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Longevity - achievement or good fortune?

Depending on our views on the monarchy (and following a meal time conversation at the recent RM conference at Scargill House I know they vary wildly amongst our readership!) some of us may have thoroughly enjoyed the last few days whilst others have been intensely irritated with what they view as the celebration of an unnecessary institution and a very privileged woman. The general consensus in my own divided family is that the Queen is an admirable woman and no one begrudges her the chance to have a party after 70 years of service - but some of us just don't want to join in. However, even the most ardent anti monarchist in the family admitted to being keen to try out the Platinum Trifle as they are somewhat partial to lemon curd. In 1 Peter 4: 8 Peter says 'love ... covers a multitude of sins' but food often seems to come a very close second which is perhaps why he follows in v 9 with 'Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.' Hospitality offered to those with whom we have real differences of opinion, can be a powerful way to draw even the most divided of people together.

Photo Jacob King/PA Wire/PA Images

This text seems an apt one this weekend because Peter continues in v 10, 'Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.' There is no denying that since the age of 25, the Queen has been a faithful constitutional monarchy, dedicating her life to service of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries. Her longevity alone has made her a world record breaker being the longest lived monarch, longest reigning monarch and longest serving female head of state. We might disagree about how to best serve God and people but she has been steadfast, faithful to what she believes to be the calling given to her.

Longevity is something we often make a lot of and admire but really, according to my oldest friend who will be 99 this summer, getting to live to a ripe old age is more a matter of good fortune than an achievement - a combination of good genes and good healthcare. On the other hand, longevity of service, even if reluctantly accepted but faithfully carried out, is another thing altogether and the Queen is in the happy position of having lived and served for a very long time. I am sure the personal cost to her has been profound, but she has done what she believed she was asked to do by God and I admire and respect her for this faithfulness.

One of the most difficult aspects of seeing the Church decline in the rural context is that it can feel as if all those years of the faithful service of generations of disciples has been for nothing. There's rarely a grand celebration of the longevity of some rural churches, still mostly sustained by elderly disciples. In fact, alongside a reluctant admiration for their tenacity, there can be a genuine irritation amongst fellow disciples that they refuse to close and give up. I stumbled across an abandoned chapel in a beautiful remote valley this week with a graveyard full of past congregants dating back to the 18th century. The last grave was dated 2014. Has the witness of all those past generations been for nothing? It can be genuinely heartbreaking for those of us who have dedicated decades of service to their local church to think their work has been in vain.

So today, as the weekend of Platinum Jubilee celebrations draws to a close, I want to say two things.

Firstly, a thank you to all those who have sustained churches for decades. Your faithful service should be recognised and celebrated and I am sorry that all too often you may have felt shunted to one side and irrelevant in this ever changing world of which the Church is a part. Your longevity of service is impressive.

Secondly, like the Queen herself discovered, changes will be forced upon us that we have no control over and they are not always changes we have wanted to embrace and sometimes we have actively resisted them. But like her, you have persisted in your calling as disciples and not given up gathering, worshipping and serving your community. Like her, you will have made mistakes along the way, failed to adapt to some challenges or dragged your feet (and, let's be honest, the younger generations are equally guilty of similar misjudgements) but if you have served faithfully for the love of Christ then remember, love not only covers a multitude of sins but it has a longevity of its own. In 1 Corinthians 13: 8 Paul tells us that 'love never ends.' Love has a lasting effect that continues down the years for the generations to come.

Change is upon us as a Church and some of it is painful. Growth often is. But it does not take away from what has been good service in the past and those of us called now to embrace and encourage a changing church must not forget the good foundation upon which we will build.

Alison Griffiths

Director - Wales and South West England


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