Caroline and I have just been on a week’s river cruise. We got on our board at Rüdesheim where the Danube joins the Rhine. We stopped off at Bonn and at Dusseldorf before spending two nights in Amsterdam. It was a good holiday. The food was wonderful, the company was pleasant, and our tour guides informative. Like I would imagine everybody else on the cruise, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
As I was reflecting on the journey we made, I realised that life can be likened to a journey. However, unlike our cruise where the water of the Rhine was calm and our destination was known, life can be tough and full of all sorts of surprises. When, for instance, God called Abraham to leave his comfortable home in Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham had to exchange his townhouse for a tent in the desert as he set off into the great unknown (see Gen 11.28, 31; 12.1). As the Book of Genesis reveals, his journey was far from easy.
This image of life as a journey also appears in the Book of Acts. There we discover that the early Christians in Jerusalem were described as people of ‘the Way’ (Acts 9.2). In those early days of the Christian faith being a follower of Jesus was distinctly hazardous. Indeed, Luke tells us that Saul breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9.1).
This concept of a journey is developed in the Letter to the Hebrews, where the writer says of the Old Testament saints of God that “they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebs 11.13). He goes on to remind his readers that we are pilgrims: “Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebs 13.14).
Life remains a journey for Christians today. We have a heavenly homeland to look forward to. However, I am not sure how much a driving force this is for many of us. What is more, most of us seem to individualise our journey. Whereas in the early church people encouraged one another on the journey they were making together with others, we tend to be individualists and in that respect are the poorer for it.
As I reflected on this idea of journey, another thought comes to mind. If today’s churches are to be effective, they need to ensure that they do not get stuck on their journey. That has always been a challenge for churches, but even more so in this post-Covid era. In that regard I am encouraged by the way in which Chelmsford Cathedral, where Caroline and I now worship, is developing plans for moving forward in its mission and service. There is the recognition that in addition to the highbrow services where the words sung by the choir are often in Latin, the Cathedral needs to put on less formal services which are more accessible to families and to people with little or no experience of church. What is true of the Cathedral should also be true of every church. In our varying ways we all need to ensure that our Sunday worship, whether it be liturgical or non-liturgical in form, is accessible to those we are seeking to reach. No church can afford to stand still.
Constant change needs to be the order of the day, for without change churches die. True not every worshipper likes change, but change is not an option if our churches are to survive. Unlike the cruise on which Caroline and I have just been on, where to ensure their ‘market’ remains buoyant, the enjoyment of the paying passengers is a key priority of the company that runs the cruises, our priority as churches should be the wellbeing of those who do not normally darken our doors.
We are on a journey. Let’s ensure we take many others with us.