Curate’s Letter, August: Land Ahoy!

I wonder… have you come across the wonderful art of Kintsugi? This is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. It embraces the idea in embracing flaws and imperfections, one can create an incredibly beautiful and unique work of art. By highlighting the scars, they become important parts of the design. Metaphors that perhaps would help us.

I wonder how much my rocking of the boat in last month’s letter caused anger or dismay? I wonder how far you read before questioning my right to ask such things? Or perhaps in it were the statements you felt the Church should have addressed a long time ago.

Certainly, the feedback I have had is polarised. A good number of people wrote and said they were pleased that I had put into words some of what they had experienced over the years. That saddens me because it appears that the church is no better than the world. Of course the church is full of broken people because that is what draws us in. The love of Christ for every human regardless of sexuality, nationality, colour and so on. The grace of our Lord bestowed in generous abundance on the people he unconditionally loves. The way He can rebuild lives, taking the unique aspects and skills of people’s experiences and building up the resilience of the church.

As disciples of Christ we are asked to love unconditionally too. As I said in my last letter, this does not make allowances for ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ and certainly not self-justification. Unconditional grace and love should make the church better than the world. In the world, but not of it. The loss in translation includes the nuances and inflections I would make if I were reading this out in Church – of course, that never happens for a letter for a magazine, but it does beg the question of how a letter is read. Both Bishop Anne and Bishop Kevin alluded to this in their sermons – this Sunday and the last. Firstly, the soil on which the seed falls must be receptive. Secondly, whatever mask we hide behind will distort the way in which we engage. 

I remember reading aloud a reflection out to a group of people and immediately afterwards one of them came up, and thanked me. That person then said I had said something that was not in what I had voiced. We hear what we want to hear. Similarly, in our reading of other people’s writings, we pick out those bits that fit with our way of thinking, and we read into other things that weren’t even written. And when something as stark as what I wrote about in my last Curate’s Letter is there in black and white on a page, published, and sent out to a wide range of people and also made available on the internet, there is little wriggle room.

Why did I bother to rock the boat? The one that we all seem to be in, wondering which way the wind blows and seemingly at the mercy of the storm. A wise person once invited us to walk on the water, to put our trust in Him, to hold His hand as we walk with Him. If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. The boat represents all that we find ‘safe.’ In our human made world, the boat keeps us from drowning. It is kept afloat and powered by those who know they have to keep going (until burnout). Where it goes is partly due to the person steering the rudder – but that person can’t see the way forward – that’s the job of the person in the rafters scanning the horizon. The person steering has to depend on a compass, while the person in the rafters is looking for land. The team comes together to chart their course using landmarks or the heavens. Each person in that boat is heavily dependent on their team members and noone can tell others what to do without there being consequences. The boat only stays afloat because everyone works together. You may wonder why I describe this in detail, but the similarities to the Church are there. Though, of course you need to add in God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus into the team.

The polarity created by my last Curate’s Letter showed me many things. It tells me rather important information about the people in the churches here. It tells me who cares. It tells me who wants change, and who doesn’t. It tells me who is willing to speak out and voice their opinions – something I continually ask for. There is a saying that no news is good news. Except that, no news may also mean that people have just given up, or think that once the Curate’s gone, everything can go back to normal. 

What is normal? Who is at the centre of the new normal that the Church finds itself in? As we find our land legs once again, having been all at sea, what is really important about the Church that we need to keep? What traditions can we lay aside to make others feel welcome? 

At the end of the day, what is it about God and the Church that calls to us? Is it the liturgy and the liturgical year? Is it the abundance of inclusive, generous love that we display towards each other every day? Is it the caring, listening and nurturing ear? It is the spirituality of the church that helps our faith to deepen. It is the acceptance of Jesus’ invite that helps us to grow. 

In this new normal that we are entering into, as we prepare to disembark, let us remember that we are God’s. Let us remember that in our brokenness we are loved. Unconditionally, but also with discipline. Discipleship that says to one another, I see my brokenness and I see yours. Let us help each other and allow God to create within us a new, more resilient and beautiful personality. Where we acknowledge the flaws and imperfections and allow God to work through us, rather than covering it up. 

Life as God wants it is full of grace, it listens and is compassionate. Love is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the being of God, and the meaning of humanity. With hearts full of care and compassion, the church (the people) begins to grow. This, then, is where we need to begin. Prayer should be at the heart of all we do and say – it is only by submitting ourselves to God as individuals that what we do and the way we see others will begin to change. Prayer will help our way out of lockdown, and prayer will enable the Church in Caithness to grow. Please pray with me…

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