Our family took our first post-pandemic trip this summer, returning to P.E.I., one of our favourite places. I grew up steeped in the writing of L. M. Montgomery and nothing informed the imagination of my youth more than the Island. Despite the beautiful scenery of the Island, for large chunks of time my family could be found hunched over, squinting at our feet. We are sea glass hunters.
Sea glass comes in various colours and sizes, but most are miniscule and seemingly inconsequential. If you are not paying attention, it blends perfectly with the colourful stones and shells on the beach. It is glass that has been transformed by the ocean’s waves carrying it from where it started, as someone’s broken garbage, to where it ends up, as glinting treasures, smooth to the touch and fascinating to the eye.
Cecilia has the best eye for sea glass. Gordon and I get better the more we search. Dan found the crown jewel of the week— a large chunk of rare sapphire. We consider sea glass hunting to be a team effort, so we all celebrate when one of us finds a particularly interesting piece. The hours often slip away from us as we sift through the piles of beach stones. We wonder where the glass may have come from, imagining what it may have looked like when it was shiny, new, and whole.
I write a lot about the Church. My recently published book, Why Gather?, looks at why the Church might matter in a world that seems resolute about moving on from organized religion. It was born out of three interrelated threads: serving in a Church that has been in decline as long as I have been alive; struggling with burnout; and the disruption (and clarity) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the years I have watched friends and colleagues choose paths other than Church leadership as the emotional toll of trying to save the Church catches up with them. These opt-outs seem to be snowballing in the wake of the pandemic. It is easy for congregations and leaders to become consumed with the question of the Church’s survival; but the more important question is why bother at all? Does the Church have anything of meaning and relevance to offer our fraught and chaotic world?
I believe the answer looks something like sea glass hunting. I find hope — not in imagining what the Church could be — but in seeing instead what the Church is. We are a collection of multi-coloured pebbles washed up on the beach, and the glinting and glimmering presence of God is present in us, through us, and around us. We do not have to make this happen — it is there whether we are looking or not. What we can do is get better at attending to the stories of where we have been, where we have been brought, and how God has done something beautiful in us. These stories are our richest treasure.
It is a treasure that needs to be shared and must be at the heart of why we keep showing up for one another, and why we believe God calls us together. These holy stories, of sea glass among the pebbles, are not limited to the Church — they are everywhere. I am convinced we can offer no better thing to the world than language, permission, a commitment to look again (and again) at the beach and see the beautiful things God is bringing in with the tide.