Monday, 26 March 2012

Parish Retreat

It's the day after the Parish Retreat in Millport, and my head is still spinning. It was a strange retreat really, a retreat that could only be crafted, executed and celebrated by St Augustine's. A retreat with a party in the middle of it, as Revd Anne Tomlinson gently guided us through the topic of "Graced Encounters", with the emphasis on food, feeding, and encountering God in our daily bread, linked into our Eucharistic community where the Bread of Life is at the core of our congregational being. Food..... Preparing, Pondering, Provocative Practice, Partying, Participating.... and a picture of our parish life emerged which was pleasing to the eye, and a comfort to my soul. Hey. We are doing something right here. There's deep Kingdom stuff going on.

There was so much laughter, so much gratitude, not least because two of our number have beaten serious cancer scares in the past months, and at the start of Passion-tide, we presented as a Parish with great Passion. We prayed together, we were silent together, we shared much good food with each other on so many different levels, and shared a joy of living and being alive.

Friday evening's talk was so pertinent to us, as Anne read an extract from one of her books to us:

I came late to Christianity, knocked upside down by a midlife conversion centered around a literal chunk of bread. The immediacy of my conversion experience left me perhaps freakily convinced of the presence of Jesus around me. I hadn’t figured out a neat set of “beliefs,” but discovered a force blowing uncontrollably through the world.
Eating Jesus cracked my world open and made me hunger to keep sharing food with other people. That desire took me to an altar, at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where I helped break the bread for Holy Communion, then to a food pantry that I set up around the same altar, where we gave away free groceries to anyone who showed up. From all over the city, poor people started to come every Friday to the church—100, 200, 450, 800—and like me, some of them stayed. Soon they began to feed and take care of each other, then run things, then start other pantries. It was my first experience of discovering that regular people could do Jesus’ work. In the thrilling and difficult years after my first communion, I kept learning that my new Christian identity required me to act. .. Time and again, I was going to have to forgive people I was mad at, say I was sorry, be honest when I felt petty, and sit down to eat, as Jesus did, with my betrayers and enemies: the mad, the boring, and the merely unlikeable.
As I got pushed deeper into all these relationships, I started to suspect that the body of Christ was not a metaphor at all. “Because there’s one bread,” as St. Paul, another poleaxed convert, wrote in astonishment, “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one I began to taste something, see something, touch something which suggested that Jesus’ vision of what we could do was true. “I know this sounds nuts,” I said to an old friend, who’d been shocked at my conversion to a faith I’d mocked, and baffled by my sudden urge to give away pallets of lettuce and cereal. “But, uh, when we’re all together at the Eucharist and at the food pantry, it’s the same thing. Because Jesus is real.”
Jesus is very real in St Aug's, and the parish in San Francisco echoed our own life and practice in a very deep and meaningful way.

There is a sadness though, today, for those who didn't come, and for those who wouldn't come on this weekend. They missed out greatly on a wonderful experience, and one which will be remembered and treasured by many for years to come.

The RW and I lit a candle for every one of us, those present and those missing, as we rather shamedly wolfed down pizza last night, and gave thanks to God for allowing us to be part of something very special.


Morag said...

We lit a candle this evening as we munched lasagne with Catriona to remind us of the points made over the weekend.

It was a wonderful weekend and one we will all remember for a long time to come, not just the fun bits but the serious stuff too!

Erp said...

Hope you had a good Easter and that all is well.