I remember my mentor Rev Athol Gill saying to me: ‘Always have a sunset clause’. Those sage words I carried for many years and they helped shape a kind of strategy for church and for the many community development projects I have been involved in; meaning, that we always need to prepare for change. Nothing is permanent. Yet, as I write this my last Pastoral Note, I can truly say I had no thought of a sunset clause when I started at Canberra Baptist.
A Baptist minister, Robert Brown, some years ago used to write Saturday Reflections in ‘The Age’ newspaper in Victoria and I loved reading them. I often tore them out and kept them for later use. One reflection was about the limits of life, the impermanence of things, especially our own lives. He referred to a poster on a tram: ‘We’ve always been there. We always will be.’ And Brown wrote that we are, perhaps, disturbed by the prospects of an end and, as a result, we spend huge amounts of money on controlling or delaying the aging process for example, and fostering the illusion of permanence. We like permanence, we like things to endure and we try to extend the limits of life as far as we can.
Halloween feeds into it. Halloween (that is, the evening of All Hallows, a celebration of all the holy ones or saints of God) has just been celebrated where people focus on the darkness approaching (winter for the northern hemisphere), and try to deal with the fears of the unknown. Fear of the sunsets of life. Death. The wearing of masks and witches hats is not to imitate evil spirits, but to frighten them off, keep them at bay.
Change challenges us, death and loss challenge us, but the truth is nothing is permanent. Not in life, and not in church. The sun does go down on everything. So, how can we manage it? The first helpful way to manage it is to accept it, but another helpful way is to look at it in positive ways, not in some Pollyanna way, but to look for opportunities rather than dwell on the pain. That may be hard sometimes and we know that grief – the way we deal with loss and change – can take time. But we in the faith know that loss and change and death have a flip side; that there is a resurrection, an opportunity for something new to bud and grow – new life. And maybe sometimes things need to go, need to die before which new life can emerge. Judith Viorst has written a beautiful book called ‘Necessary Losses’ and she writes: ‘Losing (meaning the losses we experience in life) sucks. But to look at loss is to see how inextricably our losses are linked to growth. And to start to become aware of the ways in which our responses to loss have shaped our lives can be the beginning of wisdom and hopeful change’.
Well may we need sunset clauses, well may life change, and well may all of us be feeling a sense of loss right now, we can however draw comfort that there is always the gift of a new dawn.