When we were on holiday a couple of weeks ago, we visited a couple of castles which we had never been to before. This is rare in our life, as Pauline has been dragging Matthew around castles for 40 years, and our children got so fed up with them that they referred to these beautiful ruins as ‘piles of rocks’ (although they did enjoy filming them on our video recorder and adding their own derogatory commentary as we read the information boards – far too slowly for their liking!). On this occasion we spent time in Goodrich Castle near Ross-on Wye, which is a very substantial ruin, and Farleigh Hungerford Castle near Bath, which is smaller but beautifully situated. Both looked wonderful in the spring sunshine, and we both enjoyed imagining what these buildings would have looked like in their prime, and learning about the lives of those who once lived in them.
It was a pleasant surprise to find two ‘new’ castles in one week, but it reminded us that finding new expressions of something familiar is an experience we have all had to grow used to over the past year. It would once have amazed us to imagine that we would take pleasure in visiting our friends and families in their gardens on chilly afternoons, as sitting in their living rooms would be unlawful. If anyone had suggested that congregational singing would be forbidden, we would have been horrified at the restraints imposed upon our right to religious freedom; and we would have found the thought of wearing masks in church laughable or even sinister. But perhaps what would have astonished us the most would be the idea that we would very quickly get used to these new expressions of familiar life, so that as the government began to release us into something a little more like what we had known before, we would now be hesitant to embrace our once taken for granted freedoms and begin to cling to the ‘new normal’ instead. So many of us have lost confidence in our physical and mental abilities over this period of enforced isolation and restrictions, even though it was meant for a good purpose, that we are reluctant both to embrace our previous way of life, or to find yet more new expressions of it.
This is completely understandable, and in many cases still very necessary, especially if we have responsibilities to others which mean we must put their safety first. But if this is not the case, staying apart in order to keep ourselves safe is not without its dangers. Jesus came that we might have life in all its fullness, and that includes negotiating new pathways to old freedoms, as well as to new ones. Be assured that our church is open for business, even though we are still negotiating just what that might look like in the coming days. We can physically gather in worship on Sunday mornings, albeit in a new expression of our shared experience, and we are discovering that listening to our songs instead of singing them is no barrier to enjoying God’s presence. We have also been blessed by visitors who shared both our worship and their stories with us. So if you are ready and able to find what new things God is doing amongst us, even if they are unfamiliar at first, be assured that He will deal gently with us, and will draw us into fresh and unexpected blessings as we walk the journey together.
With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline