Sunday, 21 September 2014

Building bridges

Newly opened Whitchurch Bridge, pristine and ready for crossing.

We finally have a re-opened bridge in our village, all brand spanking new and beautiful, and I've been thinking about the significance of bridges all week.

For those familiar with the social media site, Twitter, one of the most followed accounts is @Pontifex which is the official Twitter account of Pope Francis, with 4.5 million followers. 

What do these two seemingly random facts - a strengthened bridge and the tweeting Bishop of Rome - have in common?

The etymology of 'pontifex' is pons (Latin for bridge) and facere (to do, to make), so a 'pontifex' or 'pontiff' is actually a bridge builder. It refers to any Bishop. I like to think it refers to any Christian.

Building bridges came to mind too because of the Scottish referendum on Independence. For all sorts of reasons (mostly inchoate, to do with having had a beloved Scottish grandfather) I was in the 'No Thanks' camp (not that I had a vote...) In the same way, I'm against us leaving the European Union. In the words of some mobile telephone company or other, 'We're better together'. Though I am well aware that 'together' needs to mean 'on equal terms' for it to be meaningful at all, and that it doesn't feel like that to a lot of Scots...

This week there was a social media conversation about the BBC TV Sunday programme, Songs of Praise. Some vicars apparently think it's outmoded and twee, containing nothing remotely like what real faith is like in the 21st Century. I admit I'm a bit allergic to soft focus photography, but I caught an episode this afternoon where the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool and the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool (both new in post) joined together in a prayer for peace on this 'World Peace  Day' and stories were told of Christians who were building bridges to their neighbours, resulting in the gospel bringing new life, new hope and freedom from addictions for some of those society had forgotten. Faith in Christ was certainly very real for those people who shared their own stories.

I remember a defining moment during Holy Communion in my local church many years ago. All the usual people were there, no change; all going up to receive the bread and the wine...then we were joined at the altar rail by someone new, someone seeking, someone from my generation (shock, horror). I was so excited I remember a spontaneous prayer rose up and took me by surprise. I was thinking about Ordination at the time and wondering if it really was for me. I found myself saying to God (and I hope it came from him because it was quite a grumpy prayer) 'if the kingdom doesn't look like this, like new people coming in as a matter of normality, I don't want to be part of it.' In other words, if there's nothing new, no new life, no new hope, no breaking through of the Spirit into lives where previously Christ was absent, I'd rather just be a humanist.

I still feel like that. Where is the wind of the Spirit blowing today? Where is the hunger for sharing the Good News? Because it's all about bridges. Can I be a bridge over which someone else can walk to faith? And will it be a bridge that is suitably fortified, welcoming and ready for just such an occasion?

1 comment:

  1. For your word bridges, I substitute connections. When I was in the discernment process it was all about making connections, and while the DDO thought that I was good at it, the Assessors at BAP thought differently. Nothing like rejection to concentrate the mind.

    I have striven to improve that ability, which is inate within us, but can lie dormant unless it's nurtured and developed. The thing that really opened my eyes to the business of connections was a Chaplaincy placement with the Bristol City Centre Chaplaincy last year. It was an eye opener to see both the Chaplain himself, but also his volunteer Chaplains connecting with people throughout the city centre from all backgrounds from those who swept the streets to shop workers, council officials and business leaders.

    It was a real introduction to how helpful and supportive a neutral listening ear can be to people and how these connections, maintained and built on can create relationships of friendship and mutual support that can bring the Love of God, quietly and unobtrusively into peoples lives, through their 'lived' experience from the witness of the chaplaincy.

    It has really fired my imagination in ways that were totally unexpected. While I'm now doing the foundation in Christian Ministry course to gain formal recognition and accreditation by the Church, I see this ministry developing more outside the Church than inside it. We're already making a missional start with a new monthly lunch club, which I will be part off, but in building relationships between other denominations and people locally - this is where I feel called to be, making connections that bring the love of God, quietly and gently to anyone who cares to listen or to just come to our community events, or who I might meet in the village centre of shops as I go about my life.

    Sure, we can be a bridge and a connection, but we need to be genuinely seen and known to be disciples ourselves and attractive in a way that shows God's love, quietly and gently to all.