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What's changed?

The east end of a whitewashed chapel with a wooden ceiling painted in abstract curves in shades of pink and blue. A large grey cross is illuminated by spotlights.

Kathleen Jowitt writes:

‘Can you see what’s changed?’ the Chaplain asked.

My husband got it first. ‘The Tube picture’s gone.’

The Tube picture (I suppose it must have had a title, but if I ever knew it, I’ve forgotten) used to hang on the north wall of the Mary Harris Memorial Chapel at the University of Exeter. It showed the interior of a London Underground carriage, with a handful of disinterested passengers and one lone man standing, arms outstretched to hold the straps: a classic crucifixion pose. As first altos, both of us spent many a choir practice looking at it. I never quite got what it was trying to say, perhaps because at eighteen I’d spent most of my life in very rural Herefordshire and then the only slightly less rural Isle of Wight, and the Tube wasn’t really part of my experience.

Now, eighteen years on, we were dropping in for Evensong on our way home from a holiday in Cornwall. Quite by chance, we’d managed to turn up on the day that the new choral scholars were being inducted.

It wasn’t just the Tube picture. The organ console had been moved from the organ loft down to the ground floor. The choir wore cassocks and surplices, and looked much tidier than we used to in our scruffy academic gowns.

Some things hadn’t changed, though. The white walls. The floor-to-ceiling windows with their lovely irregular glass. The candlesticks and cross of slate and stained glass. Greater Love Hath No Man Than This. The glorious ceiling.

And the sense of a beginning.

I loved my time at university. Three years of learning, of making new friends, of beginning to make sense of who I was. A lot has changed in eighteen years. These new choral scholars are surely beginning a very different three years from mine. And yet I couldn’t help feeling that the important things were still there.

There’s always a temptation to replicate our own experience, particularly if it was one that was meaningful for us. Try to replicate, I should say: of course we can’t reproduce every detail exactly, and even if we could, we’d find that we’ve changed. And then we’d discover that a different person would come away with a different impression entirely.

This Cursillo will be different. It will take place at Pleshey, in Essex, because we can no longer use Bishop Woodford House in Ely, and it will begin on the Friday night instead of the Thursday. It will be the first Cursillo we’ve attempted under Covid conditions.

This Cursillo will be different. It will be different from mine and from yours, whether that was two years ago, or twenty, or, indeed, five years in the future. It will be different because every Cursillo is different. It will be different because every pilgrim is different.

But we can pray that it will be just as valuable and meaningful and revelatory for these pilgrims as mine was, as yours was. We can trust that God’s Spirit is working in and through this new way of doing things – and that what’s important will still be there. How could it be otherwise?


You can join us on Zoom this Saturday to pray for pilgrims and staff on this weekend's Cursillo. Register here.

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