Sunday, 1 February 2015

Going back to go forward

A few weeks ago this period Extended Study Leave (ESL) began with a few days in Cardiff. It’s a city I’d previously visited for just a one night stay many moons ago, ahead of the ordination of a friend at Llandaff Cathedral. I knew I needed to get away at the start of this ESL or I’d just carry on carrying-on with the many ‘little’ tasks which needed to be completed before I could down tools and step away from the every-day task of ministry and ‘being a vicar’. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of privilege I feel at being given this time away; time to think, pray, rest, recover, reflect, read, explore… and so much more…

And so to Cardiff.

I had a really interesting few days – visiting places such as St Fagans, the building that houses the National Assembly for Wales, and Pierhead. St Fagan’s was such an interesting place, and really worth a visit if you are over that way – not least because you could spend the whole day there and it’s free! (When I said this to one of the staff he replied, “Ah yes, we’re frittering away your English taxes.” I made no reply!)

One of the highlights of the week was attending the mid-week Eucharist Service at Dewi Sant. It’s the only completely Welsh speaking church in the city. Everything is in Welsh, and I mean everything! Hymns, readings, prayers, notices (I got a mention in dispatches and the only reason I know this is that I recognised my name being said as you can’t say Deborah in any other way – even in Welsh!) I was quite happy to go with the flow of a Service in a foreign language knowing that I‘d have some clue as to what was going on by the shape of the Service (readings, hymns etc.) or the priest waving his hands around – for example, during the Eucharistic Prayer or at the Blessing. Imagine my relief then when the Service Book was opened for me at the relevant page and it was ‘simultaneous translation’ on the facing pages! (I can tell you it takes less space to write out (and to say) the Lord’s Prayer in English – just in case you ever feel you need to know.) They were a lovely congregation and made me feel very welcome at coffee afterwards. The Priest wasn’t too bad at being welcoming either… I guess I have to say that as he’s a friend!

I was thinking about that experience as I attended the Service this morning at St George’s Cathedral here in Jerusalem as well as the Service to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – held at the Greek MelkiteCatholic Patriarch Church. I chose to attend both Services today, just as I chose to attend the Service in Cardiff and the experiences of each of them – apart and together has given me a lot of food for thought as I have been drifting around the streets of Jerusalem. This evening’s Service – at which well over a hundred people were gathered – was conducted predominantly in Arabic. A fulsome Order of Service has been provided – in various languages – and we were even given a translation of the Homily. I have mine here – in English, of course! (How I wish I could speak Arabic, it’s so beautiful to look at and intriguing to listen to.) As I came away from the Service this evening I found myself thinking not only about the language we use to speak in when worshipping, but also the ‘language’ we use to worship God – not the words themselves, but the actions, the expressions of faith, the way we do what we do and how so many say (either aloud or internally) what they do is ‘right’ and what others do is ‘wrong’. I found myself asking if we will ever speak the same ‘language’. Will Christians ever come together as a household of faith and agree on what words to use – agree in heart as well as in words of intent during a Week of Prayer for Christianity? Will the children of Abraham – Muslim and Jew and Christian alike – ever agree in heart that we are children of the same God, that we worship the same God, and that God wills for the good of each person God has created? This ‘good’, which is God’s love, reaches beyond faith alone, it reaches to gender, race, sexuality.

It’s not about what I think or believe is right – and therefore what I (wittingly or unwittingly) imply is ‘wrong’, it’s about what God has asked me to do, asked each person in creation, in fact, to do – and that is to love. As Jesus said, “The first commandment is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” He went on to say, “Love your neighbour as yourself.

If we were to get the first of these two injunctions right – in whatever language, creed or practice we choose – and then work on the second with as much determination then maybe, just maybe, Christians will come together as a household of faith and agree in heart as well as spoken intent, and all the children of Abraham – Muslim and Jew and Christian alike – will agree in heart that we are children of the same God, that we worship the same God, and that God wills for the good of each person God has created. Wouldn’t it be just grand if this came to pass.

1 comment:

  1. I admire your perseverence in coping with languages, other than English. I can remember living in Belgium in the 1970's, where I had the choice of French or Flemish services in local catholic churches. For some reason I preferred those in Flemish, as I'd been learning that, while I had real difficulty in getting on with French Grammar. A few years later, living in Germany, the Flemish learning of earlier years came to the fore and adapted it's rusty self to learning and speaking German. Now there's a language with 'filibuster' grammar with long words thrown into the mix. But again the shape of the services was the same as those in English, so even when away from home base and Padre's, I could pop into any local church for Mass without any complications. My Mass book in English followed the same format as theirs.

    I suspect that being a Catholic was in those days, simpler than it is nowadays, particularly where latin was employed. Now, with everything in the vernacular, well, confusion can abound, particularly as they seem to change the format of their mass every couple of years, and local bishops put their own spin on the Missal.

    Now the CofE is quite straightforwrd in comparison. We have BCP Great, simple, straight forward, lovely language, but not accessible to younger generations. And Common Worship, which is also quite familiar, as a service book, but I find that local churches produce their own worship books, which will often contain non-standard variations, taken from other common worship resources which I either don't have with me or have never heard off. Which can lead to confusion if you rely on your well thumbed and used edition of CW Services for the Church of England, only to find that the confession is different or other bits are adapted or out of sequence. Even my own parish today moved the confession from after the gathering to after the Gospel? What's that about. Must ask my Vicar.

    But good to hear that you're in Jerusalem, and the Holy Land, and that your ESL or Sabbatical is proceeding well with some real spiritual affirmation.