As I write we approach Peace Sunday – a focus which could scarcely be more pertinent for our times.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation who organise the event have a strap-line “Nonviolence in Action” – a thought that reminds us that there’s nothing passive about Peace.
It is very easy to react to the fact that an issue is so controversial and feelings run so high by ignoring it and ensuring nobody speaks about it in church – “never discuss religion or politics” as the adage has it.
The same could be said for the Marriage and Relationships Report: God in Love Unites Us. The proposals in the report relating to cohabitation, civil partnerships, divorce and same-sex marriage, challenge us with how to be members of one family whilst sometimes having contrary convictions about these matters. More on this later!
I recently attended an open meeting of the group Extinction Rebellion. Here again was the paradox that the concern for the planet and for our children and grandchildren is so great that “Rebellion” is appropriate when governments and industry are perceived as too slow to respond. But the principle under which ER operates is one of Non-Violence. Participants are trained to engage with those experiencing road-rage due to the disruption caused by the protests, and mollify them with cake and conversation – an approach given more weight when the person giving the cake is perhaps an elderly lady, stirred from her restful existence by her passion to rescue the planet.
Peace is hard work and is costly. It is also painful for those of us who have a deep-rooted fear of conflict and whose normal practice is to avoid anything controversial – to prefer the false peace which just buries differences until they foment hatred and explode in conflict. Jesus says “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid” (John 14.27)
Perhaps the most important word I’ve written so far is a good Methodist word: Cake (and it’s companion, tea (or coffee if you prefer)). Cake symbolises hospitality, generosity and a readiness to listen in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. It’s no accident that our world leaders meet over a meal.
Can we share tea and cake with those we least agree with in our church and community, and find trust, listening, respect and love? Can we model what it means to be loving members of a family with contrary convictions? Our Methodist Conference with patience and care seemed to manage that this year and reach a consensus. May God help us to have those same healthy conversations in our church and in our community.
This summer has been something of a watershed for us. I’m not referring to the weather while we were in Wales, which was actually very kind considering the forecast! But alongside the near completion of the process considering our request for a 3-year extension, there have been life-changing exam results for one daughter, a move and the start of a new job for the other, and the end of an era for my Mum’s home near Gloucester. We have been able to celebrate with family meals and walks and a visit to Stratford for our 30th Wedding Anniversary. There was much to be thankful for.
One of the most memorable days of our summer was a day out at the Glass Festival at Stourbridge. There were demonstrations of traditional glass-blowing and engraving, together with descriptions of the industrial process and exhibitions of work. Many times I had walked blindly past my parents’ display cabinets containing cut-glass bowls, tumblers and vases, too precious to use yet not drawing attention for their aesthetic impact. In clearing their house I’d been happy to see the glassware go. But having seen the skill of the endeavour in the making, I had acquired a new vocabulary in appreciating something that I had treated with indifference.
Listening to the conversations of those outside church circles, I realise there is a strong parallel with the relationship they have with church. In walking down Broad St passed the glass-fronted Methodist Church, folk are left untouched (despite the best efforts of our wayside pulpit). There isn’t an inkling of the ultimate price paid that they might discover the truth that is shared behind those windows, still less the thought that an encounter with that truth can be the critical watershed moment in anyone’s life.
It’s no-one’s fault that the connection isn’t made, except perhaps ours, if we don’t tell our story that they might discover the vocabulary to appreciate the beauty we behold – in short, that they might discover that they are valued and loved by God, who gave His only Son that we might truly live.
What opportunities will we have in this new Church Year to spread the language of God’s love by sharing our story? How ready are we?
Happy New Church Year