O God, by whose command
the order of time runs its course:
forgive our impatience, perfect our faith
and, while we wait for the fulfilment of your promises,
grant us to have a good hope because of your word;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Common Worship offers us this Collect for use at around New Year. It seems to me that the Collect hits some important nails on the head. Few, if any, of us reading this will have avoided ‘impatience’ in the last year. Impatience perhaps about ‘things’, but more likely about people and personal matters. Perhaps impatience with the slow progress of a project we are undertaking. Or impatience about bringing a personal ‘habit’ under control. Or impatience with a colleague or family member whom we regard as ‘hard to get on with’ [impossible!]. Or impatience at the tragic divisions of our world – some of which seem to be getting worse. The Collect invites us to reflect on whose time scale we are working to.
The Collect reminds us that the God with whom we have to do is the God who does fulfil God’s promises. To be sure, we may have to cry out, like the Psalmists: ‘How long O Lord, how long?’ But Scripture is clear that God will, in God’s good time, fulfil God’s promises. How can we be sure about this? Precisely in the story which drew us together at Christmas: God comes among us to share our life and loves and frailty and frustrations and our death to redeem us – to give us hope.
St Michael the Archangel Southampton was very clear in joining the Community of the Cross of Nails in October 2018 – thank you Canon Sarah for a wonderful sermon which changed at least one life – that ‘overcoming the divisions of history’ was something which we were actively engaged in with our neighbouring Catholic Church, St Joseph’s and was something we wished to take further and deeper. Beyond the monthly shared soup lunch (weekly in Lent); beyond the joint ‘birthday party’ at Pentecost; beyond the shared Meditative Prayer Group to beginning to think about working and waiting and praying together – while we await that day when we can be together at the Lord’s Table.
What St Michael’s hadn’t seen at that point was another opportunity of ‘overcoming the divisions of history’. To be sure, we were very clear that we would (and did) welcome back with open arms the Resurrection Choir from St Petersburg, given the incidents of poisoning just down the road from us at Salisbury, and the anti Russian sentiment generated in their aftermath.
However, the St Petersburg Choir are not the only visitors from the former Soviet Union to Hampshire and Wiltshire. The Russian Orthodox Convent of St Elisabeth at Minsk, Belarus, comes each year to the winter markets at Winchester and Salisbury to sell wares lovingly crafted in its workshops to support its outreach to the broken and homeless and orphaned of society in Belarus. I had made contact last year, which resulted in December in a first ever visit to a Church of England parish church by one of the team, Sister Olga. It was a joyous occasion. And, in April I will travel to Minsk to spend time at the Convent and to share in their celebration of Easter.
A small thing? Perhaps. But one way of breaking down the long history of suspicion between the Eastern Churches and the Western churches is interpersonal encounter. And, with a Convent dedicated to Holy Martyr St Elisabeth the Church of England has a head start – for she is one of the 20th century martyrs represented on the outside of Westminster Abbey since 1998: an action of this great national church which now facilitates our further ‘bridge building’ at St Michael’s. If you are unfamiliar with these exceptional statues, I commend them to you – all Christians who were faithful to Christ even to death.
I wonder in what small or large activities you will be engaged in 2019? Each Friday when we gather to pray the Litany, we feel enormously privileged to be part of this kaleidoscopic worldwide body of people committed in a myriad of different ways to overcoming division. Even if at times you continue to hope through gritted teeth, may you rejoice in hope in this New Year, through him who gifts us hope and enables us to be bearers of hope!
Revd David Deboys
St Michael the Archangel, Southampton