This week I am on retreat on Holy Island for some much needed time out. Knowing that within a few hours of my arrival I will be cut off from the mainland with space, time to think and pray is the reason I come every year to this Holy place. Unlike previous years, I have come on my own to spend time breathing in the fresh Northumberland air and taking long walks around the Island with Monty.
Whilst on retreat I like to read and this year I decided to bring ‘The table’ by our very own Bishop Paul Bayes. If you haven’t had a chance to read it I would highly recommend it.
‘The table’ an image of the Christian Church as an open table of friends, stretching down every street and into every home has provided me with much food for thought on this Holy Island, as I myself have sat at different tables during the week talking to a group of pilgrims and residents, sharing food and hospitality.
On Wednesday, I attended a special service at St Mary the Virgin Church to celebrate twenty-five years of women’s ordination. Kate, an Islander was one of the first women to be ordained Priest in the Church of England and it was a real privilege to meet a pioneer who with many others paved the way for my ministry today. For this special occasion I found myself meeting at two tables. The first table gathered pilgrims and residents together in church, around the Lord’s Table to share communion. Meeting together around the table on the site where St Aidan stood in 635 AD and where pilgrims across many centuries have come together to remember and receive has a way of deepening ones relationship with Christ.
We read in John’s Gospel 15:13 ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ In a way knowing all that Jesus did on the cross, enables us to show love and kindness to others we may meet for the first time and treat them as friends.
It is also a helpful reminder that although we meet as strangers, we are actually friends in and through the mystery of all that Christ did for us on the cross.
The second table I encountered was in the vicarage sitting around a table sharing afternoon tea. Here I listened to the stories of faith of people who lived on the Island and over the course of an hour, I, a stranger was welcomed as a friend. Here on Holy Island, it’s in the DNA to take time to sit and welcome others at the table, watch in the moment and extend the hand of friendship. Perhaps this is easier to do in smaller communities with a slower pace of life, but it is certainly something I intend to keep pondering on as I return to Christ Church and to the busyness of Parish Ministry.
I wonder how many tables we will sit at today? Share a glance, smile, conversation or food? Perhaps we can all take a bit more time to extend our table to the stranger and offer the hand of friendship.