Column: We are changed by the people we meet and things we do

Remembrance Sunday parade and service in Northampton town centre.'All Saints Church. NNL-141111-042630009
Remembrance Sunday parade and service in Northampton town centre.'All Saints Church. NNL-141111-042630009

Our columnist the Rev Oliver Coss talks about leadership and challenge in this week’s column...

As alluded to in my last column, I’ve just returned from eight days study leave in the Holy Land - an amazing experience - leaving me with much to think about concerning the land so precious to Christians, Jews and Muslims.

As promised, I went with 100 questions, and returned with 1,000 more about Israel and the occupied territories.

I won’t bore you with it unsolicited but do stop and ask me about it if you’re interested (I have a collection of near-on 1,000 photographs too!)

Things seem to move quickly whenever I’m away from Northampton (is that me slowing things down?)

The churchyard that was proving a (fairly) stable place for some of our street homeless community has descended into a level of chaos, my inbox is a treasure-trove of things to finish, and the good people of All Saints’ Church need some visiting, all of which has occupied the latter part of my week after touchdown at Luton Airport.

For me, it’s an exercise in letting go a little: all of us, no matter who we are, need some down-time or some different time at regular periods, so that we don’t become locked on to the tasks that are right in front of us.

As someone who is sometimes referred to as a leader (though I really don’t like that word), it’s also important to feel expendable and remember all the other people around me who can do my job, do it better, and who I share the work of the church with.

There is perhaps nothing more dangerous than a monolithic leader, with an over-developed sense of their own abilities and their ability to maintain others by them.

This sometimes seems less important if they’re charismatic or inspirational, but at the times when those qualities slip, it’s very easy for them to seem very alone and unable to command confidence except by coercion or control.

In modern society we do lots of talking about partnership or listening to other voices (lots of ‘monologues about the importance of dialogue’, a bishop once called it) while demonstrating nothing in our actions or demeanour to suggest that we have heard anything contrary to our own opinions.

Is it so much to ask that we admit we are changed by the people we meet, by the people we closely associate with, even by those we oppose?

What are we genuinely willing to give up so that the other can flourish?

What would we be happy to cede for the greater good of humankind?

It seems to me, and more so having briefly inhabited a nation scarred by conflict and division, that our nation is going through a period of existential doubt, brought about not because we are without conviction, but because we can find no common mind among us that doesn’t require one or another set of people to give up what they want.

It’s also a nation which we’re told is becoming predominantly non-religious, but which also allows a near-religious value to be applied to our politics.

In the effort to deradicalise and de-escalate a democratic impasse, a resort to the centre ground isn’t working, leaving us to ask where – if the old gathering places are no longer comfortable ones – shall we sit down and work this out?