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Walking backwards to go forward

The Hebrews lectionary reading for Advent Sunday told the story of Abraham upping sticks and moving away from the home comforts of Ur to live in a tent. The story lays the foundation for our tradition of being a pilgrim people, passing through the landscape in search of a deeper truth. Whether Abraham walked backwards is not recorded and the Old Testament tells one story about the impact on one person of their looking back when told not to – Lot’s wife became a permanent landscape feature.

New Zealand Maori culture on the other hand promotes the idea of walking backwards to make progress. For Maoris this means facing and focusing on the wisdom of their ancestors to provide advice about how best to make the journey, with occasional glances over the virtual shoulder to make sure trip hazards ahead are avoided.

In the safeguarding world we do well to reflect on our journey of knowledge and cumulated experience to guide our future practice. But we do need to go forward with our eyes wide open to see the challenges ahead and be alert to the potential pitfalls. We know that if a small number of people with ill intent try to inveigle their way into church life, or existing members suddenly find themselves tempted by opportunity, our walking backwards, not looking forward and running the straight race, will not really help at all.

Conceptually however, the idea of seeking advice and guidance from a wise person is a long standing tradition and mentoring in particular is a well-established learning method. The key quality for a mentor though is to recognise that the lived experience of the person being mentored – the ‘mentee?’- is probably markedly different to the life and work experience of the mentor. It’s generally not helpful to reference what happened back in the day as the answer to today’s issues.

But the Maori tradition does teach us one thing that can help us in our safeguarding task. Churches have been there before and the PCR showed us sadly that there is a history that we cannot choose to ignore. If we step forward blindly without understanding where we have come from, it’s going to be difficult to make that pilgrim journey with the assurance and confidence we need.

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