Charles Dickens begins A Tale of Two Cities with one of literature’s most memorable opening lines, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’
The closing lines aint half bad too: ‘it is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done before.’ Through these lines Dickens captures my sentiments towards my two years at Cuddesdon and, my hopes on leaving at the end of this week.
Let’s start at the end; I have never been a linear person!
My real hope is that entering into ordained ministry really will be a ‘far, far better thing than I have ever done before.’ This is not to discount, or devalue, all previous experience, indeed I hope that in some strange way it will all be gathered into my new, ministerial, identity. In this sense my new role is the culmination of all that has gone before and, all that will be, in the future. I hope that the ‘new thing,’ as Isaiah might have put it (see I have been reading the bible in the last two years!) will be better, in the sense that It will be more explicitly orientated towards God and others than anything my previous jobs and roles. Perhaps, the only real prayer that I can enter fully into is ‘thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.’ As I reflect back I suspect that in my previous business career, although I hope I always tried to act ethically (I know I failed) a lot of time was devoted to the building of ‘my kingdom on earth.’
It strikes me that many of Jesus encounters, with the religious and social elite, can essentially be reduced to what I think of as the ‘kingdom question.’ For whose benefit are you operating? Answering this question requires rigorous honesty, and, of course, being human, we can never entirely let go of our ego. Please never believe anyone who says ‘it’s all for the kingdom,’ for what they are claiming is perfection.
Anyway, let’s move on……..
So why has Cuddesdon been the ‘best of times, the worst of times?’ (Please note the ordering of the Dickens’ opening remarks, what I am trying to say is that it has been the best of times, but in becoming the best of times, it has meant that I have also had to endure the worst of times, mostly with ill grace and resentment). It has been the best of times because I have met many wonderful people; people committed to (imperfectly) the bringing in of the ‘kingdom here on earth, as in heaven.’ It has been liberating because I have been introduced to a diverse range of Christian theologies and doctrines, providing the opportunity for renewal of the mind. This has led to me finding myself, coming to understand something about my true identity as a being created in God’s image.
It has been the ‘worst of times,’ because I have had to learn to trust God! Confronting the fact that I am far more confident in myself to work things out, than I am in God’s grace and providence has been really very difficult. Understanding that I cannot control my environment, that many of my prior beliefs were pretty shallow, or just plain wrong, and being stripped of all positional power and authority for two years, was extremely painful, it was ‘the worst of times.’ Being reformed is not always easy! But, it is part of our true calling. In creating the new, we really do have to throw off the old.
And so, as I approach the end of my journey at Cuddesdon, I would like to make one request, and that is for your prayers that the next stage of my journey would truly be ‘a far, far better thing than I have ever done before.’
Can you make this prayer for all to be ordained this year, ‘Lord, may it be a far, far better thing that they do than they have ever done before,’ Amen.