Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I first met Ashley when we were nine years old. She was new to our school and Ngaire, Jane and I put up our hands to befriend her. Somehow we knew what it meant to include the easily excluded. Maybe it’s something I’d learnt about at church, maybe it’s something our parents had taught us, maybe it’s just instinctive to children who know they are loved.

Ashley had Downs Syndrome and an old, old soul; like she’d accepted life and life had accepted her and they both got on just fine. I was blessed by her friendship. Without even knowing it Ashley taught me compassion and how to delight in daily life – taking time to pick the daisies, that kind of thing. I wish she’d taught me how to be cheeky and sneaky and get away with it. Ash was much more mischievous than me and to my annoyance she’d always get off scot-free, appearing innocent to the authorities.

Ashley died when she was twenty-three and I’d never realised the seriousness of her heart condition. Perhaps that’s a good thing: that I’d never lived in fear of losing her.

I’ve been remembering the friendship I had with Ashley lately. One Sunday evening last month my friend Murray and I headed out to St James Presbyterian in South Dunedin. We’d stopped at the supermarket on the way to get coleslaw, cold ham and ice-cream.
After a few wrong turns and a hurried phone call, a google maps search and some pretty poor navigation on my part, we made it to the old church hall. We’d tried to sneak in the side door undetected but we were late and our efforts at inconspicuousness were thwarted. Everyone turned towards us and we were faced with a roomful of the most beautiful people I have ever set eyes on.
St James holds a weekly evening service – followed by a good feed – for all those in their community who have physical and intellectual difficulties. There were electric wheelchairs and wild cries, sign language and big bright eyes, handshakes and bodies that ache, and words and prayers for Christ’s sake. That night we ate, we talked, we sang, all in the name of Christ, our forerunner and fellow traveller.
The people of St James are children who know they are loved. They know what it means to embrace vulnerability, to include the excluded, to be dependent on God and one another, and to be fed physically and spiritually. They know all this – they live like this – because they know the One who cares for the vulnerable, welcomes the stranger, embraces the outcast and gives food to the hungry.
In this congregation I encountered Christ; I saw his scars and they were beautiful, I heard his voice in words of welcome and embrace, and I felt his presence in the fondness and familiarity I experienced. I first encountered Christ in this way in Ashley, only I’d never realised it ‘til now.

1 comment:

  1. A(nother) beautiful post, Cate. Thank you for sharing this.