Deacon Jessica Foster blogs about her post-curacy ministry.
Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair….God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray…
This is a song that I have grown up with and perhaps would have been part of my formation in the 80s and 90s. But singing it while on a reconciliation pilgrimage last weekend it suddenly jarred, Who is the ‘us’ in the chorus. Are ‘we’ the poor and weak or are we the rich and strong who need to have compassion for ‘them’ the weak and poor. Are beauty and brokenness incompatible – does one really replace the other or can they be found together? Is not hope seen its most pure and compelling form when it exists alongside despair – a phenomenon I have seen most clearly on visits to the Holy Lands.
The Church of England has suddenly got very interested in reconciliation. There are new courses being developed, the Archbishop’s Lent book is on the subject and for me personally it’s an emerging theme for my ministry post-curacy.
I don’t think that I or the church as a whole can approach reconciliation ministry as if we think we are whole and sorted and can rescue a broken world. The church has very public flaws and failings, its internal conflicts are well known nationally and internationally. I am glad my failings are not known nationally and internationally – but they are nonetheless real and deep – I cannot pretend to my friends, my family or even to my enemy to be sorted and sinless.
My ministry, now my time at St Peter’s as a curate is over, has several roles and channels of interest – as my focus on international conflict develops and I remain deeply concerned about the welfare of this city and nation. As a trustee, tutor, facilitator, deacon, networker and leader the one thing that holds everything together is reconciliation – the desire to bridge divides, bring people together, to embrace the other, love those considered to be our enemy and to form a more inclusive culture.
The debates and negotiations around Brexit have revealed hidden divisions in our community – these are not usually the obvious divides. I have friends from many different faiths and ethnicities, from different levels of wealth and education among my 450 friends on Facebook, but I only had one person on there who is an open Leave supporter. I was recently describing the network of people I love in Birmingham who come from all faiths and none and encourage and support each other to make a difference wherever they can. “Is there anyone in your group who reads The Sun, or even The Telegraph? ” I was asked. I doubt it and wish there were – how to reach beyond people like us, way beyond the usual suspects, continues to challenge me as our network changes, morphs and develops.
The visible divides can still be problematic. I wonder if Shamima Begum would have been treated differently if she were a young, white, middle-class woman groomed by a far-right cult? It makes me sad that Jewish people in Birmingham need so much security when they gather for worship and that not everyone feels safe (whether they are safe or not is another matter) visiting every part of this city.
I hear the call to reconciliation most clearly through Jesus’s call to love our enemies. His life, death and resurrection show me what it means to live for others, to resist evil with love and to journey in obedience to God even if the cost is crucifixion. If any of us could live even with a fraction of his faithfulness it would have a huge impact on the world.
At the moment I am doing some work for a human rights charity, BRAP, running my women’s leadership programme, teaching and tutoring at Queens Theological Foundation and doing bits and pieces for local and national charities and for the diocese. The broad umbrella for all this work is reconciliation in my mind and heart, and I hope to strengthen the focus on this as my developing ministry emerges, keeping my connection with Israel-Palestine and Bosnia too.
I am also being equipped and trained for this work. So that’s why I was visiting a reconciliation centre in Yorkshire as part of a pilgrimage visiting six centres around the UK experienced in this work and as part of the worship there I found myself singing Beauty for Brokenness. I am also learning a lot about facilitation at BRAP and am learning to be a coach at Warwick University. I am so grateful for the equipping and the experiences I am being given.
But most of all, I am grateful that I have people around me who help me see my brokenness, my weakness, my poverty and know that the beauty is found within the fragility. The people who inspire me are not those waiting for God to take them out of the mess, nor those who feel God has prevented them from getting into any mess but they are the people who know they are in the mess but know God is there too and they are doing all they can to keep glimmers of glory shining in the shadowy places of beauty and brokenness.