1001 Arabian nights, survived by a fearful wife telling a fascinating and never-ending stream of fantastic stories to stave off the seemingly inevitable assassination that had befallen all her predecessors. This is the stuff of middle eastern legend, with the wiley Scheherazade keeping the wrathful king on tenterhooks, and the interwoven folk tales wrapped in this happily-ending frame form part of almost every culture's stock of tales.
Tomorrow I will have got through 1001 nights in Cowal and Bute, as a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church. I discovered quite by accident that today is my 1000th day since I was licensed here.
Is there an inevitable fate that awaits the unwary in taking on a ministry such as this?
I fear that the fate that awaits is to become stale, no longer feeling a fire and excitement at what a Christian community is called to do. Maybe that can be by the repetition of the annual cycle, or the blurring of years into each other. Maybe paralysis because of fear of upsetting whatever applecart may be presented to be upset. Maybe it all goes sour when a chosen direction splits or distorts the congregation's view of the community. Maybe.
I am glad to report (and any readers in my charges will be glad to hear (at least I hope they will be glad to hear!)) that this fate seems nowhere near as the 1000 day mark rolls by. The excitement at what is going on and what there is to do is just a great now as three years ago, when we were negotiating the details of my arrival in the charge. The cycle of the years has a gentle variation and change that seems to make it richer, not stale. And alongside our third-time-now pattern of the year, the gently changing people of the churches, the new vestry members, the newly appeared ideas and opportunities, all add to make things feels stable yet stimulating. I hope and pray that the churches feel the same. I also hope and pray that we have some of this to share with those around us in our diocese and elsewhere.
The tale is never ending, the cliffhanger ending employed by Scheherazade just as applicable to exploration of the gospel and the form of community that we are being made into by that gospel. And the cliffhangers will not come to an end. The happy ending is always there, even when the walk is through the wilderness (which it sometimes must be).
And the 1001st night? What special ending for that? Well, I will be compering the third publess church quiz night (bring your own bottle, even in Lent) on Bute, in a rather gaudy waistcoat and with as good a line of wisecracks and oneliners that I can muster. Sister Scheherazade and I, working the audience to keep them engaged, interested and aware of our community: all for the gospel!
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