A friend’s facebook page has reminded me that we are 27 days into our new curacies. But this week I have been very aware that I am also only 28 days away from being a member of a different congregation just a couple of miles down the road. All Saints Kings Heath was my home for nearly 20 years and is where my children have been nutured and supported. This week, All Saints as well as many others are grieving the death of an amazing saint. It was a privilege to worship with John Hull and be taught by him at the Queens foundation.
So just at the moment, despite the amazing welcome and support I have been given by my new church, I found myself wishing I could grieve with others who knew him. I want to share memories, laugh and cry with some of the people who appreciated this wonderful human being.
But in the mean time I need to get on with being the new curate. Its fun and unnerving to be the the new person again and to get to grips with slightly different patterns of worship, new personalities and a different context. Unsure of exactly what I should be doing, my favourite line of the Eucharist at the moment is definitely the last one: Go in peace to love and serve The Lord. It signifies that I have got through another service without a catastrophe but also reminds me and I hope others that our love and service flows out from the liturgy into the week. It is, perhaps, the most diaconal moment.
I have got so fond of this line that In my head I have named two of the beautiful windows in our church ‘love’ and ‘service’. Love is a stunning depiction of the nativity which is in the Lady Chapel, the space where our more intimate services are held. There is such warmth in the gaze of those surrounding the infant Jesus that you can nearly feel the adoration. Its a wonderful backdrop for worship. Service depicts the moment when Peter is restored by Jesus after his denial and he is commissioned to feed the sheep. After a busy morning preaching and deaconing at the 8am and 10am I found myself hovering nervously in church when this window caught my eye and I was transported back more than 20 years. Back in my student days I had returned to my bedsit after a night running a mission discouraged, exhausted and perplexed. The words Feed my sheep were spoken to me out if nowhere – I was not sure what they meant but then they gave me the courage to continue and they have been a recurring refrain over the last two decades as I made my way towards ordination as a distinctive deacon. Now they remind me that I am where God wants me to be.
But combining a diocesan role as well as the work in a parish I have found myself wondering how on earth to juggle love and service. It can feel like there is a tension between the two. With so much to do how do I find time to spend adoration and wonder? With the responsibilities and commitment I have now made to prayer, study and worship leading how do I have time to do anything else? I know others feel the same tension. Is it asking too much to do both? Should I really end the service with the words: Go in Peace to love or serve The Lord.
As I write and reflect this week my mind is full of fragments of the lively, challenging and humourous conversations I had with John Hull over the years and the wisdom and insight he shared in his teaching. Knowing John makes it impossible to consider for more than a moment that love and service could ever be separated. John’s love for God was embodied in a life of service. John’s service was embodied by his love of people. John’s love for people permeated his writing and thinking, his conversation and campaigning and his teaching and understanding. He wrote about the love of God collapsing into the love of neighbour – meaning the love of God is lived by loving the other.
What John has taught me above all else is that service without love is not really service. What we can really offer people is ourselves, our friendship, our insights, our humour and our compassion. Its important to meet physical needs but its even more important to be open to the other, to be willing to change and be changed through an encounter. John also taught me that love without service is not really love. As we read in the Epistle of James, we cannot claim to love God if we do not love our brother and sister. So Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord makes perfect sense – it is impossible to do one without the other because they cannot be divided.
John has gone in peace leaving a legacy that has and will continue to spur many of us to lives of love and service. It’s hard to say good-bye to the people and places we have loved but it is a massive privilege to be in the place where God has called me not only to feed his sheep but to learn from them and with them as we journey towards perpetual peace and joy.