It is summer in Beijing. That means temperatures in the high 30s (celsius) and for me, crazy hair. (Heat + humidity + bike helmet = wayward waves).
It is summer in Beijing. That means homeleave for many in our congregation. Trips to other places we/they belong. Small attendances at Sunday worship. Resulting informality.
It is summer in Beijing. That means leaving for new homes for many in our congregation. In any given year about 30% of the congregation will leave for their next posting/position or to return home.
People say that the heat and the grim grey air are the tough bits of the Beijing summer. To be fair, I can see that. But our hepa filters which pump more breathable air into the apartment, and air conditioning, act as a buffer from the worst of the heat and the haze.
All this leaving seems tough to me this year. Last year I was sick and not even in Beijing for most of the “leaving season”. I said “good-bye” to people by virtual means. But this year I am here. There is no buffer of sickness or distance.
As people leave for a diversity of places in the world, it is hard to imagine that I will ever cross paths with many of them again. The joy and the gift of this congregation is the way that it connects people who might otherwise never meet. People of every age and stage, from dozens of countries, all kinds of work… And we make community with each other. And it changes us. Well, I will speak for myself. It changes me.
As pastors we get trusted with people’s vulnerabilities. We are asked to care for a community and what its members value: their faith; their love for God and neighbour; their relationships; their families; their identities. We lead worship. We hear stories. We speak words of comfort and of challenge. We point over and over again to God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s unfathomable love. At least we try to. And we love them: those members of this congregation.
It is summer in Beijing. It is the season for many people to leave this place. That means grieving. That means hoping. That means loving. That means praying and blessing and farewelling as best we can. That means the vulnerability of an unbuffered heart! And wayward hair. But mostly this summer-season heart: loving, grieving, stretching, breaking, rejoicing.
We praise and thank you, God of our journey, for our brothers and sisters who are leaving Beijing. We entrust them to Your loving care, knowing that You are always the Faithful Traveller and Companion on our way. Shelter these loved ones of ours and protect them from all harm and all useless anxiety. May the future be a source of many enriching and transforming moments. Amen.
(prayer adapted from the Franciscan ‘Praying our Good-byes’ rite)