First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to get in touch last week to let me know that you’re praying for us. It makes things so much more bearable knowing that we are not alone, that there is a wide network of friends and family and colleagues who have not forgotten about us, despite the distance.

After my last blog post, I pulled myself back up, and decided it was time to Get Things Done. I spent all day last Tuesday in the church, pulling out files that looked like they had been there since the British Mandate period. Some of which had.

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It was fascinating. I found nothing that pertains to the building today. No evidence of any quinquennial inspection. No policies for groups using the church. No rental contracts. No insurance documents. Nothing that helped ease my mind about the state of the fabric, though one or two past plans for refurbishment or redevelopment.

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What I did find were letters from past ministers seeking reparation from the times when the buildings were occupied by Turkish troops and then British soldiers. There were letters from 1948 when the Arabs were being evacuated from Tiberias, and Safad was being bombed. There was a letter from Dr Herbert Torrance, also from 1948, stating that medical care could no longer continue at the Tiberias hospital. There was a letter from one of my predecessors in the 1980s which I could have written today: ‘What is the purpose of the Church’s work in Israel? What is the purpose of the Church’s work in Tiberias? What are its goals here?’

And there were letters and meeting minutes filled with complaints: complaints about the lack of language training, the lack of clarity and transparency, the lack of hierarchical understanding, the lack of appreciation back in Scotland of just how complex it is on the ground here. Councils were formed to strengthen collegial relationships and spread responsibility, and then the councils themselves became a drain on time, money, and energy. And so were disbanded. Rinse and repeat. Over and over since 1885.

After a day of drama queen wailing of the most unattractive sort, of going around feeling properly sorry for myself because O. M. G. I-am-all-on-my-own-and-no-one-could-possibly-understand-just-how-IMPOSSIBLE-this-job-is-and why-am-I-the ONLY-person-who-is-asking-these-questions-and-trying-to-get-things-done-properly?!?!, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry that I had discovered a treasure trove of frustration. And hope. And vision. And discontent.

And the odd pearl of wisdom:

We have the opportunity to ‘activate’ the hospitality which is so graciously offered to the stranger. 

We are in a position to listen, learn and to feel — to feel scared, frustrated, unimportant, excited, hopeful. A presence that not only observes but that begins to touch the humanity which is at the heart of any real presence, which takes human issues seriously. 

… So often it all goes to waste because we rush around being busy building a monument to our own presence and activity to prove that we were here. Our successor, falling into the same trap, spends some time knocking down our monument so that he can begin building his own. 

These institutions are resources for the whole church to use to glorify God.

Those words brought me up short. Because for me they reframe my whole purpose here. I, like those who have come before, face the temptation to dismantle the monuments that have been built before and replace them with my own. I have IDEAS. So. Many. Ideas. And only five years. I love change. I love a challenge. And it’s all too easy on the days when I feel powerless and vulnerable and purposeless to focus all my attention on making something beautiful and flaunting my creativity and proving to the world that My Glorious Reign will be DIFFERENT.

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In any case, My Glorious Reign had to be put on hold. Spending six hours in a closed up church digging through dusty papers is evidently a bad idea, especially when one is already run down and exhausted and emotional. Because I woke the next day with a chest infection which totally wiped me out for a week.

As frustrating as it has been to be confined to the house, barely able to move without coughing, it has given me a lot of time to think.

My love of beauty, my creativity, my resilience, my ability to embrace change are all reasons why I am here. But they are not the only reasons. And if beauty isn’t balanced with meaning, creativity with compassion, resilience with vulnerability, and love of change with a gentle hospitality, then I am lost, and the stones I build on are simply monuments to myself and not to the glory of God.

One of the biggest surprises I’ve faced in recent weeks — to my dismay — is the realisation that the greatest source of stress in the work here is not The Situation. The greatest source of stress is simply the dailiness of ministry itself and life within a big creaking institution (with a few additional challenges of ministering in a foreign country). As I ran my fingers over the words of those who have come before, I smiled. I am not the first. I will not be the last. And I am most definitely not alone.

