Some people are fascinated by answers, I am fascinated by questions. A good question can blast you out of the comfortable, or unlock a previously unseen path. A good question disrupts unprobed assumptions, it can be unsettling, unexpected, or even unanswerable. A really good question can become a lifelong friend. Here are some of my favourites: “Are you sure?”; “Who is my neighbour?”; “How then shall we live?”; “Where is God in this situation?”; “What is your heart saying?”. But one of the best is also one of the shortest. “Now what?”
Now what? is an amazing question. It carries a sense of urgency but also expectation, it demands an answer but gives no steer as to what constitutes a right answer. But now what can also be dangerous. If we answer too hastily we can cause huge problems for ourselves and for others. Even thinking that there is only one possible correct outcome to a now what question can be unhelpful. Within the Ignatian tradition, the process of discernment is at its most subtle when faced with a choice between goods. A choice in which either, or any, of the possible answers are good ones. It is to stand on the threshold of what is not yet and try and peer through the doorway of what might be.
This is precisely where I find myself as my time at Liberton Kirk draws to a close. Now what? There are many vacancies in the Church of Scotland, many places who would love to have a youngish family in their midst. It is a choice between goods. Yet at the same time, as a family we have felt a strong pull to Orkney ever since participating in the Remote Rural Placement Scheme in 2012 (a scheme that wouldn’t exist without the contribution to Mission and Ministry by wealthy churches like Liberton Kirk.) No future opportunity is without constraints and there will be some who would be appalled by the constraints faced in Orkney, with 130mph winds, few trees or mountains, and the distance from the “centre” of Scotland. Yet we find it is a rich soil, full of gentle kindness, that excites not only me but my wife Sally and our three children. As if God is asking all of us to be with him there and waiting for what we might say.
We stand on the threshold of a long asked question – is it Orkney? By the end of November we will have an answer to that question. Either way, the next question will be now what? But I don’t believe we are the only ones who will be asking that question. For everyone in Liberton Kirk it will be a process of adjustment after we have left. For some the adjustment will be easier than for others! You have faced this question many times before, with many previous probationers leaving, yet each time the answer has been different. What might next year hold for you? For your faith? For your love of self and neighbour?
I am different, having been with you. I have seen many differences emerge in many of you as well. We all need to know what is next but, whilst the future is uncertain, I am grateful to have been a thread woven into the tapestry of the Liberton Kirk story. It is a good place to be. It will also be a good place to have been. Now what?