Saturday, 19 August 2017

The year that was ...

For me, it is August, far more than December, which marks the year's end. A hiatus in the usual rhythm, it is a time when looking back over the preceding 12 months and ahead to the coming ones, makes sense.

I like to think I am quite good at 'living life to the full', but even by my own standards I seem to have squeezed quite a lot into 2016-17.  We have now been in Birmingham for four years, something of a record without moving house, city or country: but it certainly doesn't feel like life has come to a standstill.

At the beginning of September I launched into my new job at St Chad's Sanctuary. Although I knew the Sanctuary well from three years volunteering there, working there was always going to change the dynamics and the role itself was different from anything I had done before (not to mention leaving a secure, permanent contract for a frankly precarious position!) It is a role which has proved, as expected, to be both challenging and rewarding, both exhausting and enriching. I have learned much, laughed often, been humbled frequently, and cried occasionally. A year on, I have no regrets about the choice I made. I remain deeply conscious of the immense privilege of both loving, and passionately believing in, the work I do. I think I have been able to make a positive difference to others' lives. I know they have made a positive difference to mine.

The autumn's other major adventure was house buying and all that it entails: another steep learning curve. Being able to reflect on our role as stewards of our resources and to make use of them in a positive way felt like another positive step on the journey of life we are trying to live. The house was handed over to Hope Projects, and while it is a sad indictment on our society that it should be necessary, it feels right to be able to help in this way. The learning curve continued when the media got hold of the story, and while that part of the whole saga was stressful at times, overall I have no regrets about trying to get a positive message about asylum seekers into the media and to have the opportunity to challenge the failures of the system. In some ways accepting the praise and recognition we got was more challenging than brushing off the hateful comments. I know of many people who are doing much more significant things to make a difference to those around them; I know many others who lack the privileges and opportunities I have so often taken for granted so who don't have the same freedom to make the choices I have made. Buying the house and using it in this way was the right thing to do, but we continue to live a privileged life involing only minimal sacrifices.

Preparations for the Birmingham Taize meeting "Hidden Treasure" dominated much of the year, adding another layer to an already hectic schedule. The meeting finally came together over the May bank holiday and while I can't deny pulling it all together was stressful at times, during the weekend itself it all definitely felt worthwhile. 500 plus young adults from all over Europe came together in this city that I have grown to deeply love. Watching the local neighbourhoods respond to the challenge of hosting them, building relationships between churches and daring to open their doors to total strangers was truly beautiful. And so it came to be that we ate together, learned together, sang together, laughed together, prayed together, built community together.

Throughout the year, people came and went from the community flat, bringing with them all the joys and all the challenges of building and being community together. By the end of May, though, we had our latest, long term "community member" living with us. I use inverted commas because the latest resident is not officially a community member in the way others have been: our fourteen year old Goddaughter has moved in to share our life in term time while she attends school in Birmingham. Adjusting to life with a teenager will undoubtedly bring some changes to our life here (my taste in music has already been severely called into question ...), and she, perhaps even more so, will have to adapt to a whole new reality; but after much prayer and reflection it felt like exactly the right thing to do. Thus far, early days though it may be, all seems to be going well. Perhaps I should reassure those taking on God-parenting responsibilities that this perhaps isn't in the normal order of the role but overall this latest phase of our life feels more exciting than scary.

And that's just the really significant bits! In between we also travelled to Riga for what will likely be our last Taize new year meeting as we have now crossed the age threshold: I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to celebrate new year in such an amazing way, to explore many beautiful places and meet many wonderful people.

Inspired by Dutch tradition, we celebrated our twelve-and-a-half year wedding anniversary surrounded by family and friends: one of many opportunities to spend time with people we love and care about throughout the year. Walking Student Cross, a housemates reunion in Lancaster, Taize Sheffield, and a trip to West Yorkshire; as well as evenings in with friends, birthday parties, a funeral and a baptism all counting among the many other opportunities to love and feel loved.

The Birmingham 24 hours of prayer for the week of prayer for Christian Unity happened for the third consecutive year in a different church, with plans well on the way for next year's event. We also went to Reading to support friends on trial for their blockade of the Burghfield nuclear base last summer ahead of the parliamentary vote on renewing trident (their guilty verdict for obstructing the highway was subsequently overturned) and are now busy preparing for the No Faith in War day outside one of the world's biggest arms fairs due to be held in London in September.

We even fitted in painting the living room! Plus all the regular commitments of of course, not least the routine of prayer which is so much part of life it barely gets a mention and yet remains the source and summit of all the rest.

And so the adventure continues, watch this space!