As autumn comes and the leaves change colour and start to fall, I am reminded how one of my previous and my much-loved spiritual directors, used to say how important the seasons were and that as embodied beings, we need to listen to nature. Just as Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything, this season is a time of letting go, of accepting change, of nurturing our roots with what has gone before, and preparing for a time of stillness, quiet and hibernation. But it is also a time of harvest, of gathering in the gifts of the year, and celebrating and enjoying them, of storing some of them carefully and lovingly for future times.
I wonder what we need to harvest and what we need to loose this autumn? It has been a strange year of privation, hope, uncertainty and good news. The impact of COVID and Brexit is still uncertain and unresolved. This has affected our communities and our churches. We have a legacy of online church, such a blessing to those who are housebound, whilst in-person worship retains an element of tentativeness, as we reduce social distancing, start singing again, but, on edge, are ready to re-launch all the precautions at the drop of a hat, should the situation change.
Reading the runes for the winds of change (mixed metaphors?), we have seen hope this summer in the Methodist Church and then the Church in Wales, agreeing to bless same-sex relationships. Whilst the CofE hustings for General Synod have demonstrated the continued struggle to ‘disagree well’. Sadly, more conservative candidates have been advised to be evasive or to use straw man arguments to avoid explicitly stating their stance on issues like gender and sexuality.
The other night, I re-watched the wonderful movie ‘Pride’ about the Lesbian and Gay Support the Miners movement 1985. Just like ‘It’s a Sin’, it was a timely reminder of how much things have changed. That’s not to deny that in this country there is still much discrimination, and many individuals face vitriol and cruelty, and elsewhere in the world there is horrendous persecution, but rights, awareness and cultural acceptance is so much broader. Even in my home county of Surrey, the most recent Pride was joyfully held in Godalming, with a strong ‘Christians at Pride’ contingent, surely a bastion of home counties, conservative middle England. Whilst in popular culture, Strictly Come Dancing has, for the second year running, a same-sex couple competing, and this time round there’s been little fuss, other than celebration.
So as we enter into this autumn season, acknowledging the good and the bad of the year, the hopes and the worries, perhaps we might take an Ignatian approach to our reflections. In the Examen, the encouragement is to find what gives life in our reflections, and to offer to God, seeking God’s support, for those things which we need to loose. There is always an element of mourning in life, but the signs of life need encouragement. Even if this season is a time of going to seed, that natural process is one that nurtures the soil for the new growth next year and future harvests. Methodism and Wales are signs of hope. I myself have taken the risk of standing for General Synod. I have been greatly encouraged that in writing personally to people about my possible election I received positive replies from not just obvious supporters but those of different church traditions. They valued my effort in writing and seeking to identify our unity in Christ, whilst also being honest in standing up for my beliefs. May this be a sign of hope that growing numbers do want to move forward together, disagreeing well (my prayer, of course, being that the disagreements dissolve and even greater unity emerges). And continued prayer and love, makes a difference, and when we do pray for and love even those who we sometimes find difficult, God’s blessing and transformation take place, and we act in this way, as that is how we follow and seek to be like, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Jo Winn-Smith, Trustee