There is a story about St. Aidan that we have heard several times this week. After leaving Iona in Scotland to found the abby at Lindisfarne, he spent a great deal of time walking the countryside. He took no knife to protect himself from the very real physical dangers he faced on the road. He also chose not to ride a horse, so that he could remain eye to eye with everyone he met. He wanted to tell people about God face to face, and not with any air of superiority.
The King, however, who was a Christian and supported his mission efforts, thought he would be much better off on horseback and gave him the gift of one of his best. Aidan, not wanting to be ungracious, accepted it.
Soon though, he passed a beggar and wanted to offer some help, but all he had was the horse. It was not a difficult decision. He wanted to walk anyway. So much for the horse!
When they met up some time later, the King chided his missionary friend for giving away such an expensive gift, but Aidan stood his ground. He asked the King which might be more important: the horse or the child of God? The King agreed and Aidan remained on foot, just the way he liked it.
One of the ways that this story has resonated with our group this week is in the spirit of collegiality. We come from different countries: England, Scotland, the United States, Canada and New Zealand. We come from different denominations: Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Brethren, Church of Christ. We come from different academic backgrounds as well, and from different kinds of ministry experience.
None of us, however, has insisted on riding a horse. Each of us has remained open and vulnerable with one another. We have chosen to greet one another with compassion, not judgement. Even when it came to discussing what could be controversial issues of theology, there was no tension, no competition.
For all my cynicism and despair with the church, our little religious community this week gave me hope. Perhaps it is possible to be the church without getting up on our high horses with one another.
Aidan was on to something with his eye to eye approach. And I am encouraged that we were able to not just hear about it this week but live it.