After nearly 20 years of ordained ministry it finally happened - I picked up the phone and the voice on the other end said “It's the Bishop”. At this rate I might have just one more such phone call before retirement!
His Grace was asking me if I could train another curate, a little extraordinary, as Neil Robinson is completely deaf. There are only 6 or 7 priests (out of 14,000) who can do sign language (and I’m not one of them!) and who work as Chaplains to the Deaf community and in their churches. Neil, however, feels called to work in both the Deaf church and the hearing church, and as Bemerton is an inclusive church, I was asked. Mostly he will have an interpreter with him, and we all know it will be quite a challenge and an adventure.
But there will be rewards, not least in our theology and spirituality. For if, like George Herbert in his poem 'Denial', we speak of God being deaf, then is that a good or a bad thing for those who are themselves deaf? Surely God speaks British Sign Language, and yet how do we convey things like righteousness or the Lamb of God? So much of preaching and church can be word based, head knowledge, but I think Neil will challenge us to develop our use of pictures and story, and very definitely be heart based. I think Herbert would have loved it!
Never say never! I try to teach my children not to use extreme language, but I’m afraid they pick it up from me. “I’ll never go running again” I said some 15 years ago after another knee injury. Yet this year my daughter Bunty, now 7, has signed up for the Salisbury Mini-Marathon - and it really is “mini” - just under a mile! So I have agreed to train with her and run with her to encourage her. And its lovely to be running again - I can’t tell you! New shoes with better soles and running off road rather than the hard canal towpaths of Birmingham - and of course I’m taking it easy and doing old man jogging - so it's just a shadow of before, but it's enough!
Many people have written about running - the processes of thought, the spiritual journey ('What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' by Haruki Murakami is one of my favourites). There is something of the joy of open fields, of being in the countryside, there is the heart and lungs working, the rhythm of the body, then of course the endorphins when you stop. As Herbert's wonderful poem 'The Flower' reminds us, never say never, especially with God around - in age, we may all bud (or run) again.
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Simon Woodley (email@example.com)