It is good – finally(!) – to be in the Rectory and feeling more settled each day. Ampthill has struck me as a very friendly and welcoming place – perhaps evidenced in the number of local watering holes conveniently located to coincide on a walk with the hound. Leaving a community and arriving in a new one can be daunting, but it is also a time of forming new relationships and becoming embedded in a new place with new opportunities.
It was to no one’s surprise that, with the advent of lockdown in March, my licensing as Priest in Charge for this benefice took somewhat longer to materialise than we perhaps would have expected it to, COVID withstanding. But, thankfully, we are now able to gather inside our churches once again – I pray we never return to the days of enforced church closures – and my licensing on the 6th October was a joyful occasion, albeit perhaps less ceremonial given current restrictions on numbers and what we are permitted to do. Nonetheless, the service marked the formal beginning of a new chapter in the life of Ampthill, Millbrook and Steppingley, and brought with it a renewed emphasis on the importance of developing healthy relationships with one another in the spirit of Christian friendship and love.
St Aelred of Rievaulx wrote extensively on the power of friendship, and in his book Spiritual Friendship he defines human friendship as sacramental; it is by loving, and being loved by our friends, that we learn to accept God’s love, which is far greater than any human love. For Aelred, friendship can be regarded as a particular expression of the more general phenomenon of love. It would be foolish of me to expect everyone to get along, but we can live with, and indeed celebrate, our human diversity in ways which show respect and always recognise our infinite worth in the eyes of God.
As Abbot of Rievaulx, he would have known all too well that living together in community is at times difficult. I believe this is what Aelred was getting at, for he knew the very real challenges which come with communal living. Yet it was by working through these difficulties in the spirit of Christian friendship that he would have come to see the infinitely greater joys of the outworking of ‘love thy neighbour’ – when our human love reflects that of God’s. And there have been countless examples of this during the past few months when friends have rallied around one another to support the vulnerable, isolated, and those in need.
As we get to know one another over these next few weeks and months, it is my hope that we too can be friends, and in being so, point to the fount of love himself: Jesus Christ.