By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
I recently picked up the 2003 edition of the Diocese of Huron Clergy Directory. I kind of remember posing for pictures at my first Synod in Huron and eventually the book came in the mail and found a nice place on a book shelf and has spent most of its existence there.
At first, I was just looking at the pictures which brought back a memory or two. And then some things hit me.
First, how few of these colleagues were still in active full-time ministry in Huron. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that in 18 years many clergy had reached the magic number and opted for retirement.
But what struck with lasting impact was the number of people pictured in that book that have died. People that helped welcome me on my return to Huron after two decades on the prairies. People who have impacted who I am in my continuing, growing, shrinking, evolving, changing life of faith.
I could certainly share some of the stories that popped open for me, including a couple of good old fashioned belly laughs. But rather I want to reflect on time and change and pandemic and all the crazy mixed-up feelings that come with spending extended periods of your life with people.
As we start another year, there will undoubtedly be change. People will come into our lives, people will have impacts on who we are and where we go, and some will leave us. Change is perhaps the greatest certainty in life.
As I looked at those pictures, I saw people who struggled with change, people who embraced change, people who authored change. I witnessed the arrival of those who were new and full of enthusiasm, and those who were ready to move along to the next chapter. Almost every picture had an effect on me because these were people who I journeyed with, and in many cases I still walk the road of faith with. There were moments I just stopped and sat quietly to think.
Looking at this directory is a small picture in the big album of my life. It may seem like a short time, but so much is different, so much has changed, there is so much potential and so much grief, all rolled into one. Just like my entire life, and your entire life and everyone else's entire life!
It's good to review, to enjoy memories. It's wise to think about what worked and what didn't. It’s prudent to note that everything will change and hope that growth will come with new ideas from new people. By extension, it caused me to think of others that I have travelled with on the road of faith and also outside the church. To think about friends from many years ago, the communities in which I lived, the memories (in truth, both good and bad) that leap from those times. But also, to realize that time never stands still. No matter how much I enjoyed certain parts of my life, there was and is always something next.
So, from the thoughts of what was, I moved to the thoughts of what is to come. When the people I journey with today look back in 20 years, what will they see, what will they think, what will they remember, what will have been life giving?
2021 has been a strange year, equaled in this sense only by 2020. So much that we thought we knew, that we thought was permanent, that we believed we could trust; has been shaken, stirred and rearranged. We have been forced to pivot day by day to learn new ways to do things, to try and find the way through the problems of a pandemic and to see a place where life would again be normal.
And that's the rub. There is no such thing as normal. We will always be looking forward and back as we try to find our way. We will always have fond memories and moments that we wish we could forget. We might think that things were normal, but that lasted only for a moment, and then the new normal arrived. The pandemic has only sped up this process, not fundamentally changed it.
So, as we start 2022, whatever it will be, let us be prepared for change. Let us look back at the photo directories and the memories that have shaped us for a year, for a decade, for a lifetime. We will remember those who have made a difference, we will see dramatic changes and be challenged to deal with new realities. It's good to reflect; it's good to take stock; it's good to dream. Yep, it's a New Year! May it be full of memories and the challenge to move forward in love and faith.
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James' Westminster, London.
(Photo: Roman Kraft/Unsplash)