FROM THE BOUNDARY
This month I’m based at St. Basil’s Chapel in Sergeant’s Village. It serves as the Chapel of Ease for St. David’s Church. I’ve been associated with it for 15 years. I love it there. Yes, it’s just a wooden hut, but I think of it as an acorn. Going there is like being with family.
I’ve been fortunate over the years. Yes, I’ve met tight-lipped people, stony-faced people, even glazed-over people at the various churches I’ve served. However, I’ve met far, far more warm-hearted people, supportive people, fascinating people. It’s been wonderful to have served them. It’s meant oneness, togetherness, mutual hope and joy. Some have become close friends and I love them to bits. In my Prayer Book, I carry, as a reminder of what life should be as between priest and people, the most loving letter for Father’s Day a parishioner sent me once when I was on holiday in the UK. In part it reads: “I hope [this letter] will find you shading under the branch of God’s mercy and his everlasting love… we will miss you… from the heart.” Isn’t that beautiful? Can you imagine what it means to me and why I still carry it?
Well, that brings me to St. Basil’s Beryl – as I’ll call her. She played a part in the homily I gave yesterday rooted in two Biblical conundrums.
The first was the Gospel reading from Mark, the story of how Jesus entered the synagogue at Nazareth and began to teach. We’re told that those who heard him became miffed. For wasn’t he the carpenter’s son, this nobody, they said. Yes, but what was it he said to them which caused such offence? We’re not told. In my homily, I suggested some possibilities. The Pharisees in this land, glued to the letter of Biblical texts poor things, wouldn’t have liked what I suggested – but so what?
The second was the Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians where St. Paul recounts how “a messenger of Satan” had given him a “thorn… in the flesh” to prevent him from becoming too “elated” that God had shown him such favour. Three times, he says, he begged God to take the thorn from him. But God refused, saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Ok, Paul says, then “I’ll boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me… for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” I’m very human, he’s saying, just as you are.
Very well: but Paul doesn’t actually tell us what his “thorn” is. It must have been akin to the ‘shadow’ in all of us which I talked about last week, and Paul seems to have thought that even if God didn’t actually pierce him with it, He was still ok with it. I asked my “little flock” what they thought Paul’s “thorn” was. From the blue, my Beryl answered immediately “his gayness”. Gulp. Hey, that was cute, wasn’t it? Spot on. Later she told me that Paul’s negative attitude towards women generally and marriage in particular led her to that conclusion. I asked her whether she’d studied at Codrington. She said not, but that she read a lot and had lots of ideas tumbling around in her head. Gosh, she was a treasure.
Somehow in our chat we got on to her thoughts about Elective Synod, in which she played no part. She said two things worth recording here. One was that the whole fandango should go to the House of Bishops to ensure the choice was made as impartially as possible. The other was that we really needed to look closely at what we call the ‘Laity’ since Clergy and Laity had been represented as being at each other’s throats. “You see”, she said, “the ‘Laity’ are not the lay people of the Church at all. They’re people who’ve been voted for, yes, but they represent themselves. They’ve not been mandated to vote this way or that by the people who elected them. They can do as they please, just as they want, and no matter what the lay people in their churches want. The whole thing is a sham. The system must be changed.”
She was very impressive, so impressive, in fact, that I invited her to give the homily next week and share some of those ideas she’d said were “tumbling around in her head”.
Now, you may be wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, I’ll tell you coherently next week. Suffice it for now to say that all priests must have experienced the sorts of wonderful things I have in their relationships with those they serve. It’s one of the joys of the priestly life – just as the bickering we’ve all experienced too is one of the curses. The poet, George Herbert, experienced a like love and devotion too at Bemerton where he served; which reminds me to mention the dear ‘mother’ figure I know at another church where I served, who once described the young incumbent as her “son”. Church life is so beautiful at times, isn’t it?
Go safely, then – until the next time.
Open doors at the boundary: “When the church is true to its nature, it says, ‘Whosoever will, let him come.’” – (Martin Luther King Jr)