Imagine there are two ships carrying the faithful on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land. One is a large ship, carrying the vast majority of the world’s Christians. The other boat is far smaller, a trimaran carrying Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and Liberals each in their own hull.
Some people in the Catholic hull of the small boat have been calling out to the captain of the liner asking permission to come aboard. They have realised for some considerable time that their boat is in danger: at best it seems it’s going off-course, at worst it will tear itself apart as the different sections of the crew all try to go in their own direction. As much as they have tried to make living in their small boat work, many in the Catholic crew have known for years that at some point they are going to have to jump and swim over to the liner, as already some of their number have: an arduous journey which will take a long time.
Suddenly the captain of the liner throws them a line. “Come aboard,” he calls.
Some of the trimaran’s crew are unsure. “Is this really right?” “Should we be doing this now?” “Will we be treated well when we arrive?” And there are the preliminaries to get through, as they tie the harness on and prepare for the liner’s captain and crew to greet them. “Ooh: we’ve never done this before!” “That’s very uncomfortable!” “Do we really need this? Isn’t there an easier way?” Some of the liner’s own crew are surprised by the move, as it had been quite easy to haul aboard those who had spent a long time in the water between the boats, and they are worried that being winched across might make the journey too short, that the new recruits might not have had enough time to get used to the idea of joining a large ship.
But the crew of the liner trust their captain and help the trimaran crew prepare for the crossing — reminding them of the direction they’ve been travelling; recognising that much of what they’ve being doing fits in with life on the liner; helping them with what might be unfamiliar; and assuring them that when they do arrive on board, they will find a way of keeping many of the traditions of the trimaran alive.
The trimaran crew realise that at some point, they are going to have to make the crossing to the liner. They could have swum across earlier, and they have seen how some of their fellow-travellers have done that. They could do it later on, but the distance between their boat and the ship will be greater, and the line might not reach.
So they go now, accepting the captain’s invitation. They realise that they might not be entirely ready, might not be entirely comfortable with the process. And they recognise that the liner is going to be a very different environment from their small boat, and they might not know everything the liner’s crew do. But the crew are friendly and welcoming, cheering them on. And the trimaran crew members know that when they get across, there will be space for them; they will carry on learning of the liner’s ways and traditions; and even though they will soon be wearing a different uniform, they will still be able to make their quarters look a little like the boat which is so familiar. Best of all, they know the liner is going in the right direction and isn’t going to founder.
They buckle themselves somewhat awkwardly into the harness ready to be winched across, place their life in God’s hands and step off the side of the trimaran…