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MINISTER’S LETTER

Sister Helen Julian, Minister General of the First Order Sisters, writes:

Dear Friends,

As I write this, many Mosques around the country are preparing to open their doors for a day to anyone who wants to visit them.  It’s a response to a particular political situation, but it got me

Helen Julian CSF

thinking about doors in general – open and closed.  Those of us who are accustomed to walking through the doors of churches can forget how intimidating that may feel to others.  Especially if they can’t see what lies beyond, it takes some courage to open the door and walk into the unknown.  We know that we’re friendly and will try to be welcoming, but the first time visitor doesn’t.  And they may have picked up strange, even worrying, ideas about what goes on behind that closed door – of churches, and other places of worship.

I remembered two churches I’d visited, which had found ways of making themselves and their life more visible.  One is a London church to which one of my sisters belongs; when they totally rebuilt the church they made the bold decision to make the most of their corner site by installing two walls made almost entirely of glass, so that passers-by could see the congregation at worship. The other is the Anglican Cathedral in Kuching, Malaysia.  When they extended the Cathedral they decided to install a large glass door at the west end, so that passers-by in this country, where Christians are a minority, could see inside and not have to push open a door into the unknown.

Of course there are other ways of ‘opening our doors’.  In our parish churches we can make sure that we are genuinely welcoming to those who do come inside, at Christmas and Harvest, for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, helping them to feel that this is their space as much as ours, and sensitively giving them the knowledge they need to feel at home. We can make use of technology to remove the walls of our churches and share something of what happens inside, through our websites and social media presence.

As a Franciscan community we also look to find ways of opening doors into our life, whether that is through wearing the habit, inviting others into our homes, going out to share our faith and the fruits of our common life, writing, or sharing on social media.

And all of us can ‘open the doors’ of our own lives as well, being willing to speak of the role of faith in our lives, rather than keeping it locked away as a private matter.

But for most of us there are also parts of our lives that do stay behind closed doors – past pain and loss, actions of which we are now ashamed, longings that can’t be fulfilled. And groups too have their closed doors, places where everyone knows that ‘we don’t go’, topics that are never raised, possibilities that are never explored. Churches, communities, families, workplaces – it happens everywhere.

John’s account of the resurrection speaks to me of this. ‘When it was evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear … Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you”.’ (John 21:19)

The doors, which we keep closed and locked out of fear, are no barrier to the risen Christ, and to the peace which he brings. Though it may be a disturbing peace, which challenges our self-protectiveness and our fear of those who are different. Janet Morley, in one of her Eucharistic prayers, offers us these words, which could be a prayer for this Easter season:

‘Blessed is our brother Jesus,

who comes behind the doors we have closed,

and breathes on our fear his fearful peace.’

 

Peace and all good, Helen Julian CSF