Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem – written in the year of my birth 1951 – says this:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
A comment in the Church Times from Canon Mark Oakley pointed me towards these lines and I used Dream Deferred as the title for a Quiet Morning last Wednesday. The poem seems to me to say something haunting about the experience – the constraint – of lockdown. And since a Quiet Morning seems to have plenty of talk in it, I had time to explore it.
I was with the clergy of the two Church of Ireland Dioceses of Tuam, Killala and Achonry and Limerick and Killaloe – two dioceses which will soon join together. Zoom in these moments is amazing. I was at home in Edinburgh – the clergy, lay readers and others were stretched all along the western seaboard of Ireland from Westport in the North to Dingle in the far south west. There were 53 of them involved. Online meetings make sense when you consider the travel time and cost involved in moving from one end of the country to the other.
Much of what I learned from them had echoes in our experience in Scotland. We have similar challenges in sustaining a presence across huge geographical spaces and with relatively small numbers. We too have found that endless amalgamations and groupings don’t necessarily achieve what is needed – better by far to identify and put in place some indigenous ministry presence in each place. So I listened to people introducing themselves – a relatively small number of stipendiary clergy working with auxiliaries, lay readers and others. A real patchwork of committed ministry.
We talked of course about Covid, about lockdown – about how we have experienced the constraints of that personally. And we talked about how it has affected ministry. We talked about dreams deferred. The real challenge was to explore together how the pandemic will have changed our society – and there can be little doubt that it will be found to have brought fundamental changes – and how we in the church will need to respond.