Sitting on the Veranda!

Revd Chris Wood

Rev Hugh Neems, my home-church minister, often recalled the time when he was a missionary in the South Sea Islands, where he relied on rowing boats to take him from one island to another. Given that most islands were atolls (small islands with an outer coral reef that creates protection from the Pacific Ocean), it was necessary for the helmsman to wait patiently until he saw a decent wave heading their way, and then give instructions to the drummer who would beat out the pace that the oarsmen needed to row. Together they would head for the coral reef, and, it was timed correctly and they'd gained sufficient speed, the boat and occupants would be transported over the reef and on their way. Exactly the same procedure was necessary at arriving at their destination, the helmsman waiting again for a decent wave before giving instructions, allowing the boat and its cargo to enter safely into the lagoon.

But the account doesn't end there. Having arrived safely at the destination, each person would be thanked for their contribution, knowing that, by pooling their various God-given gifts, and by pulling together, they were able to arrive at the destination in one piece.

I've found this works well in an Assembly, where volunteers are encouraged to act out each stage of the teaching to demonstrate what was involved, and then for them to express their thanks at the end of the activity (usually done very loudly!). I then emphasise that this translates into any situation, thus, for the school to be successful, there is a need to recognise and appreciate the different skills, to create and environment that enable everyone to play their part, and to remember always to express thanks to one and all. So we take time to thanks teachers; teaching assistants; support staff and children for the way they support and encourage one another and create a good learning environment.

At the last retelling, I nearly came unstuck when one bright spark suggested that there was no point thanking the minister as he'd done nothing! It provided an opportunity to remind the assembly that the minister had offered prayers before they set off, and was a source of encouragement to them on their journey. Added to which they also viewed him as a precious cargo because he was taking the Good News of God's love to the many islands, who were eagerly anticipating his arrival. I suggested that it was only right and proper that the minister should be thanked for his contribution - although the young lad still didn't seem convinced!

It reminds me of some wise words of Bishop Anand Samuel who was from the Church of South India, and spent some time teaching at Westminster Theological College, Cambridge. On one occasion he expressed dismay that the church often determined its success by what it was 'doing' and expected the minister to be actively busy. By contrast, he drew on his own situation and culture, saying they laid great importance on 'sitting on the veranda' - believing that time spent in prayer and quiet contemplation was an essential element to the life of a disciple of Christ.

This is demonstrated in an incident in the Gospels, where Jesus is invited to the home of Mary and Martha, in which we discover Mary sitting at Jesus' feet listening to His Words, while Martha is 'distracted by her many tasks' (Luke 10: 40). We are thus reminded that 'Mary has chosen best' (vs 42). This is not to suggests that everyone should cease their activities (that would get me into serious trouble!), but there is a time for work, a time for rest and relaxation, but there is also a time to 'wait upon the Lord' in prayer and quiet reflection in order to refresh our inner spirit.

How right it is to take every opportunity to encourage the sharing of God-given skills, to pull together for the benefit of all, and to express our appreciation for every contribution - especially for those who take time to wait upon the Lord as a blessing to one and all.

God Bless


March 2017