I fly to Switzerland early tomorrow morning. This blog post, I hope, serves two purposes: it’s a snapshot of my hopes, expectations and worries before my time at Bossey begins, which I hope to look back and reflect on when I return; and it’s a guide to how you might pray for me in the months ahead.
1. Above all, I’m hoping to make friends – to get to know people with whom I have lots in difference and (I’m sure) lots more in common, and from whom a lot to learn. I’m looking forward to stumbling my way through ‘hello, how are you?’ in new languages, to laughing and crying, praying and praising with siblings in Christ I might otherwise never have met. I’m dearly looking forward to being part of a temporary but deeply intentional community.
2. God willing, a few months after I return to the UK I’ll be ordained a deacon in the Church of England. I want to commit once again, and with extra fervour, to discerning and exploring that calling this year. In particular, I want to think more about baptism – about my baptism, baptism in the life of the church, and baptism as that which binds us together in Christ.
And Bossey is a brilliant place to reflect on these things. Whilst God’s church might not yet live in full visible unity, we are already one in an important way: we are one in our baptism in Father, Son and Holy Ghost. That gives me immense hope ecumenically. And I want it to seep in and inspire my ministry in the years ahead.
3. There’s a whole church out there to explore, and nowhere near enough days in this earthly life to explore it! But I’m hoping to discover new corners of the church over the next few months. I’m hoping to be surprised and energised, to be challenged and humbled. I’m hoping to catch even the briefest glimpse of the depths of God’s love for the world as God reaches out into creation through and in Christ’s body on earth.
4. I want to learn more about my corner of the church too. Being Anglican is a complex affair – if I’m honest I don’t ever expect to really understand the Church of England, let alone the complex history and life of the Anglican Communion. But I want to discern my place in it in new ways.
5. I also want to do a LOT of hiking (yes Mum, I’m taking sturdy boots and a compass). I meet God in the mountains, and the Alps are some of the best.
6. And I’ll be disappointed if there’s not loads of really good chocolate.
1. There are inevitable worries that come with this ‘new normal’ that sees me travelling during a pandemic. I can’t say the prospect of boarding a flight is a fun one at the moment. Which is a shame, because I love to travel.
My time at Bossey is also meant to involve travel within continental Europe. We’ve got trips planned within Switzerland, we’re scheduled to spend a weekend at Taize in France in December, and we’re hoping to spend the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (in January) in Rome. I would be so disappointed if these had to be cancelled, and I suspect colleagues travelling from around the world, more so.
2. Like many people I went 5 months without receiving communion this year. In Cambridge I often received communion daily. I’ve really missed eucharistic worship. There’ll be opportunity to attend eucharistic worship whilst I’m at Bossey – I hear there’s a Roman Catholic daily mass on site – but there’ll be many an occasion when I cannot receive or when eucharistic worship is avoided altogether in the spirit of ecumenical hospitality. That’ll mean a lot of time away from receiving communion this year. Whilst I have other means of worship and prayer to fall back on, I’m expecting to find that hard.
3. I’m a woman nearing ordination, about to jump headfirst into ecumenical life. Above all that really excites me. I talked in my scholarship interviews about the rich potential there might be in engaging in ecumenical work as a (soon to be) ordained woman. I’m excited to go to Bossey representing the Church of England’s fragile yet prayerful approach to women’s ministry which seeks the full mutual flourishing of those who can receive the ordained ministry and those who, in good theological conscience, can’t. I suspect mutual flourishing has a lot to offer to the question of broader church unity.
But I’m not expecting the ‘women question’ to always be easy. I think often with great sorrow about the division between the churches deepened by woman’s ordination. I’m no less in favour of women’s ordination, but anything which is a barrier to the church’s full visible unity is painful to contemplate. And as a woman I’m not just a concept that marks that division, I’m that concept enfleshed and enlivened.
I’ll save the full story for another day, but I own an icon that I particularly turn to when I’m finding being a woman in the church hard. Perhaps you might join me, from time to time, in pleading the intercession of Sisters Martha, Alexandra, and Helena, 19th century ascetics from the monastic community at Divyevo in Russia. I venerated their relics a couple of years ago at a moment when I was finding being a woman in an ecumenical context particularly challenging. Their icon is coming with me on this placement, just in case.
4. I’ve deliberately never made a secret of the fact that in recent years I’ve experienced depression and anxiety. In the last couple of years my mental health has been steadily improving and for that I’m immensely thankful. But it will be important for my continued recovery that I take good care of my wellbeing and make sure to maximise opportunities to rest. And for those who know me well, rest is not my forte – I’m the sort of person who thrives on busyness! All the same, carving out rest in the next few months is going to be crucial.
5. That PhD I’d hoped to have submitted this summer? Yeah, Covid-19 has delayed that slightly. I’m into the final editing stage, so will hopefully submit whilst I’m away. I’m hoping to make the most of moments I can, to get it finished in between classes and reading.
6. I could really do with brushing up on my French!
Pray for me, please? I’ll be praying for you.
And please pray for the community of which I’m about to become a part. Pray for the churches we represent, for those we’ll meet on visits, for our studies and worship together, for our shared life. And please pray for the reconciliation of God’s whole created order, of which the visible unity of the churches is but a part.
The pilgrim journey can be a bumpy one, full of excitement and challenge. But God always accompanies us on the road and steps out ahead of us, often when we’re least aware.