LETTER FROM A MINISTER

Endings and Beginnings


I am writing this at the beginning of December as the nation counts donw to Election Day. The last time we had a December election was in 1923. Then Stanley Baldwin sought a personal mandate from the country in support of his policies, in the time of high unemployment following World War I. The result was a lost Conservative majority and a hung parliament, that paved the way for Britain's first Labour prime minister: Ramsay MacDonald. As is the way with elections, results are always unknown until the polling booths are closed and the votes are counted regardless of the polls.

Living in that liminal place of being neither here nor there can be very uncomfortable. The word 'liminal' comes from a Latin word meaning 'threshold', denoting any narrow space between two wider spaces. Thresholds are places to move through, not to stand about in. There is a fine line between antivipation and anxiety. I have never been very good at endings and beginnings; if I am honest they unsettle me. Packing for a holiday fills me with dread, and starting a new job always makes me apprehensive. As a child I attended seven schools and moved house countless times, so you might expect I gained some experience in stopping and starting, but evidently not!

The ending and beginning of a New Year is another liminal place and probably explains why this is both a time of anticipation and anxiety, with some of us loving this time of year, while others are more hesitant about setppijng out into the unknown. In 1939, when Britain was at war, King George VI ended his Christmas Day broadcast with these word

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknonw."
And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the had of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."

At the time, the poem was unknown, but these words struck a chord with a country facing the uncertainty of war. Its author, and English woman Minnie Haskins, was born and educated near Bristol. As a young woman she worked as a missionary in Madras where whe published a small book of poetry to raise funds for the Mission. The king was given this book by his wife and the rest, as they say, is now history. This little-known poem by and unknown author has become one of the most well-known poems in the English language.

This poem reminds me of a painting by Holman Hunt, 'The Light of the World', which depicts Jesus holding a lanterm standing outside a closed door. It is as though Jesus waits for us on the other side of the door; on the other side of the threshold we are about to step out over. Jesus told his followers that he was the door or the gate for the sheep. He stands there welcoming and familiar between waking and sleeping, between sickness and health, between happy and sad times, between 2019 and 2020.

So whether you are glad to leave the old behind, or apprehensive about what the new may have in store for you, step over the threshold in confidence, knowing in the words of the psalmist, that Jesus waits and watches over you, and

'will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.'
                                                                                [NRSV Psalm 121:8]

May God bless you!
Revd Nicola Martyn-Beck,
Newport Pagnell Methodist Church