned about them over the course of the trip and why they were important to our community. I was sitting next to Lauren Nichols and I wrote: "Lauren, Over the course of these past three days, I have gotten to know you much better. I enjoyed talking to you during free time and on the bus. I also enjoyed rooming with you. I learned that you care a lot about your sisters and that we are very similar. You are important to the community because of your talents and patience. I hope you know that you would make a great anesthesiologist. -Ashley" Though we never shared these letters with the people we wrote them about I think they helped us become closer. While no one knew what was written about them, the writer had the opportunity to think about what was special about their neighbor and how important they were.

In addition to our worship activities, we also had free time for fellowship. We went to the beach and played in the waves, and we went to the aquarium and a mini-golf course. While we had this free time we got to know one another better, as we talked and played with one another. During all of our many activities we began to learn more about each other and, over all, became a closer community.

During the other trip, to Massanetta Springs, we also became a closer community, not only with youth from Westminster, but also with youth from as far away as Ohio. The small groups at Massanetta were designed so that you weren’t with anyone from your church. Despite this, we still had a lot of time to bond with our group as well. After we had finished our last activities each day, we went back and met with our church group to discuss our day. The entire week we got to know each other better and people from far away better as well.

At Massanetta, one of the girls in our church group had a broken arm. On the first full day of camp, during free time, we all headed down to the spring. However, after a short time there the girl with the broken arm, felt left out because she couldn’t play in the frigid water with us. I left with her because I didn’t want her to feel left out. As we walked around camp, we found out that we could canoe in the lake. At first she was worried that she would get her cast wet, but when I offered to row for her, she decided to try. We got a lot of time to talk while we were canoeing and I got to know her a lot better. Later, when we shared the best and worst parts of our day with our church group, she said that the best part of her day was canoeing with me. I was astonished that even the simplest act, like canoeing at camp with someone, could make that person feel more like a part of the community and be the best part of their day.

All of these fantastic experiences are thanks to you, the church community. If it weren’t for your constant support of our youth ministries, whether it be taking some of the youth to Meals on Wheels, volunteering to teach a Sunday School class, becoming a youth sponsor, or simply donating to some of the trips, I doubt any of the youth would have the same faith they do today. All of you have played a part in supporting our faith. So, again, "I thank my God every time I remember you."

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Sermons: Youth Sunday

Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Five of Westminster’s graduating seniors preached on Youth Sunday

It’s hard for me to believe that 16 years ago, I was a Woodsey Owl in the 2 year old class of Westminster preschool. Now I have the honor of standing in front of you today and giving back to you just an ounce of what you all have given to me.

Psalm 23 says that the Lord is our Shepherd who will protect, guide, and care for us. These three actions of caring, protecting, and guiding stand out to me in when I think of my faith and my experience with the church.

God cares. As many of you know, 2012 and 2013 were hard years for me and my family, as my dad was diagnosed with cancer and went through treatment. I was beyond overwhelmed by the love and support that this church gave to us during this time. Countless meals, plenty of hospital visits, many cards, lunches with Taylor and even a dangit doll given to us by Betty. I am not sure that we could’ve gotten through that year without your help. This is a true testament to the thoughtfulness of God’s people. The first time that I read Psalm 23, the part about how God is always with us, even in our darkest of times, instantly reminded me of something someone told me while I was visiting in the hospital. They told me "do not pray to God that he will move the mountain in front of you, pray to him that he may give you the strength to get over the mountain." This quote stuck with me during this time and I know that I will think of it in the future as well.

God protects. I have been a part of the youth group here since sixth grade. I have gone on many trips with this church including to Mexico, the summer after my freshman year. I learned so much on that trip – the meaning of hard work, how to give back and the power of a smile when language cannot be understood. The second day we were there, I woke up to the sound of screaming lizards and a nauseating swinging hammock. I could instantly tell that I was really sick. I was so bummed that I was the first one to get sick on the trip from the water and of course, it would be the day that we were climbing the Mayan Ruins of Uxmal. I was rooming with Claire Leadbetter and I asked her to go get Charlie, my brother. He heard that I was sick and came in and all I wanted him to do was help me put my socks and shoes on. He was very sweet and took care of me the rest of the day, as well as many others. I will always remember my trip to Mexico as being a life-impacting one. Whether we were being stopped by guys with huge guns at checkpoints, sick from the water, exhausted from the heat and hard work, or playing soccer with the local kids, I never felt scared or worried. God protects people in times of concern and makes us feel like we are secure in his arms.

God guides. Specifically in Psalm 23, we are told that God is our Shepherd. For many obvious reasons, this phrase stands out to me during this transitional time in my life. I would be lying if I said that I knew what the road ahead looks like. In many ways, I am God’s little, lost sheep in need of guidance. One of my favorite Bible stories is about the shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go look for the one lost sheep. The shepherd finds the lost sheep and carries it home on his shoulders. This story is very symbolic of faith. We may feel lost or scared in life, but we are never alone. God is always with us. I know that these next four years are going to be some of the best times of my life, but I also know that it will be a time of uncertainty and change. Even though I will always be my parents’ little girl, it is finally time for me to grow up. It is my turn to go out and apply everything they have taught me these past 18 years. Whether it be keeping the clothes off of my dorm room floor or remembering to call home, I am confident in my abilities to go out and be the person that I have been raised to be – thanks to my parents, this congregation, and God. I know that I will always have a loving and supportive church family back home. And as I embark on this new chapter of my life, I am appreciative of the gift you have given to me. You all have taught me the power of faith. Thanks be to God.

