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‘Plodging’ through life together

Ever since my childhood growing up on the Northumberland coast I’ve loved sailing. I spent many a happy hour in my wellies plodging around all the boats moored in the estuary at Alnmouth, whilst dreaming of exciting maritime adventures. The act of plodging might not mean much to those outside the region, but it’s familiar in the North East of England as a dialectal word meaning to merrily splash or wade especially in the sea, puddles or mud.

I’ve had quite a bit of sailing experience since my younger days, especially in smaller dinghies, but I’ve never gained any navigational or skipper qualifications for handling bigger yachts. So, last summer I decided to change that and signed up for an online Day Skipper Theory course. Bizarrely, doing so has reminded me of another valuable lesson in navigating our way through the Christian life. Quite simply, we need each, or (forgive me for recalling a political statement from the Scottish Independence referendum) we’re better together.

Bizarrely, doing so has reminded me of another valuable lesson in navigating our way through the Christian life.

At first the course seemed like a great idea, delivered online from the comfort of your own home, working through a number of modules at your own pace with six whole months to complete the various exercises and quizzes before a final exam. However, after an initial flurry as I rattled through the first few modules, I became less motivated, and began to really miss the interaction I could have experienced with a tutor and other students which some courses offered. The software gave no margin for error and even if my answer to a certain question was 99% correct it was marked wrong! I began to long for the opportunity for a quick natter with the tutor or another student to point me in the right direction.

For many of us large parts of the last two years have seen us equally as isolated in a spiritual sense. The internet may well provide us with a plethora of devotional resources, recorded services and live streams, yet I’m beginning to sense that for myself anyway, it’s impossible to be fed and sustained simply thorough online resources. I’m very aware that for some people online resources have been (and still are) crucially important (and indeed you’re receiving this reflection via the internet) yet might we be in danger of simply transferring the model of church we did in person onto an online platform? We were, after all created to live in fellowship with others. Reading the creation narrative it’s interesting to note that after God created Adam He saw ‘all He had made and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). Yet soon after in Genesis 2:18, we read ‘it’s not good for man to be alone.’ God created Adam and it was very good, yet being alone is not good - we need each other.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, this reflection is not going down the road of the classic finger wagging rant from the Pastor quoting the first part of Hebrews 10:25 and requiring your attendance in person at 10.30am every Sunday (we still need to be very careful about planning larger in-person gatherings). However, I am seeking to offer you the same challenge I feel God has firmly placed at my door; how can we meet together in more creative, authentic ways either online or in person? Who are the people God is calling us to navigate life with as we seek to avoid isolation? Perhaps God is calling us to concentrate less on the mechanics of what we often call church, and more on building authentic relationships with others as we allow Christian community to develop from that point. In short what might plodging around your community look like for you as you listen to God day by day, and navigate your way through the peaks and troughs of life?

By the way, after six months I’ve eventually completed all the modules of the online Day Skipper Theory course and I’m revising for the final exam with an important lesson learnt; we really are better together!

Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England


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