As we prepare to celebrate a very special meal together, around this table, it is not inappropriate that we remember those who could feast on the crumbs we leave behind.
So today we have looked for a few short moments at the story of one community that has experienced change. A community among many, many poor communities that has been changed from a hopeless place to one that can look forward to a future that is better. Better for all.
Let’s look for a moment at how that has happened. What is it that has had the power to change not just a situation but the people themselves?
Well, a small group of us are just back from the island of Iona and there we spent a week in community. We cleaned together, we walked together, we worshipped together, we ate together. We shared rooms and time and confidences. There were people of all ages sitting down together, working and playing, talking and even knitting together for six days. In that week a change took place. A disparate group of people became a family, looking out for each other, helping each other, being there for each other. In the Abbey on our last night, I looked around and saw the bonds that had been made, a lady in her 80s who walked with two sticks had made a real connection with a young man sporting a tattoo, a shaved head and a pair of bovver boots. He checked she was comfortable and made sure she had a large print book for the service. An Anglican Nun about to hit 90 years of age was settled in her place by a young Canadian minister. A Mennonite from the States was talking animatedly with a Roman Catholic electronics engineer. A woman who hadn’t been away from home for 15 years because she was caring for a husband and a daughter with chronic illnesses received communion with tears coursing down her face. She was embraced by a tall Dutch man who shared his handkerchief with her and cried too in solidarity. The next morning, hugs and kisses and addresses were shared on the jetty and those who were staying on at the Abbey, resident staff and volunteers, got up early to worship with us and walk down to the jetty. They stood and waved until we were out of sight. Of course there were many things that we found irritating about each other but we learned to cope and to make allowances and to care, really care.
The Iona Community, the group that looks after these weeks spent together in community was created out of love. Not love for an individual but love for others born out of a love of God. It began during a time of hardship, of depression, between the two world wars and George Macleod, then a minister in Govan in Glasgow, saw real hardship amongst the people of his parish, and he saw a great divide between the Church and the people it served. He took some unemployed workers to Iona to work together with trainee ministers to rebuild the Abbey. They did it against all odds with their own bare hands and with money and materials that they had blagged or borrowed or found. George wrote to everyone he knew and begged and now the Abbey stands proud and beautiful looking across the Sound of Iona to Mull and beyond, to all the places that Saint Columba infected with Christianity in the sixth century. It’s a miracle really! Christian Aid’s work in Sierra Leone is a miracle too. Lives are infected, connections are made across a great divide of language experience religion and colour. Changes are effected because of love, love of this good earth that we inhabit together, love of each other and love of God. People are not just given money and aid. They are helped to make the changes needed themselves. They are given just enough physical help to give them back the strength they need for the task. The changes they make in their community will last and will affect all the generations to come. Christian Aid doesn’t try to convert people to Christianity while they are doing these things but honestly, what better witness to the transformational love of God could there be?
The story we have heard today about Mary Samuels and her community is a story that can be repeated across the world with our help through agencies like Christian Aid but only if we can learn to give with our hearts as well as with our hands.