In October last year, we travelled to England for a holiday. This visit was primarily to visit our daughter Alison and family, but as usual when we visit England we caught up with various members of both of our families and some friends, as we both grew up there. Upon reflection, this visit was a mixture of both good and sad experiences.
On the way to England we met with Floss’ cousin and her husband in Amsterdam. Both couples celebrated Golden Weddings in 2018 and we had our own special time of celebration together. They travelled to Holland in their car and so we had a new experience of travelling overnight on a ferry – the nearest we have had to a cruise! We docked in Newcastle-upon- Tyne which is where our daughter, Alison, lives.
For Floss, the trip up the north east coast was special, being the part of England where she was born and lived for her first 42 years. Watching familiar landmarks from the sea was an exciting experience and brought some tears.
Our reunion with Alison, her husband, Jeff and our grandchildren, TJ and Mia, was both exciting and emotional. They live only 10 minutes walk from Newcastle University, where Alison works, and she came home to meet us and then, after the obligatory cup of tea/coffee, we walked with her back to work and met some of her colleagues. Meeting with family members and friends was, in many cases, bittersweet.
A very dear friend of ours died on Boxing Day 2017. Last time we were both there, we stayed with them for several days and found it strange being in the house and expecting him to walk in. He was a great character; we missed him a lot and shared in many conversations with his wife. Our friend, Freda, has Parkinson’s and to spend time with her and her husband, who is her carer, was so frustrating. We were neighbours and she became a Christian through reading things as she babysat for our children. She now feels that God has abandoned her and we found that a very difficult conversation to have – there are no easy answers. Leaving them was very difficult.
John was able to visit his uncle in his 90’s, who still lives in the village where John grew up. It was a good experience to talk with him and hear his story of a life lived engaged in the local community and Church of England (Anglican) congregation, and to reflect that our understanding of God may differ, but faith is still a deep and enduring bond.
We met with some of those who were young people in the church youth group which we led when we were there. It was lovely to see them again and great that they wanted to see us and spend time with us, but sadly God only figures mainly in conversations of the past.
We visited the Methodist Church where we were married, it was great to meet those of our age group who still worship there, but sad to see the decline in numbers. One of the highlights for Floss was to listen to the pipe organ. It had just been cleaned and renovated and the sound was beautiful.
As a family, we spent two nights in a cottage in Northumberland. John had a day walking with Ali and TJ, along a route called St Oswald’s Way, a route of pilgrimage to the island of Lindisfarne, a site central to the development of Christianity in England. Meanwhile Floss had a day in Edinburgh with Mia.
It is always strange going back. We realise that when we worship, we miss the Uniting Church way of worship, with more active congregation involvement, and really struggle with the Lord’s Prayer in the old version. We say ‘going home’, but it is no longer home. We have no ‘home’ there even though we stay with family. It always makes me realise that life can never go backwards.
Everything changes. Even if God does not change, our relationship with God does.
John and Floss Atkinson