Ten years ago this week, at the end of 1999, I strolled around the neighborhood taking snapshots with my (non-digital!) camera of what “life in the 1900’s” looked like. I took pictures of the cars, the houses, the shopping centre, inside the grocery store, and so on. The prints, and negatives, are somewhere in one of our two moving boxes marked “Photos”. They’re an odd assortment and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some future executor-of-wills puzzles over them only briefly before throwing them in the bin, not recognizing their enormous significance.
It is hard to believe ten years have passed since the world was preparing for Y2K. Do you remember the computer problems many were expecting? Especially we Americans: there is something about our American psyche that just loves having something to fear. We seem to need an enemy, a threat, a daunting challenge to rise to. I wonder at times if the Climate Change debate isn’t fueled, at least in part, by American angst (thanks, Al). Time will tell. But it’s kind of like the prospect of the afterlife: there’s nothing lost by having one’s bases covered, just in case. Better than not doing anything because you don’t believe in it, and finding out you were wrong.
Anyway, I digress. The events of the past decade you know. You were there. And if you don’t remember I’m sure there will be ample opportunity in the media in the coming week to have your memory refreshed. We are sure to be bombarded with “Decade in Review” TV programs and articles.
For me personally, when I am old and survey my life, the noughties will have been the “Church of England years”. In 1999 I had just entered the service of this Church, working as a full-time lay assistant at the Amsterdam parish, whilst I finished my ordination training. Somewhere in one of my journals I wrote that I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing; it felt as if I’d been found wandering in the woods by a large friendly beast who picked me up and carried me off. I went along simply because I was asked, not because I had a plan. I didn’t know where we were going, or what was in store for me, but for the moment I didn’t seem to be in mortal danger; in fact, the ride was quite comfortable. Little did I know how quickly that would change.
There have been some good times, especially the few years pioneering the airport chaplaincy job at Schiphol. But mostly my experience of ministry in the “CofE” has seemed like a cross to bear; I can’t say it’s been “fun” in any way. I started with two strikes against me: I’m not a born ‘n bred Anglican, and I’m not English. I miss cues all the time. And I can’t get the hang of the steep hierarchies. (Bishops are always right; rectors are also right; assistants are normally wrong; curates are always wrong.) So it’s been a decade marked by struggle and soul-searching, burn-out and befuddlement. And I can’t even quit! There is no way to resign from being a priest; according to the Church, ordination is indelible.
All I can hold onto, really, is that somehow I have managed to be a blessing to a few others. “One man’s perseverance is another man’s hope” I read once.
And being an old-fashioned, optimistic American, I just know the next decade will be better. Let’s get started already!