10 December 2022

A trip into the past that spoke to the present

Clare was reminded of community and human connection when she returned to that small town in Victoria. Picture: iStock

By Clare Boyd-Macrae 

25 May 2022

Recently, my husband was asked back to his first parish in a tiny Victorian town. The last time he had preached in that pulpit was Christmas day 1988. We loved our four years there, but they were hard work. We were so young, and so wet behind the ears! In his first week, he had two funerals to conduct, neither of them old people. The manse was right next to the church, and it was another age – we hadn’t learnt, back then, about boundaries. We were barely aware of gender politics, and were completely unaware that I was most likely, at the time, suffering from undiagnosed depression. I worked at the local hospital, and we threw ourselves into the community with gusto. 

I suspect many ministers wonder if all their work has had any “result”, however you might measure such a thing. And this is not something that only those in ordained ministry wonder about. All of us have a ministry, and even for those with no religious sense, people of goodwill become weary and wonder if what they’ve toiled at for decades has had any effect. 

But when we returned to this town we were blown away by meeting former parishioners again, and others with whom we had connected deeply in our time there. There were plenty of traumas and sorrows in those years – babies who died, marriages that foundered, natural disasters, domestic violence and suicide. People band together to support each other through events like these, and that bonds you for life.  

On our trip back, memories of past joys and laughter and grief almost overwhelmed me, together with a profound sense of gratitude that the people in this little, remote community had opened their hearts to us, despite our hippy appearance, my determination to have my own job, and I suspect our somewhat arrogant assumption that we would sort out their theology. What a lot we learned! What a lot that funny little place allowed us to contribute. 

The experience made me want to encourage all of us of a certain age and who have been plugging away at things that sometimes seem pointless and exhausting. Life is so messy and we all have regrets. I find great joy and satisfaction working in the Church bureaucracy. But sometimes, much as I know how vital good administration is for enabling mission, I wonder what all that meticulous administration achieves in bringing on the Reign of God.  

But my recent experience reminded me of two things. One, that it is all about community and human connection – it’s no accident that Christianity is a corporate faith. And that all we are asked to do is to keep turning up and trying. It is God’s mission and God’s endeavour, and we can be on board, or not. We can rest in the knowledge that nothing, no matter how humble and tentative, is lost in the heart of God. 

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