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Reform Magazine | July 15, 2018

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On the pilgrim way: ‘What gives me hope? It’s a difficult question’

Sheila Maxey considers what gives her hope

I have always found change exciting, even liberating. The beginning of a new school year, going to a new place on holiday, changing jobs, even moving furniture around during a spring cleaning surge. I remember the sense of liberation when I moved on from being the chair of trustees for a charity – the sheer pleasure of deleting files from my computer, and clearing out papers from my filing cabinet. Moving from pastoral ministry to working at Church House was certainly exciting and liberating. Ten years later, I also felt excited and liberated to leave that work behind.

However, change taking place around me is quite another matter. I can feel left behind. I felt anxious when our doctor retired, and even more anxious when our dentist retired. Much more serious are changes within our church family: one elderly couple moved far away to a retirement complex; another couple plan to travel the world when their youngest leaves school; others talk about moving away on retirement. And there is another kind of moving away – several dear friends are gradually fading physically and mentally. Others are now house/hospital-bound. Our wonderful cook for the weekly lunch club is moving to Yorkshire, and most of her team of volunteers are taking the opportunity to retire – or to move on.

I try to recognise that those moving to a new place have a right to the excitement I would feel in their shoes. I try to tell myself that death is perfectly natural and that the journey towards it, with its very common physical or mental decline, is still part of a God-given life that is to be lived as fully as possible. But just at present I feel bereft, very conscious of what I and our church will be losing. I seem to spend too much time peering anxiously into the future.

I went to the convent to see my new wise guide, after my previous guide of more than 20 years moved to Belgium – another example of people around me moving away and leaving me behind! In talking to Sister S about my fears for the future, especially for the future of our local church, she asked me what I hoped for – or rather, what gave me hope. I found it a very difficult question. I could hope for an influx of able-bodied, highly committed new people – but it feels like a superficial, even foolish answer. Less superficial is the hope that the open and loving spirit of our church will survive the changes.

I began to realise that the second part of the question was really important – what gave me hope? As I spent some quiet time in the convent chapel, the words of a hymn helped me:

All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown,
he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

(Robert Bridges, 1844-1930, translated from Joachim Neander)

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the July/August 2018 edition of  Reform

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