Earlier this week, I gathered the representatives of our congregation and asked them to be ready to share three things:
how they had come to be at the Minster;
their experience of coming into the Minster on any given Sunday;
and what had most helped them grow in their faith over Lent and Easter-tide.
It was a privilege to listen to one another. And it was an incredibly helpful exercise for me, to listen and to learn.
Of the thirteen people in the room, a few were able to talk in terms of their faith having grown over the last few months. Interestingly, the most common thing that they had found helpful was walking the journey of suffering with friends or family members living with irreversible physical deterioration or terminal illness. This, of course, was also deeply challenging, stretching faith in a most uncomfortable way. But most of those present were not able to perceive any growth in their faith over that timescale.
These were people of mature faith, seeking to live faithful lives rooted in God and God’s people. And I have been thinking about this ever since.
I have been thinking about a healthy tree. The growth from seed, through shoot and sapling, to growing to maturity is both incredible and at times imperceptible. In the early stages, we can see growth on a weekly basis; later, a thin ring is laid down in the trunk year on year.
But a mature tree does not continue to grow in the same way. It continues to live, an incredible array of processes going on as it utilises water, light, and nutrients. It responds to the seasons, at times leafy and at times dormant. But it is, for the overwhelming majority of its life, a stable system. And even its slow dying is used to bring life to other organisms...
The answers to the first question - how they had come to be at the Minster – spoke of having healthy roots. The answers to the second question - their experience of coming into the Minster on any given Sunday – spoke of those roots reaching water, whatever the season.
Perhaps questions of growth are concerned with the early stages of faith.
Perhaps the sign of maturity is that we no longer need to concern ourselves with growth, but can simply be; and in being, provide shelter for others.
If so, the questions of growth that we need to address with those in the early stages are those communal practices which will nurture them for a lifetime.