Words at the end (Jackie Reily)
There are few words to make sense of what has happened here in the last few months – in particular the imminent closure of St. Oswald’s – a place that has been a refuge for many for decades. As a community we have felt frustrated, sad and bewildered. We have asked endless questions, searched diligently for solutions inbetween simply getting on with the work in hand. I don’t want to assume that your feelings have been the same, but I’m sure there’s been some overlap.
But when all is said and done I’m left with one question ‘Where is God in all of this?’ In our pain, certainly, in our frustrated hope…both of which have threatened to eclipse the good of the past. But God is also present in thankfulness for all that has been –
God present with us as we gazed at the wild orchid which unexpectedly appeared in the meadow, the silent snow, the stunning sunsets and the rainbows. God with us as we tilled a vegetable garden and planted hedges; saw clouds of goldfinches rising from the fields, discovered the black bryony and barren strawberry, carefully named what we saw, ducked as the white owl swooped overhead and when we blessed the bees and the bright moonlit nights. God with us as we prayed in Chapel day after day, watching the sunlight rotate around the room casting coloured patterns on the walls, keeping silence, keeping faith with the world and with each other. God with us as we cooked, cleaned, answered emails or as guests came on retreats, talked, rested, walked, laughed and ate together.
And in our best moments we know that God created us, God loves us and God will keep us in all our futures… and that although we think we might cease to exist because of our littleness, nevertheless we are held in the palm of God’s hand.
And in our questioning, raging and thankfulness we are not alone…we are surrounded by a great cloud of witness. In the final Harry Potter film, as a young Harry faces his imminent death, he is surrounded by those who have loved him and who in that moment give him courage to walk the path ahead of him. We too, each of us here, are surrounded by those who love us and care for us. Together we draw courage from each other to walk on – but we also draw courage from those who have walked this way millennia before us.
I’m a creature of habit and every day I’ve sat in this seat from where I’ve looked at the window of St. Hilda and often had a quiet word with her. She knew more of struggle and church politics and courage than I will ever know.
Tracking further back I’m mindful of the witness of Abram and Sarah in the Hebrew Scriptures …they discovered a profound truth…as they travelled they recognised that God was rooted in places. Where they experienced his presence they placed piles of stones to recognise that this was the place where they had met God. But as they lived their nomadic life and walked from place to place they discovered a deeper truth… God is not restricted to this place or that, because when they left the safety of the stones and journeyed on they found that God was in that place too. In the introduction to one of the Celtic liturgies we use it says of Brendan, an Irish Saint…”no matter how foreign a place of situation was, he was always ‘at home’ because he had his home in Christ” (Communion Liturgies from Celtic Daily Prayer – Small Boat, Great Big Sea Communion)
It’s easy to know God in one place and then find it almost impossible to move because it feels safe and known. It’s harder to journey on into the unknown terrain of the wilderness, hoping to find God there too. ‘God is here, God’s spirit is with us’…but God is ‘there’ too.
We too are called to be a people of journey and following… a pilgrim people. The longer the people of Israel travelled, the older their nation became, the more they wanted to stay rooted in one place. I understand that, I become weary of ‘moving on’. The people of God put their faith in Jerusalem and in particular its temple – but this was not to be…After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus a new community of His followers emerged and a deeper truth became plain… the temple was no longer needed because the people carried the presence of God within. As Jesus told the woman at the well…Worship was not restricted to one place, but the whole of life was to be infused with spirit and truth. The people of God can know that everywhere they travel God is present with them.
As a pilgrim people we have a voice…we are a people who lament ‘yes’ and I’m sure we’ve done that today…we’ve probably had lots of conversation about the ‘why’ of what has led to the premature closure of a beautiful God ‘place’. We are also a people who can, when the time is right, remember all the good that has been and who bear witness to God’s presence in this place. And most importantly we are a people who can recognise God’s gift of making good all that seems lost …bringing beauty from ashes and promising to travel on with us into the unknown future.
Prayers (led by Sarah Cornwell)
Loving God, we come to you with thankful hearts for every blessing we have enjoyed in this place.
Thank you for its beauty which sings to us of your goodness.
Thank you for its peace and the space to draw close to you.
Thank you for all the people who for so many years have sought you, praised you and shared life together in this place.
In a moment of silence we bring you our memories and give you thanks.
….and for those who would like to we now hold some time to express those thanks aloud…
TIME OF OPEN PRAYER
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer
Good Shepherd, as we face the future may we hear your voice calling us. Lead us to new places of encounter, refreshment and inspiration.
Open our ears to know your presence wherever we are; uphold us when the journey is hard and make us witnesses of your faithful love.
Lord Jesus, we pray for all Christian Communities and especially for St. Oswald’s, The Order of the Holy Paraclete and Scargill and for every community represented by each one of us here this evening.
Thank you for every blessing we enjoy as we journey together and keep us always in your love.
We pray for those who are in especial need this evening…
We end with the Collect for St. Oswald:
Lord God Almighty, who so kindled the faith of King Oswald with your Spirit that he set up the sign of the cross in his kingdom and turned his people to the light of Christ; grant that we, being fired by the same Spirit, may always bear our cross before the world and be found faithful servants of the gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord.