Yesterday morning the three of us (myself, Mrs Nomad and Wee One) went to the local Methodist Church together. The preacher, in both her children’s address and sermon, made much use of the well-known children’s book, “We’re going on a bear hunt!” It was a very good sermon, looking at the story from 3 points of view to explore the nature of faith and church: us as the hunters, and those outside the church as the bear (the gospel reading was the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin); us as the hunters and Jesus/God as the bear; seekers as the hunters and us/the church as the bear. In essence, I think, the sermon was about (un)preparedness. The family in the book go on a bear hunt but are completely unprepared for the successful outcome of actually finding a real-life bear. Likewise we as a church can profess a mission to reach out to those who are not like us, who are “other”, but then be completely unprepared for the fact that they are, indeed, other than us: that they are different from us in outlook, experience, appearance, resources. We can also profess to be on a journey of seeking God, as found in Jesus, yet be entirely unprepared for the enormity of what that means, of a God who is both infinite and yet also has lived a life bound by both time and space, of a God who calls us as we are and yet also wishes us to be transformed, of God who at the table of sinners and who also turned over the tables in the Temple. And we can profess to be open and welcoming and inclusive and yet, when those who are uncertain, afraid and lonely seek us out we can be unprepared for their needs and so seem exclusive, distant and insular. For someone about to begin training as a future leader and enabler of churches it was a timely reminder of what the pitfalls that can come if we become too comfortable, too complacent, too unprepared.
Then, yesterday afternoon, I was reminded of what it can be like to be both truly welcomed, and also unprepared. Mrs Nomad, Wee One and I went for a punt on the Cam along with another new student and some continuing students. In total we were 8, 4 newcomers and 4 continuers. It was great fun, and the conversations we had helped, I think, all of us continue the process of forming a sense of community for the coming year in which we can all feel welcome. While we were out on the river I was given the opportunity to actually do the punting – it’s just a case of sticking a pole in the water and pushing, right? Wrong! I was not prepared at all for how challenging punting can be. Although I haven’t been out on the water in a little while I have (admittedly limited) experience of canoeing, kayaking, rowing and sailing, as well as using boats with outboard motors. This was nothing like any of those experiences. Keeping a (relatively) long, shallow-draft boat both moving forward and straight with the use of just a long pole is not at all easy, but it was a very enjoyable way of seeing just a small part of Cambridge – I look forward to doing it again but next time I will be prepared for the challenge!