A family friend, trying to be optimistic in challenging times, would often utter the phrase “There’s light at the end of the tunnel”.
We used to have a private joke about this, as we could almost predict him coming out with it. But then I heard a great rejoinder… “Beware: The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train”.
Years ago I saw a poster, evidently a parody of the “Inspirational Thoughts” now so common on the Internet:
Loyal readers of my writings (Thank you!) will be aware that I have had a number of issues of concern over recent months, referred to in particular in these posts:
From Little Things, Big things grow (September 6th)
I think I can, I think I can (September 19)
You know the future is casting a shadow (October 12)
So I felt an update might be timely.
As I’m usually the person of the establishment who looks for that light at the end of the tunnel, and does the “smile and be happy” part (some would say “irritatingly chirpy”) its been sobering to note recently that indeed, things just seem to have been getting worse, or, more specifically, a number of new issues and problems have just appeared to have crowded into our lives, within the same short timespan.
And now, it’s November.
For me, at school, the usual November contains: Writing reports, organising, rehearsing and performing our annual Christmas concert, student recruitment for the next year, planning for next year, as well as, you know, teaching the young students on a daily basis.
This year we are throwing into the mix: physically cleaning out our whole department (including all the furniture and fittings) which means I have 7 years of poor filing and materials to assess. This is because… (which is Good News)…. we are having a major renovation of the Music Department over Christmas. But also to consider: Interviewing, selecting and inducting additional Music Staff, to enlarge our team and widen our offerings to our students.
Oh, and the restructure of the Music Department. For the first time we will have a Head of Performing Arts who will oversee much of what happens all the way from Prep to Year 12. A good innovation, but an unfamiliar one. I realised recently that my immediate Boss and I are organising our 7th Christmas together. Every other Music staff member who was part of Christmas 2009 has moved on, leaving us two the last standing. Soon it will just be me.
I have really struggled to keep up with the fast shifting new realities in my workplace. The fact that my Boss, with whom I have worked closely for seven years, will be moved sideways to another department is quite a professional and personal loss. I foresee a lot of work, a lot of change, and being pulled in different directions as the one common denominator between the past and the future.
All of this has left me thinking of a favourite hymn we used to sing in England “My hope is built on nothing less” with the resounding refrain:
“On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
And we certainly seem to have been surrounded by sinking sand for an awfully long time now.
Our broader “Series of Unfortunate Events” has included: illness, serious dental problems, my Father-in -law being hospitalised in England (with the very real possibility of my husband having to fly out to support his family)(fortunately he is now much improved), the abrupt closure of our Church Plant by the Church hierarchy with the possibly “unintended consequences” of not only the loss of our place of worship, and my husband Neil’s work, but the potential closure of the whole congregation, forcing Neil into early retirement and leaving the many, especially vulnerable elderly people he looks after as “sheep without a shepherd”.
And that’s just to “hit the high spots”.
Some days it has felt that every time we turned around, there was something else to be dealt with. My husband has been without a regular routine for more than six weeks now, which leaves him feeling groundless and not even knowing where to start and what to address out of a burgeoning daily “To Do” list.
So many things, especially with our church, have been out of our control, yet we have also been besieged by the questions and concerns of other anxious congregational members, naturally looking for reassurance, which we have been unable to give, as we haven’t known the answers to their questions ourselves.
Some days I have been so mind-numbingly tired that I have not only fallen asleep in front of the TV (common) but also staring at the computer screen, and, my children tell me, literally mid-sentence.
In all of this, the famed light at the end of the tunnel has certainly seemed like that train barrelling along, and its been pretty hard to remember that, in the biblical words of Romans 8:28…
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”.
We know? We do?
Well, God seemed to have a funny way of showing it.
Yet another old hymn is titled “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”.
And strangely enough, so it has proved.
The first Sunday after the swift closing of our Church site, we did not have a worship service, but instead convened a meeting of the Church Council and Elders on our back Patio, to see what the feeling was about where to go next. This lead to the hasty hiring of a local community hall for the following Sunday.
I rocked up, heaving a borrowed electric piano, to meet a surprisingly large number of people, who had all got there early to help set up. Many hands made light work of the setting up of the piano, and a makeshift altar from a trestle table. By the service start time, the Hall was full. The worship time was uplifting, Neil spoke passionately from the Music-Stand-doubling-as-a-temporary-pulpit, the singing was strong and there was a real spirit of togetherness. This carried forward into “Morning Tea” and then the full congregational meeting held afterwards.
