From the Minister
Born to be a movement of transformation, the church has always lived with change. It is at the heart of what we are. Jesus’ life and work were about salvation, which, by definition, is to do with changing something for the better. The Acts of the Apostles records journeys and initiatives intended to persuade people of the radical difference Jesus can make. The story of the Reformation narrates how some Christians sought to renew the church through change. The ecumenical movement that was so significant in the twentieth century strove to reunite the church through change. Standing in the name of Christ for that change which rids the world of injustice has and does define us, when we let it. And yet we have not always enjoyed the dynamic of change, giving the impression that the status quo was safer. It’s as if we have missed the point that a ‘movement’ can hardly expect to stand still.
Of course, the truth is that the status quo often is superficially safer, not least as we grow older, knowing what we like and liking what we know. But because everything around us, is constantly moving, the ground under us shifting, there is in fact little safety in standing still. This is not to suggest that all change is for the better. That’s why our response to change has to be discerning so that we weigh developments to see if they are for the common good, or just pander to a few prejudices. Nor is all change really making a difference; as the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change the more they stay the same. Essentially though, life and history are moving, and if we wish to remain relevant to the world in which we are set – to have a word that makes sense to it – then we, too, need to have a general dynamic of being on a journey.
This is especially apposite to us in an era of undeniable challenge to the church. We cannot take for granted our place in the nation’s affection or regard. Nor can we simply presume that our membership will remain buoyant, that our buildings and finances will remain intact, that we can remain as we are for ever. Frankly all of these require our on-going and sacrificial hard work. To what then do we look for encouragement, for inspiration on the road ahead?
When I was at school The Surrey Hymn Book had words of Percy Dearmer that still undergird my faith: ‘everything changes but God changes not’. He specifies ‘splendours three from God proceeding’: goodness, truth and beauty, and urges that we heed them ‘every day, in all we do’. In itself, the permanence of these three is heartening, particularly when the changes that characterise our era can seem to be undervaluing goodness, truth and beauty. To focus determinedly upon them is part of the leavening that might be our vocation. More specifically, however, whilst we entertain change as essential to the dynamic of church life, perhaps these three offer us benchmarks by which we might measure the suitability of any particular transition with which we are faced.
At first sight, goodness, truth and beauty can appear to be sentimental, even a mite shallow for the enormity of our challenges; I wondered whether I should cite them. Then I pondered the converse: what if the changes we embrace do not pursue goodness, truth and beauty? How could those changes then be described as ‘progress’? Any transformation that was rooted in what is bad, false and ugly would surely not be progress at all. And would it achieve that for which Christ endured and trounced those three? So it is that I still hear God calling us to tackle this world’s symbols of the bad, false and ugly – things like poverty, discrimination and abuse of one another and the planet. Moreover, I still hear God calling us in our worship, our fellowship and our outreach into the community to embody goodness, truth and beauty. They’re not to distract us from change, but to strengthen us for it, so that as we go where the Spirit takes us – which Walter Brueggemann suggests ‘may be a storm that blows you where you have never been before’ – we might embrace what God offers and asks for the future, just as our forebears did when they went with radical new thinking that we now regard as familiar and safe.
The world changes, the Word is eternal. Thanks be to God … for both.