By the Rev. Andy McQuery, Associate Rector at St. Paul’s, Salem
A relationship is a bridge between people. Sometimes the gap is narrow, like a woodland creek easily spanned by a couple of planks and a length of rope, constructed in a matter of hours. And sometimes the distance is vast, requiring lots of thought, skill, hard work, and most of all, time. But, like a well-designed and carefully built bridge, a good relationship can bear a lot of weight and stress, even if it takes some effort to maintain. Famously, the Golden Gate Bridge is constantly being repainted, a never-ending struggle against the corrosive effects of the ocean air.
I knew this about ministry, even before I was ordained. But I see more clearly now that “relationship” is not just knowing someone’s name and more-or-less getting along. The bridge metaphor signifies a connection, a bond, and an exchange: traffic goes in both directions. What bridges do is get people across some sort of divide.
So as I approached the end of my initial commitment as curate of St. Paul’s, I saw it wasn’t just that I knew church members’ names and found them a likeable bunch: relationships had developed which, like a bridge, make it possible to go from once place to another. And so, after prayer and reflection, I asked if I might be able to stay, so that— paradoxically—we can keep going.
There isn’t a lot of bridge-building in our world right now. In fact, there’s a lot more energy for erecting walls. Regardless of fraught matters of public policy, I find the metaphor revealing. One structure helps people connect, the other tries to keep them apart. A while back I saw a religious Op-Ed on border security pointing out that even heaven has walls. How sad, I thought: the author never noticed that the gates are always open (Isaiah 60:11; Revelation 21:25).
Our culture far too readily promotes division over political difference. But partisan divides are not the only problem: we must confront racism and a host of other –isms, as well as the growing crisis of social isolation and disconnection. As Christians, we should be in the metaphorical bridge-building business. Bridges connect people who are otherwise separated. They don’t make distances shorter or gaps disappear—the rivers of the world still mark all kinds of boundaries. But they make it possible for people on both sides to go from one place to another. Like the tenacious, salty winds constantly threatening the Golden Gate, our political climate is actively corroding the structural integrity of our relationships. Let’s work together to maintain our existing bridges, and build some new ones, too.