Walking through Norwich, I passed a housing estate; this particular estate was slightly different to others, though. This estate had, I think, been built on the grounds of Heigham Hall, previously used as a private hospital for those with mental illness. This particular place was also one where two of our Sisters spent time: Sr Mary Elizabeth (see blog May 2nd), who lived there for over 50 years, and Sr Lenora (see blog June 12th), who went there towards the end of her life. Passing this estate, therefore, caused a peculiar kind of pain and rootedness, as I reflected on the nature of their lives, and what may have caused them to go there. Moving on, I walked up Old Palace Road, where some of my grandfather’s relations once lived, and then stopped at a pedestrian crossing on Dereham Road. I was only crossing over, but I was well aware that further along that road was the house where my great-grandmother had lived later in her life, along with some of her siblings and, turning off, the road where my grandfather grew up, although the house is no longer there. Following my way home, I could have diverted and gone to explore the road on which one of our earlier Refuges, the Cottage Home Refuge, was based, although I haven’t identified the exact building. This all roots me with part of Norwich which I have never lived in, and which I’ve never known anyone to live. But the links are still there, both personally and with the Community. How much of who I am, of what the Community has come to be, goes back to that particular area of Norwich? Where even the church in which my grandfather’s family worshipped is no longer there.
Nevertheless, there is still a link with that Methodist Church on Dereham Road; it nurtured my grandfather’s faith, a faith which I was always aware of and which in turn nurtured mine. It is the same with our departed Sisters: their lives in Community may be very different to how we live now, but their faith and their lives have shaped CAH as we have inherited it. Not all of us come from Christian families, or have inherited traditions of faith; but, still, the lives of those who have gone before have still prepared a way for those of us who follow Jesus today. As our faith acknowledges that all have sinned, we must also acknowledge that not all that we have inherited is good; there are some traditions which we rightly let go, and some behaviours that are plainly wrong, and for which we can only come before God in repentance. But we can also come before God in gratitude for those who have held this faith, and handed it on to us. This faith, which we have inherited, going back, and further back; beyond my grandparents and my great-grandparents; beyond M. Lavinia and her forebears; back to those who originally brought Christianity to these islands; back and further back to those original men and women who followed Jesus; who sat at his feet and listened to him teach; who witnessed his death and resurrection, and were then sent out to spread the good news.
This is the faith we have received, and this is the faith we follow; yet there is more to it than this. While acknowledging all that we have received from those who have gone before us; while respecting and protecting those holy places we have inherited, there is still more. For we today are not the end of a tradition and a faith, but the receivers of it, and, as receivers, the passers on to those who come after us. We stand, balanced, perpetually, between those who have gone before and those who come after. This faith we have is not our possession, but a gift; it is not ours to grab and keep, but to hold and pass on; it is not ours to dictate about, but to entrust to those who come after. It is not something that we can control and limit, but something that we must protect, nurture and set free; that we must handle with care, not harshly. For we are the forebears in faith of those who will come after us; and how will they view us? How will we have handed on our faith? Not so much numerically, but in our commitment, our dedication and our faithfulness; not so much in full churches, but in how much those in church love our Lord Jesus; not so much in ticking all the correct theological boxes, but in how much we have loved our neighbour.
As those of the future walk the paths that we have trodden on, how will they reflect? There is bound to be some pain; but will there also be any sense of rootedness, of gratitude, for those who kept and nurtured the faith before them and handed on something which they could continue to nurture for those who will come after them? How have we kept the faith: not in the number of our buildings, but in the building up of the Kingdom of God?