David Malouf’s poem “Between Towns” describes the enormous darkness between towns; the unfamiliar, uncharted expanse between the travelers’s point of departure and the destination. Whether that town is a new town, a new culture, or a new civilization.
On the north-west highway stranded, in open country near
Dunedoo a shadow by flashlight mends a wheel, the sky
turns slowly west over north. In frosty paddocks, lights, a
fettler’s camp or boys at early milking.
It might be Sydney or Babylon we left just after noon and how
far is it to the next town (I don’t mean Coolah ) that glows
ahead, or the next star we’ll leap to over the ditch of dark.
Malouf also speaks about darkness in other verses of the poem. This darkness is not deserted however; something very important is held in trust. He also talks about the town as a meeting place where groups of neighbours, before setting forth into unknown country can sit at a trestle table together, gain rest and wait a while.
What does it mean to lead in the type of transition or darkness that Malouf is alluding to, and to witness from that in these times? Something is dying and the new is emerging.
The church in transition is dealing with many issues of global change and uncertainty, and its own issues related to identity, mission and commitment as it seeks to serve Christ in the world.
What kind of response occurs when we pay attention to the call of God in this transition? Even more than developing new vision statements, structures and strategic plans, the type of discernment suggested has a more encompassing focus. This is a call to transformation, to use a language different
from the “management of change”. What does it means to wait? What does it mean to tend the embers of heeding and fanning the sparks of new flames that are appearing and what do we know of God and each other at this time?
We might use the concept of a “larger God” to begin to with. We might need a renewed and radical commitment to “each other” and to the “other” because the church is witnessing to something so very different in an increasingly polarized world. We might suggest that this kind of leader is able to name the theological, spiritual and practical nature of transition times.
God transforms people as they are led through this darkness. This kind of leader names endorses and mobilizes people where the many new sparks of Christ’s life occur. The leader focuses the church outwardly on this “larger God” and the “other”. Marks of this kind of leadership are an authenticity lived though a Christ-led life and something which in the contemporary life in the church we are not that good at — i.e. accepting suffering as the inevitable price of being a contemporary leader.
For leaders in these times the next town is “still in our saddle bags”.
UCA Assembly Associate General Secretary