‘Mere te’ Vicar?: The half-finished Heaven

At Saint Alban’s Church we are busy preparing for one of the most colourful – and tastiest – events of the year: Pentecost.

Speaking in tongues
Our service, Many Voices, One Spirit, is an annual reminder of the wonderful diversity of our congregation. With over 20 different nationalities worshipping regularly on a Sunday, we are something of a spiritual United Nations, and Pentecost is when we celebrate that in a particular way.

The 10:30 morning service on May 15 will see the pews filled with folks wearing their home country’s national costume, while the readings and prayers that day will be in several different languages. I read the Gospel in Irish last year – I’m pretty certain it was the first time that had happened in Saint Alban’s in its almost 130-year history!

The formal proceedings will be followed by an informal potluck lunch with people bringing their national foods and recipes to eat and share. If last year’s offerings are anything to go by, it will be quite a culinary cornucopia, and not to be missed.

Through doors, across bridges
It’s all to mark the Feast of Pentecost, a festival that recalls how the earliest Christians were inspired to build bridges of understanding and communication across linguistic and cultural divides. It’s a call to see our differences as beautiful and enriching while, at the same time, also acknowledging our common humanity and our essential unity.

In preparing for the Pentecost service I came across an evocative sentence from the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. This Nobel Prize-winning author, who died just over a year ago, summed up the glory and ambiguity of the human condition in these words: “Each person is a half-open door leading to a room for everyone.”

What a great description! On the one hand, we are half-open doors – or half-closed doors, depending on your perspective. Either way, the good news is that the door is ajar. What’s more: when we risk entering another’s space, or allow them to enter ours, we find that we are not diminished, but enlarged. We may even find – on the other side of that encounter – a new spaciousness and a shared home where there is room enough for all of us.

Openness more key than ever
It seems to me that it is just such a generous vision that we need in Europe right now. When there is a temptation to slam shut every half-open door and erect insurmountable barriers, we need our poets and artists to remind us of nobler and worthier possibilities. And people of faith, likewise, have a responsibility to play their part in presenting an alternative to a world of bolted gates and high walls.

It’s what the Pentecost service at Saint Alban’s is all about: nurturing a space where all are welcome and where ‘unity in diversity’ is celebrated. You might say that it’s a foretaste – and and an appetising one at that – of the way things ought to be: a preview of an as yet unrealised Heaven.

By the way, you may be wondering about that Tomas Tranströmer poem. Do look it up online – the title, ‘The Half-Finished Heaven’, says it all.