Many of our Anglican churches are named for a particular saint, and, in so doing, we are saying, we want to be a community who follows Christ after the example of this person; we want to share in their charism, or gift of faith.
I am thinking about my aging congregation at St Nicholas’ Church. They are named for Nicholas, sometime bishop of Myra. But they are not named Bishop Nicholas; they are named Saint Nicholas.
The life of Christian discipleship is one of first learning to get your life together; then, learning to give your life away; and, finally, learning to give your death away as a blessing to others.
In Nicholas’ case, we can trace these stages. He was born into a wealthy Christian home, and in his youth may have gone on pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine, a journey of self-discovery.
On his return, being made bishop and inheriting his parents’ estate, he gave away his riches to lift people out of poverty. He was so consistent in this that many stories found their way into circulation, often fantastical in their detail, attesting to an historical core.
But it is in his dying that the reach of Nicholas, as one who inspires faith in peril and countless acts of gift-giving, spreads out. In giving his death away—in the move from active to passive faith; from being the actor at the centre of Myra to entrusting Myra, and his own fate, to God’s hands—Nicholas undergoes the metamorphosis from mature bishop to radical saint.
To return to the congregation, of whom I have been entrusted oversight. They are a largely professional demographic, men and women of previously significant wealth of resource, which they have used to bless the wider community, both as a gathered congregation and as members of the body of Christ scattered throughout their places of work. They have got their lives together; and have sought to give their lives away, as mature Christians.
But now they are wrestling with that shift from mature faith to radical faith; struggling to let go of active ministry and embrace their own passion, or passive ministry. (The Gospels spend roughly their first half on three years of Jesus’ active ministry, and roughly their second half on one week of his passive ministry.)
They are wrestling with letting go of Bishop Nicholas in order to become Saint Nicholas.
That is the uncharted voyage they must embark upon...