5 thoughts on “the more things change…

  1. Dear Kate. Your response to, and your account of, your struggle – is your ministry. I could say much about how parallel your thoughts and feelings are with mine, in dealing with very different challenges, but encouraging both of us to remain authentic and in the heart is sufficient. Our circumstances may be dramatically different and it’s so easy to get caught up in measuring ourselves by external performance and the ‘evidence’ thereof, but internally, in the place that truly matters we are dealing with precisely the same issues. I offer you the words of your fellow countryman Emerson:-
    “We must work and affirm, but we have no guess of the value of what we say or do. The cloud is now as big as your hand, and now it covers a county. That story of Thor, who was set to drain the drain the drinking horn in Asgard and to wrestle with the old woman and to run with the runner Lok, and presently found he had been drinking up the sea, and wrestling with Time, and racing with Thought, – describes us, who are contending, amid these seeming trifles, with the supreme energies of nature. We fancy we have fallen into bad company and squalid condition, low debts, shoe-bills, broken glass to pay for, pots to buy, butcher’s meat, sugar, milk and coal. ‘Set me some great task, ye gods! and I will show my spirit.’ ‘Not so’, says the good Heaven; ‘plod and plough, vamp your old coats and hats, weave a shoe-string; great affairs and the best wine by and by.’ Well, ’tis all all phantasm; and if we weave a yard of tape in all humility and as well as we can, long hereafter we shall see it was no cotton tape at all but some galaxy that we braided, and that the threads were Time and Nature.”

    You were kind to me one day in Old St Paul’s. I have not forgotten that moment of real compassion. Moments are all we have. I don’t do Facebook but I came across your writing about your work and it’s challenges via a friend who lets me look at the mysterious world of social media from time to time – a bit like a visit to the zoo as a treat! I felt the impulse to reach out and offer you some small encouragement in much the same way you did for me that day.
    Best wishes
    Love,
    C.

  2. Hi Kate,
    I just wanted to chime in and let you know I’m out here in southwest Virginia praying for you too. I’m a friend of your parents and have been following your blog since their Christmas visit. I really related to your previous post. I’m in my second year as senior warden at our church. On the first Sunday in Lent I prayed in my car on the way to church to put myself in a quiet, spiritual place to focus on the meaning of the season. When I got to church, I had walked in the door, was unzipping my coat, and 2 men hurriedly approached to tell me they had unlocked a door that somebody would need to lock back and that the furnace had malfunctioned, there might not be any heat, and the heating units were sealed behind 2 layers of sheet rock and there was no access panel. There have been many times when I have said to God, “This is hard. This is just too hard.” And, what I’m doing is small potatoes compared to what you’re doing. For Lent, I’m reading a collection of writings published by Plough Publishing called “Bread and Wine.” This past weekend, several selections really spoke to me. Plough has made them available on their website. I’ll post the links below. The title of your previous post reminded me of one of my favorite Christmas songs. I’ve posted a link to that too. (I’m a teacher–we’re into multi-media these days 🙂

    Peace and Blessings,
    Sara Combs

    Thomas á Kempis
    http://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/devotional-reading/the-royal-road-of-the-cross

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    http://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/discipleship/why-self-denial

    Søren Kierkegaard
    http://www.plough.com/en/topics/culture/holidays/easter-readings/followers-not-admirers

    “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” John Rutter, Cambridge Singers, youtube

    1. Hi Sara, so wonderful to hear from you! Though slightly less wonderful to hear that churches in SW VA are just as ridiculously complicated as they are here, and have the same lack of common sense when it comes to structural issues. I’m sorry the responsibility for that has landed on you.
      I look forward to reading the links you’ve posted. Thank you.
      Blessings on you and your ministry, and please do keep in touch. x

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