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Our gospel reading from John says, "His sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger."

I would not have the faith I have today without a loving community to guide me, and Westminster has given me that community. The people of this congregation have taught me to listen for God’s voice in my everyday life, and they have shown me how to live a life of service, love, and compassion that reflects the teachings of Jesus. I spent this week trying to come up with a single great example of what you all have taught me, and I ended up with a very lengthy list.

One of the ways Westminster has "led me to the gate" is by modeling a life of service. From little actions, like Dave Pottenger treating our Bible study group to dinner at Panera and cleaning up our trash after helping Emma and I compose our sermons, to bigger collaborations like the youth group’s summer mission trip to Chicago with Taylor, you all have taught me that there are opportunities to serve others everywhere. Kenzie Brannon is one of many people here who has inspired me by his dedication to community service. He once took me to deliver Meals on Wheels with him, and his enthusiasm was overflowing as he greeted each meal recipient and knew them by name. I also love walking the CROP Walk with other members and I’m always amazed by how much money we raise every year to fight world hunger. Even in Durham, Westminster has given me many opportunities to fight local hunger, an issue which I feel very strongly about, by gleaning with the youth group led by Rebecca Mattern, volunteering at the food bank, serving shelter meals, and preparing Helping Hand Bags for the homeless. My earliest memory of service work at Westminster is when MP2 was collecting money for Presbyterian Disaster Relief after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. I was 9 years old. Nancy Rozak gave me the idea to organize a bake sale to raise funds, and I was ecstatic at the end of the day when I raised exactly $49 to help Katrina victims. Ever since that day I am proud to be part of a group that is so dedicated to serving the local and international community.

The second valuable lesson I have learned from you all is compassion. I have visited several other churches, and very few of their services included listing specific people in the congregation who had concerns or celebrations and then praying for them, like we do here. At several points in my life, my family members and I have been on that list of prayers, and have been comforted by the people of Westminster. When my sisters were born, church members brought our family enough food to last us for several months. More recently, when I had my appendectomy in December, the first three people (other than my parents) to visit me in the hospital were Betty, Taylor, and Anne Beckwith. I have always felt loved and supported by this community, and being raised in the church taught me how to care for those around me.

Lastly, the people here have taught me how to see God at work around me every day. I remember Rebecca asking me, "Where did you see God today?", and Betty reminding us to "befriend the Christ in each person that you meet." At Montreat last summer we explored how God could be found in unlikely places, like a Drake music video. And this year Shane Ruffing and Anthony Dilweg taught our Sunday school group how the story of Jesus can be found across mass media, a lesson that of course included watching Narnia, the Matrix, and the other two Matrix movies for good measure.

Sometimes we hear God speaking through the familiar voices of the people around us, and we see Jesus at work in their actions. Each of us is a shepherd to those around us, often without even realizing it. By living our lives the way Jesus taught, we set an example for others so that they can follow the path to the gate, a path of service, kindness, and discipleship that will allow each of us to live our lives to their fullest potentials.

When I was little I would always read those choose your own adventure books where at the end of chapter you were faced with a number of options each one leading you on a completely different path either good or bad and it all depended on which one you chose. Right now in my life as a graduating senior I am wrapping up my first chapter and am about to embark on a new path. While I don’t know where it will take me, I am comforted by Psalm 23, which states, "He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake." The right paths that God will lead me in have been greatly influenced by all the experiences and opportunities that Westminster has given me. It is safe to say that without Westminster I would not be who I am today. Growing up in this church I was always surrounded by a loving group of people who would be there for me whenever I needed it. I learned of my love for helping people when one of the members of this community took me to run Wheels on Meals. There I was able to experience this amazing feeling of servitude and knew that serving the community was something I was destined to do. This feeling did not stop, it only grew deeper with the mission trips I went on with the youth group from Atlanta to Mexico to Boston to Chicago and the wonderful people I encountered on these mission trips; though I was serving them they gave me a much greater gift – a chance to connect my love of servitude with my faith, which allowed me to deepen my relationship with God.

I have never been one to be a follower. If any of you know me you know I’m a bit stubborn and like to be in charge. Nancy Rozak saw that in me and decided to do something about it. Instead of trying to change me or tell me that a follower was what I needed to be for my age, Nancy instead decided to take a chance on me and give me leadership opportunities. As an eighth grader, I was given my own group at Vacation Church School that summer, the youngest to ever be in charge of a group. While other adults did not agree on Nancy letting me do this, Nancy still persevered to allow me to have a group because she believed in me. That summer I learned of my love and passion for leadership and how to be a leader, and to this very day I am thankful to Nancy for taking a chance on me and showing me how great of a leader I can be. After I was given Nancy’s seal of approval, so many wonderful opportunities opened up for me in this church to be a leader. Through teaching Sunday school, being on the DCE search committee, and now a co-moderator of the youth group, I have been given tremendous opportunities to not only be a leader but learn when to let other people lead as well all because of the church believing in me.

So as I am wrapping up my first chapter and am about to embark on this new path all the gifts Westminster has given me will allow me to choose the right path. Though I know if I choose the wrong one Westminster will always be there for me to come home to. So I thank you Westminster for believing in me and for an amazing 14 years; they have meant the world to me and I know that wherever I go Westminster will always have a special place in my heart.