Just outside the city of Salisbury are the ruins of a town called Old Sarum, which had a cathedral and bishop’s house as two of its key buildings. It was an enclosed city built on a hill that eventually ran out of space and water. This led to so much conflict that early in the thirteenth century the bishop petitioned to move the cathedral.
Acknowledging and expressing grief is important at times of loss. Those in our synod who are losing loved churches and sacred places, properties that hold memories, meaning and hope, need to grieve that loss.
When I visited the site of Old Sarum, I was struck by a couple of things about the site. One was how clear the outline of the cathedral building still was, despite it being pulled down many centuries ago.
It became a symbol for me of how the shape of the gospel endures, even when familiar ways of knowing God end and new ways need to be found.
The faith of a endures, even when the buildings that house that community are lost or changed.
The blessings of God formed in a congregation are marked on us, even when that congregation must face large changes.
The closure of a building or the ending of a hope for the future need not erase faith.
The other thing was the fact that the stones of the buildings were carried to the new town and still stand in parts of the wall in Salisbury.
It was a reminder to me that when we face change and endings in life, including the life of the church, whether that ending is chosen or it is forced on us, we are helped to face change if we can find ways to carry the best of the past with us into the new places and ways of being.
As congregations close or are forced to rethink plans for the future, I would like to encourage members of these congregations to reflect on what the best of life in the congregation has been.
What virtues and values do you want to carry with you?
When has your faith grown and how will you carry that with you?
How did the congregation help you live as a follower of Jesus?
What patterns of worship nurtured you, challenged you, sustained you?
How will the richness of the gift of faith from your congregation go with you and strengthen you?
How might you share this gift with a new congregation and with friends and family?
How will the gifts of the past help you discern a new future?
For congregations that will welcome new members, I encourage you to be open to what these new members offer. How might you make room for them to grieve, share their faith and discipleship and tell of the life they had in a different place? How might you plan to be open to the insights and customs they bring, so they might be folded into the life of your congregation as the stones of Old Sarum are folded into the walls of Salisbury?
Love helps us as we grieve, rage, lament, remember, give thanks and welcome. St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that love endures all things.
Love cannot be defeated by endings, by death, by grief, by anger. Love endures with us as we grieve and lament and are angry. Love endures as we seek to think and pray and hope our way into a new future.
Love endures as we carry the best of our faith and church life with us into new places.
Love endures because God endures with us, alongside us.
Pastoral, theological, liturgical and education response co-ordinator
Uniting our future
And Continuing Education Co-ordinator Centre for Theology and Ministry.