I have always found it a strange and wonderful gift arriving at a new congregation, not completely dissimilar to the transformation of “water into wine”. I would arrive as a stranger but instantly be welcomed as family. So, what was I, stranger or family? Water or wine? It might be the difference between fact and truth. The fact was, we were strangers (we simply didn’t know each other when we met) but the deeper truth was that we were family. Family, not only because of the tradition we share but as in the deepest sense of our shared humanity. Church at its best recognises the stranger as family. Living out the truth of our human family-ness is what I would call true enlightenment. Welcoming the stranger and discovering a sister, brother, mother or father. Drawing water … and … tasting wine. For this reason, I always pray before each sermon: “Water within each of us the desire to be your faithful family forever”. Thank you for allowing me into your homes and hearts as family.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the agony of being called to speak a word – an uncomfortable word to the world – only to have a greater agony trying to hold it in: “If I say, I will not speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer. 20:9). I know this damned if you do, damned if you don’t agony. To speak with one’s feeble voice or not. I have experienced it almost every Saturday night for 33 years. Maya Angelo wrote: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Up until now I have chosen the lesser agony. I will now no doubt experience the greater agony as I seek out silence and solitude.
I am grateful to the Methodist Church who trusted me to tell “the old, old story … of Jesus and his love.” I am also grateful for the responsibility and accountability that came with it. Truth be told I would not have chosen many of the places that the church sent me to, but each turned out to be unforgettably enriching as I met family across the rich diversity of this country: From the streets of Johannesburg city to Rustenburg and Mooinooi (1991), then Welkom (1995), then Midrand (1998) and finally CMM (2008).
I was 21 when I started. Looking back, I think it was quite crazy to let me loose on a congregation at that age. Yet, the other day I asked a barber how they learnt how to cut hair. I wondered if they started out practicing on wigs. The barber laughed and said – “I was thrown in the deep-end and simply told to cut a client’s hair … a real live human being. No wigs!” So, I guess this is how we learn. We learn with real live human beings. We learn by being trusted. Trusted to start. Trusted with an opportunity. Trusted to learn through doing. It’s crazy! And of course, we learn by sitting multiple classes with the great teacher called Failure, who hopefully gives us a degree in humility.
Thank you CMM for the last 15 years. It has been a tremendous joy and privilege to share life with you. Thank you for your love and care for me and for allowing me to love and care for you. A relationship of 15 years can only last with large amounts of grace and truth. Grace frees us to explore ever greater depths of truth, and truth inevitably exposes us to our need for grace. One without the other is either meaningless or mean. You have gifted me with both.
Thank you for allowing me to grow and change with you. I say this specifically in relation to preaching Sunday after Sunday. I will forever be grateful for the freedom to wrestle with the ancient texts in explorative and questioning ways in the hope to work out what it means to take Jesus’ teaching and example seriously in the world today.
Finally, a special thank you to Adrienne, Oscar and Sharon as well as all those in the Donkey Teams over the years – I am grateful to each of you.
Alan and Jubilee