Now, usually these things are to be endured, and many folk sneak out the back, but not this time. They stayed. They expressed their feelings. There was a strong affirmation that we should say together as a congregation. That we should stay temporarily in this Community Hall, not move to another venue where it was suspected there might be other motives at play. That we should not allow ourselves to be pushed around by the District but look to make forward plans.
We came away from this meeting feeling unusually heartened, granted the chaos of the previous week. Although, in a practical way, it still seemed most unclear what shape those “future plans” could feasibly take.
This seemed like a bit of “déjà vu” for Neil and I (although the circumstances were different) as Neil’s first Church in North London reluctantly closed over budgetary concerns. A wonderful elder from there wrote to me recently, when he learned of our current situation:
We came back from the dead, it is possible, I hope you can too. A lot of prayers and an awful lot of work, but I think when we closed everybody suddenly realised what they were missing, and that was the key to the effort that was put in to get our Church back. I hope and pray your congregation discovers that sooner rather than too late.
And then later:
I think that when you think of all the folk that have lived and died to keep this Church here for over sixty years, it gives us a reason to continue to keep it here for generations to come if at all possible.
Which really resonated with me, as we have a number of people here in our congregation over the age of 80, and a good handful over 90!
Now, with quite coincidental (or was it ?) timing, tenders had been called for expressions of interest to develop our church site – as it has a prime location, and there was a theory that the assets could be used in a different way. But we had felt, in reality, that there wasn’t much likelihood of the congregation agreeing to some type of redevelopment plan. The large sign went up on the building, which was now looking very sad and sorry, as due to the Public Liability issues it had to be fenced off to stop public access.
On the appointed day, a number of tenders and plans came in. None, as we had hoped, by a developer who would incorporate our needs (a Worship centre, Offices, Social rooms) into an otherwise new structure.
All wanted to simply purchase a portion of, or the entire site outright, without the irritation of the congregation as “Sitting Tenants”
Hidden in behind the church is a childcare centre, which James attended as a pre-schooler. It is owned by our congregation but managed by the wider Church’s childcare division. It is on a separate land title.
That one tenderer, who did not wish to buy the whole site (which would leave the congregation worse off, “homeless” for perhaps years to come, even if “Cash Rich”) was the adjacent Independent school. Their request? To purchase the Childcare Centre only. As a going concern. With the concept that the Staff and existing children would be kept on. But they would assume ownership and management,
And for this, they offered a very attractive sum of money.
Suddenly, out of all the impossibilities and despair, came new possibilities. A New Dawn.
Plans have now been hatched to sell the Childcare Centre, and with the sale proceeds, renovate and repurpose the former kindergarten section (adjacent to the church) as social rooms and kitchen, adding a second story of new offices and meeting rooms, while the problematic asbestos-containing old roof is replaced. Then the existing offices (also containing asbestos) can be completely removed and that land used for needed car parking.
Finally the whole site can be beautified and de-contaminated, making the historic church, so dear to so many people, more than fit for use again.
And if we’re careful, we might be able to do all this and break-even.
“Out of difficulties grow miracles” – is a beautiful quote from 17th century French philosopher, Jean de La Bruyere.
Which is a saying which always makes me smile because a young lady I know, who had suffered much adversity in her youthful life, decided to have this tattooed across her collarbone.
I joked: “Make sure it’s spelled correctly”.
Believe it or not, the next day her photo displayed on Facebook read:
Out of difficulties grow miricles
So, anyway, the Congregation voted with one voice on this plan and it has now been submitted to the Queensland District Office for their approval.
It will be very interesting to see how they respond, because if they try to block this unanimous proposal, it might expose some hidden agendas which locals already suspect are at place.
We shall see, and are praying for a positive outcome.
Meanwhile, our neighbour (the school who is hopeful of purchasing the Childcare Centre) has extended to us the use of their School Chapel for our Sunday Services for the foreseeable future, so we are happy in our more church-like temporary home.
And on my school front, well, it’s still November… But I am ploughing on. We have had a very strong field of candidates for the advertised new Music staff positions – each would bring their own flavour and expertise to the place, so I am starting to feel a little inspired by the prospect of “new blood”, fresh ideas and new input.
Three-quarters of the reports are written (and I’m 2 ½ weeks ahead of the stage I was at this time last year).
The Christmas Concert Plans are falling into place. I’ve even, much to my pleasant surprise, had some warm and friendly interactions with the staff member I’ve been wary of, who I have been worrying about working with next year.
On the other hand….