I don’t think very much. Well I mainly think by talking and I talk quite a lot so maybe I do get to think a fair bit.
Last Monday evening I was speaking to a small group of wonderful women who are one of the Mother’s Union groups that meet at St Peter’s Church in Hall Green, where I am the curate. I had been asked to talk about the work I do outside the parish and I rambled on, as I always do, about the importance of bringing people together. I got passionate about friendships that bridge all kinds of difference and tried to explain with a diagram of boxes and lines. It looks like this:
What this flurry of lines and scribbles is meant to represent is the boxes of our fragmented society criss-crossed by friendships. The vertical lines indicate the boundaries of ethnicity and faith that can mean we live parallel lives and the horizontal lines indicate the boundaries of class, economics and education that can separate us further. While the lines of friendship that connect people vertically and horizontally (i.e. – they either bridge economic difference or religious/ethnic difference but not both) are important I think friendships that bridge both economic and ethnic difference – the diagonal lines – are the most important to build strong, trusting and equal communities.
This has become for me the theoretical understanding of what we are trying to do both in our interfaith work at St Peter’s and through the Near Neighbours programme.
However for me this is much more than theory or work. These relationships have changed my life, transformed my thinking, inspired our family and deepened my faith. I suddenly realised – thinking aloud at the Mother’s Union – that they were an answer to prayer.
In 1989 I co-ordinated an evening on Understanding Islam while I was at university. The speaker, a godly, wise and compassionate Christian priest spoke about the importance of understanding one another and appreciating different faiths. When he had left some of the students with whom I was leading the week’s mission, prayed that this man might become a Christian. I left the meeting deeply saddened and went to my little bedroom/study and prayed that God might show me a Christianity that was free from the prejudices of class, race and privilege. Of course nothing happened instantly but I never forgot that prayer even though I thought it might be impossible to answer.
But with God, nothing is impossible – even though you miss it by thinking that it is. Driving home a couple of days ago I realised that the answer was emerging: the precious network of friendships that so deeply enrich my life are God’s response to this prayer. The insights I hear, the challenges we face together and the thinking aloud that happens when we are in a room together is beginning to answer my prayer of 1989. There are so many of you answering that prayer that I can’t personally thank you. I hope you know who you are..