Tomorrow, lectures start, well, unless you’re studying for the MA in Pastoral Theology that some of my fellow students are undertaking, in which case they started on Monday! Okay, so, start again. Tomorrow, for most of us, lectures start. Indeed, for a fair number of us, lectures start again, yet for others amongst us they start for the first time. It is an inevitable part of life here at Wesley, and elsewhere in the Federation, that life moves on, that as friends and acquaintances finish their training they move on to begin the next step in the journey they have been called to, and that those friends and acquaintances are replaced by new folk starting on this particular stage of their journey.
These changes mean that we must, at the beginning of each academic year, begin the task of building the community afresh with new folk and new dynamics. Even though some of us remain we are not the same community as we were. Just changing one person can change a whole group dynamic dramatically. Here at Wesley more than half our community has changed. Not only has the student body grown, with more new students than continuing (and we continuing students are a larger body than those who have just left so the student body has increased significantly), but our resident staff team has changed and grown too. We have a new Principal, who is not new to the House, but new to her role, and we have a new Vice-Principal and a new Director of Studies (who is not only new to Wesley but new to living here in the UK, having joined us from the US). This has meant that in the week and a half since term began much work has been done in building up our new community, exploring and re-exploring together what it means to live together in community, and what the processes are that will help us, together, to be formed into the people and ministers God has called us to be.
Yet, in a sense, we are not a new community but a continuing one. This year is the 90th Anniversary of the beginnings of Wesley House. Each day in morning prayer we remember some of those who have gone before us in this place. At the Welcome and Induction Service the presiding presbyter was a former principal of this college, and in the congregation sat another, who had been principal when our new principal, who was being inducted, had herself been a Student Minister here. As you walk up the staircases that lead to the library, to offices, and to student accommodation you are flanked by the photos of those who have come before you, and as you sit and study in the Old Common Room, or eat in the Dining Hall, you are gazed down upon by the paintings and photos of former principals, including, already, the one who left this summer. You are unavoidably surrounded by reminders that this community you are engaged in building is not simply a new one but also a continuing one.
And this is all fully appropriate. I had started this post aiming to talk about how positive I felt about the new community that is building here at Wesley (and based on a very brief experience last night at our Fed Worship, as well as the blog of a friend, it seems this is a situation mirrored at other Federation institutions). And it is true, I do feel very positive about our new members, both students and staff, and the feel of this newly forming community. Yet it seems to me more appropriate to focus on this new-yet-continuing aspect. For this is a significant aspect of the Church in which we have all been called to serve, as Presbyters and Deacons, as ordained ministers. The Church is, in at least one way, ever-changing. Even those of us who are uncomfortable with it must acknowledge that evangelism, that giving new people a view of God’s love and encouraging them to be part of the life of the Body of Christ that is the Church, is a required part of what we are called to do. The Church is, it is hoped, a body which is growing, and therefore it will always have to be wrestling with the new. Yet it is also a continuing body. It is the earthly Body of the heavenly Christ, it is rooted firmly in God, who was, and is, and will be forever. Yesterday morning we remembered in our prayers some of those who left Wesley this summer to begin their ministry as Probationers. We also remembered a member of the Methodist Church whose funeral was being held that day – a reminder that this new-yet-continuing community that we are building here at Wesley is part of a wider community, a community that extends beyond our own denomination, beyond our earthly experience, to include all the saints who have gone before us – whether known to the wider world, like St Francis whose feast day was yesterday, whether known to a significant number, like Angela whose funeral was yesterday, or whether known simply to a limited few.
Being part of the new-yet-continuing community here at Wesley, or within the Federation, is certainly good formational practice for what we are called to do, but it is also the reality of the Church eternal of which we are already a part.