Stepping into the Past?

Apart from times with our family, most of the social events I am involved in these days tend to be either 80th birthday celebrations, Golden Weddings – or funerals, and I shall be attending another of those this week. In other words it’s all to do with achievements and endings. Confirmation of the fact this morning when we had an invitation to the 50th Celebrations of a church where I was minister for nine years.

The Golden Wedding party on Saturday was wonderful. Dorothy and David, have been friends since the 1970’s when the four of us lived and worked in the East End of London, they at Bow and we at Poplar. Rarely gifted both of them, it was very moving to see them both with their family, and surrounded by members of the church they presently belong to, and with people like us who had been colleagues and friends.

Amongst the crowd I met people who I had once worked with but hadn’t seen for years. We peered at each other through the mists of time – and the imperfections of memory.

Recognition came slowly in some cases, immediately in others. But we reconnected with each other and although there was talk of what we had once done together or had watched with admiration what others had done, I felt as if we were spared the nihilism of nostalgia. It wasn’t just a matter of thinking of the old times (and wishing we were back where we can never be again), but instead reaffirming where politically and theologically we have continued to be. So it was a rediscovery of values and purpose but also, I felt, a rediscovery of myself.

So much of self-knowledge is delivered from the opinion of other people – good and bad. It’s not as easy as you get older to have the advantage of that perspective. The funeral I shall be going to on Friday is of a widow whose husband had a major influence on me. He was the first minister who noticed me and from whom I learned ways in which the job can be done.

They were a couple without children but whose unfussy care and undemanding friendship – and sharp humour and unsentimental affection -have been a important influence on my life and work, and no doubt on that of many others.

I shall know very few people at the service but I hope it will not feel like a step into the past but instead another celebration of the values that helpfully define my life.