When I was at university, many years ago now, I spent one year lodging with a couple whose children had left the home. They were among the kindest, most caring people I have met, but what I found very interesting about them, was that their life was conducted by an unerring routine. On a Monday she went to the hairdresser, Tuesday was always a Chinese takeaway, Wednesday they did the weekly shop, Thursday was Fish and Chip supper, Friday he went with his mate to the pub (joined occasionally by me), Saturday their daughter and family came round for dinner and Sunday they entertained their son and family for lunch. In fact every meal every day followed the same pattern and they always went for the same week to the same place in the same cottage for holiday.
Some of you may relate to this, although it was very different to what I was accustomed to, but it got me thinking about both the importance of routine and the need for change.
I suspect the lives of most of us are governed by more routine than maybe we recognise. I would guess that breakfast is at a similar time and comprises a consistent diet, and other mealtimes are also fairly fixed; we may have a fairly regular pattern for relaxation – watching the TV, working in the garden – and a typical type of holiday.
One of the great strengths of a routine is that it makes something different extra-special. I usually have toast and a cup of tea for breakfast, so an occasional fry-up is a real treat; a meal out in a restaurant is a highlight because it doesn’t happen very often; a lie-in is special because it is unusual; the holiday of a lifetime is just that because it is a one-off.
So routine and pattern in our lives is, I think, a good thing and should be valued – not least because it keeps us grounded. But that is different from being, as it were, stuck in a rut and no longer open to change at all.
In our Church life we typically have routine – for example attending Church on a certain day (usually Sunday), joining a home group on a weekday evening, helping with the lunch club once a month. This routine is good and helps to establish a pattern and identity – I think most people would struggle if nothing were familiar. So then when there is something special and different – perhaps a visit by the Bishop, a different type of service, a big social event, it is a highlight and uplifting. But the big balancing act remains as to how we cherish and value what we have, whilst being open to change and difference.
Sometimes, of course, change can be imposed upon us – this may be a change in our circumstances, our health - or the result of a pandemic! The reality over this last year is that all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have been forced to respond to significant external changes to our lives. I am convinced that we are better able to respond and adapt to these crises when we begin from a place where we are grounded and secure – and I am equally convinced that faith helps offer us that stable foundation.
COVID has forced us all to flirt with imposed change and, in most cases, I hope it has encouraged us to see that change is perhaps more possible than we might have anticipated.
At the beginning of April we celebrate the festival of Easter. The story presents us with a small uncoordinated group of people facing an immense external crisis. These followers of Jesus, who had witnessed his crucifixion, had to draw upon the solid foundations which had been laid in order to start a new movement which would go on to sweep the known world. It was for them, inspired by the resurrection, about holding onto the fundamentals of their faith, whilst being open to change and grasping new possibilities.
Can we then also learn to cherish our roots and our values, everything which offers us stability, whilst being open to change and new opportunities?
Footnote – in our benefice churches, we are facing not insignificant change with the news that Rev Sandra Marsh, who has served our parishes for the last three years, has been appointed to look after seven churches in the Charing, Hothfield, Westwell area. Sandra will say goodbye on Sunday 23 May, Pentecost Sunday, and we wish her well in this exciting new challenge in her ministry.