One of my favourite movies is ‘Evan Almighty’, when a newly elected congressman in the US (Evan Baxter played by Steve Carrell) is compelled by God (played rather convincingly by Morgan Freeman), to put aside his political success and ambition and to build a full-scale ARK in suburbia. It’s light, frivolous, but also thought provoking. One of the key moments in the movie is when Morgan Freeman points out that ARK also stands for Acts of Random Kindness. Those of you who have had countless sermons inflicted on you about our parish vision over the past three years will know that we too have been focussing on building an ARK, a community firmly based on three principles: Acceptance, Renewal, Kindness. (There are more details about this vison elsewhere on this website). The inspiration for this parish vision began while standing in a heated swimming pool, in 2017, painful muscles easing by the warm soothing water. I began to ask God what the previous two years of illness, isolation and enforced rest had been about. I don’t often have moments when I actually hear God’s voice, but this was definitely one of them. The answer was clear and unequivocal. ‘Build me an ARK!’ I recognised the line from ‘Evan Almighty’ and for a millisecond I began to wonder was my over imaginative brain finally losing it, but immediately the idea of building a ‘community’ ARK based on the principles listed above began to flow. During the past year in particular that Vison of a community drawn together by Acceptance: meeting people where they’re at rather than expecting them to move to where we are; Spiritual Renewal based simply on surrendering to the will and purpose of God; And becoming a community committed to Kindness has proved to be both timely and much needed in ways I certainly could never have imagined while resting in warm waters.
One of the defining features of the ARK that Noah built (in the middle of a desert) was that it was rudderless. This meant that those God had sealed inside could neither direct nor drive the large crowded vessel. How terrifying it must have been as the surging waters from below and above shook and tossed the fragile craft? How unutterably desperate it must have felt listening to the cries of terror of those outside began to quieten and to fade. That which we have become comfortable with as a childrens story fantasy story, was truly awful and horrendous. Even when the waters stilled and long long days of floating (apparently aimlessly) on still waters, those inside must have wondered what fate awaited them. And yet, without them knowing, God was directing them to the exact spot (a mountain top) that He had selected to release them from the ARK. At the dawn of 2021 we continue to sail through waters that are deep and turbulent. Our brief glimpse of hope that brightened our thoughts and lives in early December has been vanquished by a surge of cases and renewed fear. And yet, the Bible is full of reminders that God is still in control, still bringing us, both as individuals and as a community, to where He wants us to be.
As I was standing in the pool three years ago, I began to realise that God was speaking about two ARKS; one, our community, the other, our physical space. Every time I look at Christ Church, Bray from the main gate, I look up and see a shape that is so much like a ship. I see a place where community meets (and will again), but I also see a place of sanctuary, where people can come for support, for safety and for service. As we continue to develop our sense of community, by what we receive and by what we do in response, we also need to look at our present beautiful structure and ask: ‘In what ways can this sacred space, both inside and outside, be better used as an ARK: When Covid is finally under control, what type of sacred space will we require to meet the needs of those who are coming to join us? How can we provide Acceptance, Renewal and kindness in a very different world and a very different context?
Watch this space!