The Uniting Church will seek ways in which the baptized may have confirmed to them the promises of God, and be led to deeper commitment to the faith and service into which they have been baptized. [Basis of Union, par. 12]
It seems the pandemic has bookended and pervaded every conversation since March. I noted with some friends that other, important things have slipped past, unremarked. If nothing else, being sequestered at home for lengths of time has given me the chance to reflect.
In the last couple of months, three older friends of mine have died. Three men, two and three decades my senior, all of whom were members of Dubbo Congregation, my first placement. I have seen all three of them less in these last years than I would have wished, but time and distance – and everything else – intervened.
Dick was a retired Minister (we had been warned at College about retired Minsters…) who, from our first meeting, was a support to me. In ways both implicit and explicit, Dick taught me about ministry, about paying attention and waiting and listening, about struggles and speaking up and leading when the time was right.
Dick had retired early due to an illness which hindered his ability to preach and lead worship, significant in his ministry. Something he had learnt out of his wisdom and pain, was how to receive the elements of the eucharist, once again, after four decades of presiding over the bread and wine, then offering them as sacrament. Dick offered his wisdom to me instead.
My original prayer partner was Denis and we met weekly in my study for years. I learnt to wait, to listen, to pray. Denis taught me to pay attention to the living God and the lives of people around me, so that prayer – and all aspects of my ministry – might be better informed.
My struggle with stillness surprises no-one who knows me and yet it was Denis’ leadership which kept me seated and still for an hour each week. Denis’ patience with me exemplified what I have always needed to understand, and enact, so that I am able to pray more fully into the presence of God for the concerns and wonders of the world around me.
My third friend, Brian, informed my faith and life in a different way. Brian took me out west, to the desert country, teaching all my family about “the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, and at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars”.
My first strong memory is Brian taking me to a riverbed outside Dubbo in his 80 series Land Cruiser, bogging it deliberately, putting me in the driving seat and saying, “Get us out of here. Don’t worry, you can’t break it”.
We bought an old Cruiser (80 series, naturally) soon afterwards, and for several holidays journeyed with Brian and his family up and down western Queensland and New South Wales, off road and on, talking about faith in Christ, what tyres run best, raising a family, why it’s dangerous to camp in riverbeds, forgiveness, and the majesty of camp oven cuisine.
Three godly men, who gave out of their faithfulness and in full awareness of their own frailty. Three disciples of Jesus, who discipled me – and many others – in their turn.
In this season of our Church’s life, we can grieve the loss of worship and community as we have known it for so long. We can look for ways to sing our faith when we cannot sing as we always have. Preaching has moved online, so that we can hear a sermon as easily from overseas, or from other times, as we can from our local preachers.
Discipleship remains, vital and indispensable. We pay attention to the lives of others, offering fractions of our experience and stories of our life in Christ, to guide them as we have, in our turn, been led. Graciousness and frailty, strength and good humour. Faith earthed in Jesus Christ and elevated by the Spirit of that same Christ.
It takes time and decision. It takes others; for me there have been many women and men who have challenged, blessed and chastised. It requires the hope we have in Christ.
We have chosen to follow Jesus, we are called to invite others to share our road.
Dick. Denis. Brian. May they rest in peace. May they rise again in glory.