I have just returned from co-leading a pilgrimage in Assisi. Ten of us explored the city against the background of the life of St Francis. It was a creative time for reflection, silence and solidarity in our shared adventure of walking in Jesus’ footsteps.
It was also an occasion in which I heard God clarify one further element of my call in this season. I have known for a while that I am to live out my life as a friend and friar. Friend simply offering open handed love to those I meet on my street and along my way. Just this week another stranger accepted that offer of a listening ear and over a coffee shared the challenges they faced and invited my reflections.
As a friar I am learning to tread ever more lightly upon the earth and seeking to yield to God in every area of my life. Financial security and lack of job/role definition being two of the hardest challenges I personally wrestle with in these days. I truly want to arrive at that place where I do cast all my anxiety upon God and trust his provision for my every need will prove sufficient.
However, the pilgrimage having ended, I took myself early down the hill out of Assisi to the Porziuncula where Francis spent so much of his time. It was a church he leased from the Benedictines for a basket of fresh fish every year. As I sat in the fine Baroque building that now rose above and over Francis’ original church and as my senses were invaded by the sung mass somewhere in the building and the line of people queueing in front of a Friar Minor to receive personal prayer with the laying on of hands, I sensed a phrase very familiar to Francis return to my conscious thought. That phrase was one first spoken by God in the little dilapidated church of San Damiano. Here Francis heard God say, ‘Repair my church’. His response was to begin begging stones to restore San Damiano. What was my response to be?
After near on forty years as a faithful follower of Jesus, and then some 20 years in service with Youth for Christ, Evangelical Alliance and church leadership, God asked me to stop what I was doing to serve as full time carer for my wife, Katey, as she battled with multiple sclerosis. Emerging from that wonderful yet deeply challenging journey when Katey went home to Father, I assumed I might renew my connections and return to serving God as I had done previously. Yet in spite of much networking with former colleagues and direct job applications, four years on I remain where I was; a couple of days working in mediation for peaceworks and the rest of my time developing as a contemplative friend and friar. Now suddenly a new piece was introduced by God. I had served the church in various leadership positions yet now God was inviting me to engage in repairing God’s church.
This hit me between the eyes as I immediately saw in a different light what had troubled me for years. The decimation of the church, the body of Christ, as various groups broke away and started something new. In fact a whole new industry and product line seems to have been built around ‘fresh expressions’ of church, often leading to no more than a hapless small group of individuals comforted with the radical nature of their vision yet apparently making few inroads into the dominate secularised culture that dwarfs them on every side. It is not meant as a criticism, yet may be received as such. My heart is for the repair of God’s church. Where once San Damiano lay forlorn, dilapidated and apparently abandoned in spite of still having a priest, Francis in his very simple and humble obedience renewed the spirit and vision and established a community of huge impact and influence that continues today. One of the Friars at Damiano told me that prevous to his entering the Franciscans in his middle years he had been a successful barrister. Assuming his vocation took him away from these legal pursuits, he was surprised when in light of the Franciscans’ tremendous work in Creation Care, he was asked to make representations to his national government requesting they make changes to law that would improve the environmental conditions. They made the changes – now here we have a picture of a repaired church repairing God’s world.
So there you have it in a nutshell and I am happy to chat this through further. From now on Friar Micha will remain a friend to all yet focus upon repairing God’s church in the expectation that a repaired church will repair God’s broken world. It’s a simple message and one I can understand how to implement. Any one else interested?