Something Old, Something New

Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull

My annual visit to the Holy Land (sorry – Scotland) began with trauma. It had in any case been a nerve-wracking few weeks before our scheduled departure – would the Scottish Government regulations permit us to cross the border? Would our accommodation be open? What cleaning arrangements were in place? Would the friends we had invited last year to come with us for the second week be permitted to join us? One week beforehand it appeared that we would as a family be allowed to go, but that our friends could not join us.  However, three days before departure, the owners of the house decided that we were asking too many questions about their safety regime – and summarily cancelled our booking. We had taken this particular house every year for twenty years. Our son took his first steps there; the beauty of the breathtaking scenery, the wildlife and the peace have become part of our family treasure chest of memories.

My family proved its resilience by setting about the task of agreeing upon and then booking an alternative. Thanks to our children’s persistence, nerve and internet search skills, we managed to find and book cottages for the fortnight on the Isle of Mull. Despite an annual visit to Tobermory on the north coast of Mull (setting for the BBC’s ‘Balamory’ and also of the best fish restaurant in the UK…) we had no knowledge of the rest of the island and feared it might be rather dull compared with the beauties of remote Ardnamurchan. On arrival in Calgary Bay for our first week, we stood on the lawn of the cottage and we cried. The beauty did indeed take away our breath. The house was beautiful inside and out. Its owners were kind and welcoming.

Western Mull from Ben More (966m)

As we explored our new surroundings during the fortnight we began to realise that God was giving us a gift – not just a lovely holiday in a lovely place, but the gift of something new. It was, for us, genuinely paradisal. We thought that after twenty years, nothing could replace our feelings for one particular place which holds so many memories of each stage of our life together as a family. Despite the brutality of the loss, which felt deeply traumatic at the time, we realised that we were able to let go in order to receive something different, something new, something enriching and nourishing for us as a family. We experienced, in a simple way, how God’s grace is infinitely varied and surprising.

On one particular grace-filled day we visited the Isle of Iona, a short ferry ride from the western tip of Mull. We stood on the very beach on which Columba is said to have landed before building the abbey. It gave us a strong connection to the ancient roots of our faith, and reminded us of the mission work done by those Celtic wanderers who arrived by coracle far back in the sixth century.

St. Columba’s Bay, Iona

I have been reflecting on that as I read the words of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s gospel. In chapter 13 Jesus gives us a number of pictures to help us imagine what our relationship to ‘God’s rule’ might be like: a tiny mustard seed which becomes something huge and provides shelter for others; treasure hidden in a field; a merchant in search of fine pearls; a fishing net; finally the rather enigmatic saying that “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” As ‘scribes in training’ we need to be open to both the old and the new, and this challenges us at this particular time to examine our faith (our ‘treasure’) to try to understand what new gifts God is giving us to hold alongside the old. This applies to us individually and collectively: what have we personally learned from the pandemic experience, and what have we learned as a church? What new things can we build in to the ways we ‘do church’ in future? One thing is certain, we cannot and should not try to glue back together the ruins of the old ‘normality’, however comforting that normality has been in the past. 

Iona Abbey

We have an opportunity to embrace mission in a new way, incorporating technology into our services in order to tell our story in a way that speaks into the society around us and meets people where they are. We know now how important that weekly phone call has been to everybody on our contact list, and we will develop this as the basis for a new system of pastoral care. We know now just how important ‘real presence’ is to us, having been deprived of it for so long, so we will look for new ways to be together with others, particularly the marginalized and the isolated. We know now how important young people are to the life of the church so we will endeavour to create new opportunities for them to flourish, building on the work of the Messy Church (Fun@4) team.

Perhaps most importantly, we know now that in the midst of trauma, God is really present to us, holding us and leading us, wanting us to trust Him, learn from Him and above all receive from Him new treasure.

Every blessing!

Michael