On the pilgrim way: ‘I feel both excited and daunted’
Sheila Maxey prepares for a spacious new phase
Provisional’ seems to be the word these days. Coffee after church by the end of the month? Probably not. Carol services, heartily sung, at Christmas? Possibly. Visiting an ageing cousin in Germany next March? Probably. I am taking refuge from all this provisionality in a project where I am in control!
The draughty, Victorian sash window in my study is being replaced, leading on to the whole room being repainted for the first time in over 30 years. As a result, my books (hundreds) have been moved to the other end of the house and culled by one third. To my delight, three ministerial friends have gobbled up a lot of the culled books. My five shelf units have been reduced to three, and my daughter has welcomed the two surplus ones.
As I stripped the room of its various pictures and ornaments, I realised how many of them were relics of my time working at United Reformed Church House. As ecumenical officer, I had the privilege of quite a lot of international travel and contacts; I received gifts illustrating the countries and churches I visited. I have enjoyed them. But I retired in 2003. That was then, and this is now.
I have thrown out such a lot of papers: old essays, all my sermons since 1983, and much else. But I also rediscovered my typed diaries from a four-month sabbatical at the World Council of Churches’ ecumenical centre at Bossey, in 1997, and from my year as the URC’s Assembly Moderator (from 2004 to 2005). I am reading them aloud to Kees, and we are so enjoying reliving those times.
The work starts tomorrow. I look round at the bare walls, grey with age, and feel both excited and daunted. I wonder: How can the room express where I am now? The room serves various purposes. It is my prayer space – and that will, I think, remain much the same: a low surface with a candle on it and icons on the wall behind it. A desk and computer are musts, and they have to be by the window. But I have been offered a lovely desk, following the sale of my brother-in-law’s house. My usual desk was a cast off from an office in which my husband worked until it closed down about 40 years ago. Perhaps it will go to the tip! Will I be more inspired with a beautiful desk? The walls will look very different when the books come back, but there will still be lots of white space. I hope I can just wait to see what comes.
And, really, that is what I have to keep doing in the big world outside of my study: try to be creative with each day, enjoy making plans but not invest too much in them. ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’
Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
This article was published in the October 2020 edition of Reform