Friday, May 24, 2013


It struck me this week as I participated in a commissioning service for pastoral and spiritual carers in a hospital setting that hospitals are places of change. Patients who are admitted to a hospital are in a time of transition, one which may well call into question assumptions they had held about themselves, their identity and their humanity (or, more particularly, their vulnerability). Sitting in the background of the medical care being offered are deeper questions of purpose and identity. That we tend to think of hospitals as places of restoration (that is, being restored to health) masks the deeper challenges being faced. Hospitals are places of change.

But are they alone in this? What other institutions are places of change masked under a different banner?

My mind moved to schools: while education is their prime focus, surely this is about change more than anything else… guided change, expected change, growth and learning. That everyone in the system is on the same journey of change helps mask this reality, but education is fundamentally about change. Physical and emotional change is a part of what happens during schooling – is it ancillary to education, or part of it?

In fact education in all its forms is about change. We are doing more than learning information, skills and perspectives whether we are in kindergarten or a post-graduate course. Engagement with the topic of study brings with it a range of other shifts in our attitude. Studying economics or law, for example, raises questions of justice and equity and our contribution to it.

And then there’s church. Church as a place of change? I am reminded of an old joke: How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? And the answer is: Baptists? Change??? Sometimes it appears that churches are the most resistant to change. There is a fundamentally conservative element which often comes to the fore whenever cultural and social change is proposed. Of course churches should be agents and catalysts of change. The Christian faith is driven by hope of a renewed creation, by the hope of redemption of all creation. Christians are called to a new future that is breaking into the present. But our engagement with a fixed canon of scripture and an often unchanging liturgy of worship, the impression can be created that church is about conservation and preservation rather than recreation and growth.

On reflection I find it hard to recognise and institution or organisation that isn’t about change. Even as we resist change, it happens to us, often hardening us to the opportunities which are presented daily for growth, for life, and for renewal.

Change is the one constant in life, or as one wag put it: change is inevitable (except from a vending machine). As those who lead and participate in communities, we need to affirm ourselves as communities of change, or at least changing communities. As we do so, we invite ourselves to be co-creators in the formation which is taking place. As we resist, we leave ourselves open to being formed by forces which we are unable to recognise, let alone control.

We are all changing. The question is, are we growing, or decaying?

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