I went through a period of house hunting. You may wonder why, given that I live in one of the best houses in London! Well I do but obviously the day I cease to be Dean the house is no longer mine. So it is a real privilege to live in it, for the time being. But clergy, living in what is effectively tied housing, have to think about the future. So, wanting to make plans for when I do need to provide some accomodation for the first time in my life I spent some time wandering around looking at accommodation that is available. Most of it was beyond my budget, which was a bit disappointing, but nevertheless it was fascinating. But having been used to decent sized houses as a priest I was suddenly confronted with the basic question – where do you store anything? Apartments seem to be so small, unless you’re in the penthouse, luxury end of the market, and especially in the SE1 postcode where Southwark Cathedral is situated, our parish.
When I’m wanting to watch something on the television that’s not going to stretch me in any way I watch a property programme. ‘Location, Location, Location’, ‘Escape to the Country’ and all the other ones that we can choose from have given me a wealth of ‘knowledge’ about what to look for and the questions to ask. But I’ve never yet heard Phil and Kirsty asked ‘Where do you put the ironing board?’ but I have asked that question of the very helpful people who show you round. Without exception they have looked at me as though I’m mad (perhaps I am) and all I could imagine is that no one is ironing nowadays!
But what I’ve realised is that I need a bit of space, I might not be able to afford it, but I need a sense of spaciousness, room to stretch, space to breath.
I spent a lot of time in the last week talking to people about life in the church from the perspective of those who, like me, would identify themselves as ‘liberal’ catholic. I’m not afraid or embarrassed to apply the ‘liberal’ to myself. I know that in so many arenas it is a dirty word, but I think that it has a really important place in our life and thinking. Liberal now seems to mean, ‘believes in nothing – or anything’, as people for whom anything goes. That couldn’t be further from the truth as far as I’m concerned. But what I look for is spaciousness, room to breathe, room to think. And that is what I want in the church that I love.
When we are feeling nervous we perhaps look for some certainty, when we feel lost we want to have a sense of home and belonging. That is all understandable. But the consequence can often be to create a closure of space, a closure of room to think, to be creative. Relationships I believe are spacious in the sense not of having no boundaries, but spacious in the sense of accommodating people within the liberation of fidelity. That may seem to be a contradiction but I think the fidelity, to a person, to faith, to Jesus, gives us the room to think and grow and blossom.
Theology, understanding of the scriptures, our relationship with the church and most importantly our relationship with Jesus needs the spaciousness that Jesus himself gives to those who follow him. Jesus allowed his disciples to grow, to be the people they had been created to be and that meant giving them the space to breathe in the Holy Spirit.
That only happened when the windows burst open and the door flung wide and with wind and flame the apostles were sent out into the spaciousness of the world in which the church could expand and be the church that God wants us to be. My problem is that so many groups of people – of all traditions in the church – seem to want to close the conversation down rather than open it up. I want the space, the room, the air to breathe and think and be. I might not be able to afford it in retirement but I want it in the church because that is where we wil grow – and growth is what Christ wants and the growth of the church is what the world needs.
Pope Francis said
‘Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.’
Stepping into the spaciousness of God will demand trust. Do we trust enough to inhabit the large space in which we can ‘live and move and have our being’ as Paul quotes in Acts (Acts 17.28)? That is the church, I believe, we need, the church I believe that we need to have the courage to be – evanglicals, catholics and even liberals.
God of graciousness,
God of spaciousness,
you give us the room to breathe,
may the church be the place
where we have the room to think.