Revd Helen Kempster writes
Just before the first lockdown we invited all our cousins to a garden party at our house. We had decided to make a point of meeting regularly for an enjoyable occasion because we had met at so many funerals in the last few years as we have said goodbye to almost all our beloved uncles and aunts now. As there are only 26 of us we did not postpone the date even when rain was forecast, and we managed to squeeze everyone indoors even when it poured with rain just as we had all settled into garden chairs with our lunch. What a good job we did not postpone our meeting, as we have not had any opportunity since. We look forward to getting together again later this year perhaps.
Also just before the first lockdown I spent an enjoyable few days visiting a number of small, ancient, Surrey churches. Each church has some historical connection to my ancestors and I spent much time photographing the very places my ancestors were Christened in and the very paths they walked up to be married, and various old cottages that they must have been familiar with even if they didn’t actually live in them. I even found some ancestral gravestones. Whenever I go on a genealogy hunt I always wonder what my 16th, 17th and 18th century forbears were really like and, in the light of so many recent funeral meetings with all my cousins, I wonder who has inherited what traits from which
ancestors. Of course, other than a few tantalising clues in ancient wills, we will
never know. Indeed, because of the number of genes involved, we are actually
not always related to some of our great, great, great, great grandparents at all
as their genes have become diluted or left behind. But the fascinating thing is
that even if we no longer carry their genes, we wouldn’t be here if our ancestors
hadn’t been here first. So, for example, even if I do not carry any of the genes of
farmer Henry Lifford, my great x11 grandfather, who appears in the Surrey Muster
Rolls as a “billman of the best sort” in the army of Queen Elizabeth in 1583, I would not be me if he had not been him and if he had not married my great x11 grandmother and produced the next generation.
The same is true of anything that is handed on – including our Christian faith. None of us could have become Christians without the help of someone else, from our parents and grandparents, from people who taught us in church or school, from someone who bothered about us or took an interest in us, from someone who wrote something we read, or from someone we heard about or who impressed us or set us an example. Whichever is true for us, it was through people that God made himself known to us. And whoever we received it from received it from someone in their turn, another link in the chain. What an amazing thought it is that our spiritual ancestry goes back through a multitude of human beings.
Someone once said: ‘The bread of life is the gift of God but it is broken from hand to hand’. Behind each one of us stretches a chain, each link of which is a Christian man or woman, all the way back for twenty centuries until we reach the very beginning. We are connected to the human company of Jesus and his disciples. We are all enriched by that heritage and by its sheer variety. No wonder the writer of the letter to the Hebrews described it as a cloud of witness all around us.
We can all be links in other people’s chains. The smallest act of kindness can make a big difference to someone’s day. It could even make a difference to someone’s life. And, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that will change the world”.