A churchman’s holiday, genuinely
As I write this column I am on the last few days of my annual leave. During this time, Paula and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and spent time reflecting on the years together which have been truly blessed.
The journey of faith through our marriage and life in the church are interwoven into those reflections because the issues and questions of faith and the church are inextricably interwoven into our lives. It is impossible to look at our lives without seeing the threads of church and faith that provide the underlying pattern.
We have attended three different Uniting Churches while away. Two were smaller congregations; one was quite large.
All gave us the opportunity to pray, to reflect on our faith, to respond to those suffering from cyclone and earthquake in China and Burma and, having experienced — and indeed celebrating — God’s blessing in our own life, to ask where God is in the lives of those experiencing misery at the hands of nature and politics.
Our two sons spent the last weekend with us — a time of sharing meals, games and various activities, reminiscing and laughing about the many aspects of our family holidays over the years.
One of the memories is of how no matter where we were we always had to go to church (even if church was in a foreign language or if, on occasion, we had to create our own church).
Our sons would say, “But dad you are on holidays!” and I would respond that we don’t go on holidays from church. It is just what we do, it is part of our lives and sometimes it can seem like a chore and sometimes it is a blessing.”
Their mother would add, “We don’t go on holidays from eating or sleeping, so why should we go on holidays from church?”
Our sons are now young adults and, although both involved in the life of the church, are still not convinced that holidays are a time for church. Despite this they both came to church with us, if somewhat reluctantly, graciously responding to our desire for them to be with us on this weekend when we celebrated our anniversary and their special part in our married life.
After the church service, continuing our life-long discussion on the subject, I said, “I always get something out of going to church whether I ‘enjoy’ the service or not.”
They asked me, “What did you get out of that service?”
My response was, “Today we prayed for a family who tragically lost two sons and I thought about my two sons sitting next to me and how blessed I am, wondering why I should be so blessed, and I gave thanks.
“We heard of a church in Bosnia and the poverty of the people, the struggles they experience in a country still fragile and forgotten in the aftermath of war and I thought how blessed we are in this country, how much we have as a church — wondering why I am so blessed and thinking what we can do to make a difference and I gave thanks.
“I listened to the reading from John’s gospel where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and I reflected on the extent to which I follow the example.
“I listened to the sermon about our motivation for mission and I was reminded that our motivation is an encounter with the person Jesus.”
I added to this that once, when we were away, their mother and I went to a church service that was dead, dull and dreary, unwelcoming, unappealing, uninspiring and yet it was through that service that God inspired me to change tack and to refocus the ministry I was involved in.
I am proud of my sons, their involvement in the life of the church and their desire to embark on a fifth trip to Mexico with us to build houses in the poverty-stricken communities of Tijuana, and I pray that they will continue in the life of the church and that they will experience a life of faith.
I can only hope that church and faith have become so inextricably a part of their lives that they can’t imagine life without them.
I am still convinced that going to church should be as much a part of any holiday as swimming, surfing, sightseeing and sleeping.
I suppose it symbolises for me a commitment to and a relationship with Jesus from which there is no holiday, from which I have no desire to have a holiday — just like the marriage, the reason for the holiday I have just enjoyed.