Monday, October 15, 2007
Arrived for me this week in the form of Rev Rachel, a wonderful woman ordained in the Church of South India, whom I met at the furthest tip of India 11 months ago. Now it was her turn to visit England, and she too arrived for a clergy conference – though I hope and believe her journey to High Leigh was rather less stressful than ours to Kanyakumari.
The first wonderful realisation was just how natural it felt to be walking up the road to church here in Charlton Kings with my friend beside me. Just this time last year, I’d been full of trepidation as departure date drew near, - hating the thought of leaving my children, anxious that I might not appreciate the adventure I was being offered. Now, I know that a part of me will always feel connected with India, even if by some misfortune I never return there. I know that I have sisters and brothers out there – and I know too what joy it is to try to return a little of the hospitality they offered so generously.
So – it was just lovely to have Rachel staying here this weekend.
It was good to talk more about our contexts, now that we’ve both had a little experience of the life and ministry of the other.
We agreed that the driven nature of clergy life in CSI is as unhealthy as the comparative apathy of much of the church here in the UK.
We speculated about the role of affluence in dulling our sensibilities, so that it becomes possible to believe we are self sufficient, even invincible, in contrast to those Christians in the developing world who realise that nothing in life can be taken for granted.
Rachel suggested that part of our torpor here is simply the result of being a very old institution…I’d just not thought of that, but I suppose when something has been part of the mental (and physical) landscape for centuries, maybe familiarity does breed complacence, if not contempt.
We commiserated about our mutual uncertainty about the future. She will go home to hear whether she has been posted to a new parish, and if so where – a process in which she has no say whatsoever, and in which the needs of her family are unlikely to be taken into consideration. Remembering this made my own anxieties shrink rapidly
For me, driving Rachel around Gloucestershire on a day full of autumn mist and mizzle was grounds for apology and lament. I’d so wanted to take her to see the trees at Westonbirt ablaze with colour…but it just wasn’t going to work out that way. I wished I had something more to exciting to show her…but she was too weary after the conference and 8 days of concentrating on using English non stop to make jaunts to Oxford or beyond in any way attractive. Instead we mooched around gently…where I saw boredom and greyness, Rachel marvelled at order, quiet and the care that people take with their gardens. Where I lamented the sterility of a supermarket shopping experience, after the colour and variety of the markets of Bangalore, Rachel was bowled over by the range of products under one roof and the way the shoppers seemed able to handle the choices before them without melt down.
It seemed to me that in our exchange, I’d had the far better deal – but to share my home and a tiny fragment of my life with Rachel reminded me of just how special the experiences of November 06 remain for me.