Moving On

– a parable of church in transition                                                                           

It was time to move on – the island on which they had lived for some time no longer had the resources to sustain their life, Once again they would have to cross the water, walking through the strong currents to another island. There, as at each previous one they would find supplied all that was needed for their temporary stay there.

It was a mixed group who now had to prepare for an experience which they had not faced in this way before. Some had lived on this same island for a long time. It had well provided for them – they had memories of times of such abundance…and the change in the island had been so gradual that few had noticed as the food grew less and less. They were attached to this island – the place to which their leaders had taken them years before – a place which they had made their own. There was comfort in known surroundings – could it not again give them all they needed? Did they have to move?

Others had come to the island more recently – having crossed over from other islands – mostly as individuals, but some in small groups. They too had enjoyed life here – they had suffered no deprivation. Some had got used to the progression from one island to another, and the thought of moving again did not trouble them. Others, though experienced in “crossing over” had a desire to settle down here. They were feeling that perhaps the meagre supplies here were preferable to the risky business of moving home yet again


How was this island group going to cope with the transition to an island, which although it could be dimly seen across the water was still unknown to them?

And what about those as yet unmentioned – the large number of pitiful orphaned children whom the settlers had discovered on the island – a mass of hungry, ragged, wild, bewildered children whose survival now depended on them.

The group had shared with them some of the good things of the island’s produce – until little by little the suspicion of the orphans had diminished. They were beginning to trust those in the group who were giving their time to care for them. The barriers that prevented them from coming into the whole life of the islanders were being broken down. What was to be done with all these orphans? Could they be left behind? How many could be taken to the new island? There would be enough provision for them all there – but what about the journey from one island to the other? None of them could make it on their own – that was sure – the currents were too strong for children to stand up in. But that meant that they would have to be carried.

There were a number of ideas as to how the situation could be faced.

The first idea was that everyone should stay on the present island and not attempt a crossing. This was rejected on the grounds that were this course adopted, people were going to die, quarrels and fights would surely arise over the remaining supp1ies, and t those who would suffer most would be the orphans.

Idea 2 was that those who were used to moving from island to island should attempt a crossing and leave the others to stay. This was quite a popular idea initially – but of course it would mean a complete change of way of living into separate parts – and the islanders were not made for this. Also, although some were confident about a smaller group being able to get to the next island, someone mentioned that they had known of others who had tried this way of moving and had never made it to their hoped for destination. This way also eliminated any hope of an increased provision for the senior settlers – and on their own there would be a severe limit on how much they could do for the needy orphan children.

When the members of the group considered the proposed move in relation to themselves, they kept coming up with differing viewpoints – but when they thought about the orphans, it began to become clear to them that they were going to have to move together – and so they began to get ready for the great unknown.

Everyone gathered at the water’s edge. The leaders explained what was going to be done and then led the people into the water. It was not a haphazard march through the water – or many would have been swept away. The leaders stepped in, holding on to each other firmly enough to give each other support and security, but loosely enough to allow flexibility in movement so that they could maintain their balance in the stream. They were as apprehensive as their people, but somehow their togetherness in the first few steps gave them confidence for the remainder. The islanders began to follow the leaders in pairs – such a variety of people – strong and weak, old and young. One couple were finding it a bit of a struggle but a neighbouring pair supported and encouraged; one couple looked too weak, but others held on to them so they were kept in the line. The strongest pairs seemed to be those where one of the older islanders was with one of the younger ones. The knowledge of the water combined with the youthful desire to get across made a powerful combination.

Eventually a double line of islanders stretched from one island to the other. Everyone now had a clearer sense of the purpose of it all. Hearts were beginning get excited at all the possibilities of the new place.

With the line complete, someone on the island they were leaving picked up the first orphan and passed him to a couple in the water – he was passed from one couple to the next right the way across to safety on the new island. This was repeated for all the children. While this was taking place, the leaders stood together in the fastest flowing point of the water – to give strength to the line and to save others from undue pressure. Seeing them there gave all the people security and the knowledge that where they themselves were, they could stand.

When all the orphans had been carried across and the people had all come out of the water – it was for them all a new beginning – somehow it wasn’t the same group as had left the old island.

Was it that a few had stayed behind?

Was it that some had decided on another island?

But those things would have meant a smaller group – and the group was now larger.

The increase had come from the orphan children. They had had such an expression of care and acceptance in being carried to the new island that many of them immediately wanted, and of course found a place for themselves not as orphans but as islanders.

17th November 1985

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