Settling down nicely...
Michael Williams faced a dilemma. As head teacher, he needed to write an assessment of all the pupils under his charge. At the end of their first term at his boarding school, Stephen, whose doting parents would anxiously wait for this report, presented a challenge. What to say about this boy who had made no impression either in the classroom or on the sports field? What could he say to encourage the parents to keep their lad at the school and, therefore, keep paying the fees? Then he noticed something strange in Stephen’s school record. Amazingly he was five centimetres shorter than when he had first arrived. In a moment of genius, Michael Williams wrote, ‘Your son has settled down nicely’. Though a creative interpretation, it gave the parents the encouragement to continue their partnership with the school and that was the object of the exercise.
How many times over these past lockdown months have we found ourselves thinking, ‘If only everything would settle down nicely again’. My own reflection has made me realise that, here in our home and garden, so much has been achieved that, in all probability, would never have been attempted. For others the increased challenges and pressure on our working lives have made us long for the return of our pre-Covid life.
At the time of writing, June 21st has morphed into July 19th. The relaxing of the vital restrictions on our personal and communal lives is further delayed. ‘Settling down nicely’ is a little further off than many of us had hoped. But is that what we want for ourselves, our churches and our communities?
The cessation of full church programmes and village communal activities has been costly. We long to get going again. Settling down nicely, however, into simply restoring what was happening before lockdown may not be what will best serve us all.
After a lifetime of Christian service, Frank Houghton retired to Parkstone and died there in 1972. Among the many hymns that he wrote was one that began with the challenging line ‘Facing a task unfinished’. This challenges our vision of what the task is and how it might be achieved. There is much to do and more will become possible as, together, we work to develop still more fully the values of the Kingdom of God taught us by Jesus himself. Settling down nicely may not be an option in church and community life.