I have come to know my limits

Canon Missioner Sarah Brown:

Sunday, 9th September 2018, 6:55 am
Tim Peake space capsule at Peterborough Cathedral EMN-181108-162320009

I have never felt inclined to put my trust in nylon. Well - that is not entirely true - I’ve worn a lot of tights in my time.

Put it this way: I avoided the Cathedral abseiling challenge earlier this year in order to let the Dean have his moment of glory (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) and would never agree, as did gallant Tim Peake, to sit in a space kettle and freefall miles to earth dependent only upon a sheet of allegedly flameproof nylon to slow my descent enough to prevent the formation of a vast crater and the eradication of me and whole civilisations.

The fact that it is Very Clever Science indeed would not give me any more confidence. I would not even do it for charity.

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The big charity Sleep Out on September 28 is about my limit. It will be cold and uncomfortable but at least it will be on the ground. I may even break the nylon prohibition on this one. I think my sleeping bag is made of it.

In my twenties I was induced to go on a management training course at a castle in Wales. It was hell.

Trust me, I’m a vicar. I know about hell. I was the only girl and the only coward. To put a good spin on it, my instinct for self-preservation was immensely impressive. I didn’t get past ‘go’ with canoeing because they wouldn’t let me out on the sea until I had proved that I could hang upside down in a capsized canoe for 30 seconds before righting it in a controlled fashion. Capsizing was easy but I could not persuade myself to wilfully remain upside down under water for even a second so just rolled round and round like a huge spluttering crocodile trying to kill a wildebeest, only without the wildebeest.

Abseiling was worse. I could not, yet again, put my trust in nylon and when lowered off the edge of a cliff hung on like a limpet about 3ft down until they hauled me up again. At the end of the week I was awarded the most patronising prize possible. As my colleagues received plaudits for their superhuman strength and acts of heroism my prize was for The Person Who Best Knew Their Limitations. Thirty years on I can still feel the shame.

Being clergy, I need to find theological justification for why, as community-minded Canon Missioner, I am not prepared to do anything involving heights, even to raise money for worthy causes. I have not even taken the excellent Cathedral Tower Tour in case my limitations get more unwelcome public recognition.

I seem to recall that when Jesus was invited to jump off a high place and told that he would be quite safe and receive a large reward, he was categorical in his refusal. In a nutshell, he said “No.” I’m so with Jesus on this one.

The bible says that perfect love drives out fear. If I’d been in that space capsule I’d have prayed continually to the author of that love. I guess I would still have been afraid minute by minute but come what may I would have known that dying or living I was held by God.

Now that term has begun we welcome school parties as well as the public to discover the capsule and the Cathedral and hope that all who come will be inspired both by human courage and endeavour, and God’s.