Many years ago, one bright and beautiful summers day, I looked across the fields towards the promenade. The river itself was hidden from view but, beyond the trees, I saw the unmistakable russet billowing sails of a Thames Sailing Barge, gliding slowly along as if it were taking a stroll in the sunny park. That sight has been one of my most enduring memories of maritime Maldon, its heritage and its character.
You may, or may not, know that Thames Sailing Barges were built and commissioned in the late 19th century and by the early 20th century over 2000 barges had been registered. They were a fast and efficient means of transporting goods, able to access shallow creeks and estuaries and many were rigged to be crewed by just two people to transport building, or agricultural, materials such as bricks and manure along the East Coast.
Their rapid success was, however, sadly short-lived and quickly followed by a sharp decline in demand: The last wooden barge was built in 1928 and the last steel hulled barge was built in 1930, just down the coast at Mistley. The barges began to disappear, as did the communities, generations of barge builders, sail makers, owners and crews that had grown up around them and the once busy, bustling waters of the Blackwater estuary began to fall silent. Now just footprints in their last moorings, like timber skewered impressions in watery graves, the ghostly remnants of many of the barges appearing only briefly at low tide. The sounds, energy and people that were once part of this thriving industry now mostly confined to sympathetic texts clinging to sad reminisces of a bygone era, although a few remaining champions, have rallied to the cause, with great skill and knowledge, to keep a few floating survivors alive and sailing, or anchored, in their moorings . . . thank you brother Ralph!
Okay, enough of this salty sentimental, nostalgic nonsense . . . what does any of this have to do with God and how does it relate to you and me today? Well, do you ever feel blown around by the winds of change, living as we do in a world where the pace of change is accelerating beyond imagination. I’ve worked on the cutting edge of Healthcare development and transformation as an advisor and NHS lead, for many years, so change is my bread and butter and I welcome it . . . right? Wrong . . . because if I am being completely honest with you, the rate of change has grown too fast and it often leaves me behind and terrifies me! I can no longer foretell what tomorrow might bring and cannot comprehend the future, just like the fate of the Thames Sailing Barges could not be foretold or controlled by the barge community all those years ago! My dreams and my plans so often turn to muddy footprints, hidden from view, as the tide rushes in and I am out of my depth!!
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by these changing times, advances in technology, wars, politics and shifts in culture with new worldly attitudes pressing in? Do you ever feel like you are being dragged along by a relentless gale? Well, if you do, the good news is that the word of God (the Bible) tells us over and over again about the constancy of God, unchanging and true, giving complete certainty from the beginning to the end of times and His word endures forever! (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus confirmed that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35) and again, in the letter to the Hebrews we are reminded that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
What a relief to read in the book of James that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
He is always there like a safe harbour in which to ride out the storms of the future and if we ever feel out of control, that’s just fine, because the bible tells us that Jesus is all knowing, all powerful, all present and always in complete control. So it’s not nostalgic nonsense after all, but a wonderful metaphor that whatever the times, winds and waves may do, God holds us fast so that “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).