It was a glorious June day just in the week before Whit Sunday. Chris and I had driven up to the Lake District intending to stay for two nights opposite a village church in the aptly named Crown & Mitre Inn. But we were in for a surprise. On arrival we were told that we’d been expected the day before - so instead of spending two nights there we could only have one. For our second night we’d have to go somewhere else.
The proprietor of the Crown & Mitre did at least find us somewhere - in a neighbouring village - and we were made very comfortable there. But again we were treated to something unexpected. When presented with our room key there was no number on it - just one word ‘FAITH.’ Was this some sort of joke at my expense? I didn’t think my occupation had been revealed. There were three rooms off our landing. The first we came across was HOPE, then there was ours and beyond it, as you’ll have guessed, was CHARITY.!
I couldn’t help wondering, whether someone trying to tell me something. Should I have had more faith when told when told we’d find somewhere else for our second night? Or was I being given, on a plate, a sermon for Pentecost? Perhaps it was both. There was something very reassuring about the Crown & Mitre. The very name encapsulated all that the C of E seems to stand for: order, stability, security - things which have long been symbolised by the close relationships between the monarch and the episcopate. But valuable though order, stability and security undoubtedly are, is that really all that Christian religion is about? These things thing were never meant to be ends in themselves, but rather the means of providing an environment in which faith hope and charity could be nurtured, the fruit of the Holy Spirit whom we celebrate at Pentecost. The Spirit was our Lord’s promised gift to his Church. He himself had received it in full measure at his baptism, when it came down on him in the form of a dove. But that Spirit was not as gentle as it seemed - hence its coming at Pentecost in tongues of flame and a as a rushing might wind. The first thing the Spirit did to Jesus after his baptism was to drive him into the wilderness.
That’s how the Spirit often works. The Crown & Mitre represented my comfort zone - a stable, well-ordered church enjoying a privileged relationship with the state. I was kicked out of it. But what did I find in the place to which I‘d been rather unwillingly driven? A reminder of the gifts which God is so eager to nurture in us through his Holy Spirit: faith, hope and love. We need bishops and governors of one sort or another to maintain a measure of security and stability. But the Spirit is as free as the wind, which blows where it will, and we shouldn’t be too surprised if it sometimes drives us out of our comfort zones. We might even find ourselves in a better place than we feared!