In 1960 my aunt and uncle left Scotland to begin a new life in Australia. I remember the postcard they sent from the Liner that was taking them and their suitcases to begin a new life in another country, a foreign culture, on the other side of the world. And given the expense and time of travel, the real possibility they waould never see their family again. My dad was an occasional poet, and he wrote a poem called "The Exiles". That was when I first encountered the word, understood its meaning, and wondered at the courage needed to be "an exile".
This week the Centre for Ministry Studies is hosting a Summer School on the theme "Exile: Living Faithfully and Hopefully". A range of people will share theologically and practically, from their wide and varied experience as ministry practitioners and theological teachers. We will think about Jeremiah's message of hope to a doom laden people needing to see a new and different future. Jeemiah gets a bad press as an aid to depression and doom - but in fact his message addresses exactly the tension of despair and hope, the desire to tear down and to build up, the sense of anxiety and dislocation felt in the hearts and minds of those who live through events that destabilise faith and call in question hope of a good future.The Co-ordinator of the Centre is Ken Jeffrey and he will be leading three Bible studies on the message that broke Jeremiah's heart and paradoxically cracked open springs of hope. Ken has spent years in parish ministry and now brings together such experience into the academic and vocational focus of the Centre.
The Main Sessions of input are presented by Marion Carson (see below) and David Smith. David is a leading theologian of mission, deeply read and an extensive writer on the relation of the Gospel to contemporary culture, and has been involved in theological education cross culturally and internationally. Marion will be exploring the theology of hope for those experiencing exile, and exploring faithful and faith-filled hope undergirded by and resourced by the love of God. The building and sustaining of communities of love is one of the imperatives of Christian mission today. David will look particulaly at preaching to exiled people, and bringing hope and transformation through the realities of God's purposeful love and redeeming judgement. In addition to Jeremiah, David will reflect on the ministry of the German theologian Helmut Thielicke, whose preaching to his own people in the last days and the aftermath of World War II, plumbed the depths of human misery and guilt and loss of meaning, and brought a message of hope based on eternal truths on which life could be rebuilt towards hope and a future. David's latest book, Liberating the Gospel, is sub-titled Translating the message of Jesus in a Globalised World.
Three contemporary experiences of exile will be opened up for thought, prayer and reflection. Exile and Mental Health by John Swinton, recognised across the theological world as a leading thinker on the theological issues surrounding mental ill health, disability and the flourishing of human being. Exile and Social Justice has long been a concern in the ministry and writing of Kathy Galloway, former leader within the Iona Community, and continuing in ministry amongst the vulnerable, the poor and those who live in communities that struggle in our increasingly competitive and divided society. Exile and Displaced People includes refugees, asylum seekers and women trafficked in the sex trade across the world; Marion Carson has been a leading Christian voice in confronting such human tragedy and suffering, her recent book is entitled "Setting the Captives Free"; The Bible and Human Trafficking. Marion is one who has researched and travelled with those whose lives are deemed marketable commodities or political inconveniences.
There is great richness and depth in all these occasions of learning and listening, talking and walking in companionship through the days of a week. And it will begin with a keynote address from Doug Gay, who combines ministry and preaching in a congregation with academic teaching and research around precisely the themes of our week - how to live faithfully and hopefully in 21st Century Scotland. Doug is a recognised and important voice in the debates about nationalism, theology and identity and is a reliable guide for us as we ask what it might mean and what it feels like to be in exile where we are, now, here, as the church in Scotland. His book Honey from the Lion explores the ethics and theology of nationalism.
All told it looks like being a memorable and significant week of discovery and new thinking. Which is what is hoped for by all the presenters, the participants and the organisers. There can be few more important ministries today than the raising and realising and resourcing of hopefulness in Christian ministry and mission today.