Greetings from Ros (July)
As I sit down to write this I’ve just arrived home from Study Leave in Scotland. But I return to a new situation as on Monday I finally get to live in the Manse, unless there have been developments whilst I’ve been away that I’m unaware of!
My time away has been different to other Study Leaves due to both of us being older & having had health issues. We had to find new ways of doing things & try not to try doing too much! There were some things we had to admit that were now beyond us, but we made sure that we didn’t use that as an excuse because we just couldn’t be bothered or simply didn’t want to do it. Now that I’m back the same will apply in my new setting of living in the village. It also applies for us as a fellowship. It does us good to periodically reassess what we are doing & why we are doing things. To open ourselves up to new opportunities & new ways of doing things is important, as is knowing ourselves, where we are & what is important to us as a fellowship. We are having an opportunity to do this on our Church Awayday, so please be sure to get this date in your diary & make it a priority in your diary (October 5th). My time on Study Leave has reminded me of the value & importance of stepping outside your normal setting in order to consider with God what you are doing & to explore new possibilities. But it isn’t just the day, as we need to start the planning & preparation now so that we are primed on the day with an openness to listening to God, each other & others.
On our Study Leave we found our plans constantly changing, sometimes due to the weather, sometimes due to the circumstances or decisions of others & sometimes because we got distracted or discovered something new to explore. Sometimes we were disappointed or frustrated by this, because we were being prevented from doing something we had set our heart on. Sometimes we were delighted & excited by it as new possibilities opened up. Sometimes we simply rearranged our plans & decided to return another day whilst dropping something that wasn’t central to what we were doing. That’s the benefit of not being on an organised tour when you have no say in the itinerary or time allocated to each activity or place. As we move forward as a church, not just in our time of assessment & exploration but in what follows out of this, it is important that we continue to listen to God & each other. Each of us have a voice to speak & ears to listen. Each of us needs to play our part in this process.
While we were away we went into a number of churches. Each of the churches gave us something to ponder, some from a negative response & others from a positive response. With one church there was a complete focus upon the building, which was beautifully carved but there was nothing that pointed to God or worship. It felt no different to a stately home & didn’t encourage us to worship or linger, although we did sit & linger outside as we admired the scenery & the sun on the different coloured stones of the external walls. Another was a Cathedral but looked as if it had seen better days & was living on past glory & in the present was caught up in not offending people of other faiths & none to the extent that the Christian faith it represented was hidden & drummed down. Another was welcoming & open about their faith & appeared to be active in their community. The town they served had lost its identity as an industrial powerhouse & had had to reassess its role & purpose & this had impacted the church but it had moved on with the town. These visits gave me much food for thought regarding us here at Swanwick. What unspoken messages do we give to people who come into our building & to those outside.
Strangely, it was a visit to a cafe that gave me more food for thought. It was a cafe that specialised in chocolate. The woman who served us was passionate about chocolate & that was infectious. She was also incredibly welcoming & able to engage with all age groups. She was such a breath of fresh air. That’s what I want for us, about Christ & our faith rather than chocolate.
I took a book with us to give a framework to our spiritual journey over the week. Neither of us liked the book & it didn’t help or engage us. But it did give us a theme for each day. The final theme was 3 essential things. I can’t remember what the book suggested these should be, but we came up with our own which Jean summarised into PRAYER, CARE & SHARE. No doubt there will be more on that over the coming months.
As you may have gathered, I’ve enjoyed my time away, but I’m glad to be back & looking forward to what is in store.