Rector's Letter - August 2002
My dear friends,
I've never talked so much about sex in my life before.
In a fifteen-day exercise in Germany it’s the night before R&R and the Battalion have moved into camp to clean themselves up in preparation for 24 hours off-duty. Hamburg claims to have "the most sinful mile in the world", the Reeperbahn, and over the next day the lads are intent on testing its reputation to the limit. The thought crosses my mind: "They didn't prepare me for this at Theological College!"
Their first shower for a week has put them in a good mood. I mingle with small groups as they drink a few beers and begin to mellow. The conversation is coarse and laddish. Spend a couple of minutes with them and they'll give an outrageous and frank description of how they intend to spend their money. It's their way to be "in your face". They lay down the gauntlet and watch to see if you'll back away. But spend a couple of hours with them and some of the bravado fades. The group around me begins to grow. With genuine interest we discuss morality sex and love. Their questions are searching and honest… and completely unrepeatable on these pages!
At times I am Canute trying to turn back a tide of testosterone. I find myself desperately wondering what Jesus would be doing if he were here? He was completely at ease with sinners. He went to their homes and their parties. He visited their streets and their bars. He sat and ate and drank with them. He didn't spend all his time telling them how terrible their sins were, but he told them that somewhere deep inside them was the Kingdom of God - look closely enough and you will find it.
As I move on to the next group, I leave them with the promise that I will always be prepared to hear their confession. That always raises a smile, but in fact over the coming days I do. Not formal, not fixed, but whispered asides "I did try boss, but I failed".
I think it's fair to say that my time with the Paras is never a rest, but it is always a "refreshing change"! They are a remarkable bunch of lads, sinners all of them. But I would lay down my life for them - and Jesus, of course, actually did.
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