Everything we do at St Mark’s is ultimately about Christmas. Designing courses, preparing and delivering subjects, marking students’ work, mentoring post graduate researchers, wrestling with online classrooms, posting books to distance students, paying bills, moving chairs and tables, emptying the dishwasher … we do all this, and more, because we have been touched by the God who came at Christmas in human form.
And of course just as it is easy to miss Christmas, in the midst of our frantic preparations, in the midst of the heat of the oncoming summer – it is always a risk that in all our busyness we will forget the centre of our vocation. This is why our gathering for prayer in our beautiful Chapel at the heart of St Mark’s is so important to us. It reminds us who, and whose, we are.
Bishop Burgmann knew exactly what he was doing when he placed the chapel under the warden’s flat (his residence in the early years), and right next to the library that was the foundational element of our Barton site. Ora et labora. Prayer and work. St Benedict would approve. Prayer and work. Work and prayer. The two go together, and must inform each other.
It’s hard to make space for this rhythm of prayer and work in the crazy heat of Christmas (the hard yakka that is disguised as a holiday). But unless we make space for prayer – for listening, for waiting, for welcoming the One who comes – we will actually miss Christmas! We’ll fail to recognise that God is Emmanuel, with us, among us, for us.
Luckily, God is patient with us. I remember a particularly hot and steamy Christmas when I was rector of the Parish of Coffs Harbour. The only cool spot I could find in the house to desperately finish the Christmas sermon was on the tiles of the laundry floor! By the time we’d completed the Christmas run – children’s service, midnight service, morning services – I was done in, to put it politely. Last on the block I walked over to the parish office, and there on the steps were the shepherds. A couple of men, homeless perhaps, or drifting up the coast. I pulled some sandwiches out of the freezer (we were always prepared for guests), made them some coffee, sat on the steps for a yarn. Christmas had arrived at last!
Blessings to you for a Christmas and New Year filled with God’s presence.
Rev’d Dr Jane Foulcher is the Deputy Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre and Course Advisor for the Master of Theology at Charles Sturt University.