From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the good of God and of neighbor be in these feet. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Today, as in Fursa’s day, it is often the moving and going of our brothers and sisters that we celebrate as signs of great faith. “What faith,” we say, “of Fursa to journey in those days all those miles from Ireland to England and from England to France.” To be sure, travel was an uncertain and dangerous affair in those dark ages. Indeed, it was on a journey in France that Fursa took his final steps on Earth. Journeying truly did take some faith.
However, it is often in the not going; the staying and persisting that faith most strongly proves its mettle. God has given us feet to go and feet to stay. Often it will be the good of God and of neighbor that will call us not to leave but to stay.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells his apostolic band to stay with any people who will welcome them, and to remain eating and drinking with them, serving their needs and teaching the gospel. Fursa did this. At Cnobheresburg, he stayed a full ten years, building Christian communities near what is now called Burgh Castle on Britain’s Norfolk coast. He may have stayed even longer at Killursa in Ireland, pioneering his first communities and drawing great congregations to his chapels before he turned his back to Ireland and made his bold crossing to England.
Had he not persisted in working the soils of these two places for so long a portion of his life we might never have heard of Fursa, for his fruit took time to show itself.
It is in their nature that pioneers are always wanting to start things. However, going and beginning is the easy part. The apostolic pioneer must also stay a while in order to lay a solid foundation for his or her work. Therein lies the faithfulness of an apostolic faith. Faithful as he was, Fursa stayed.
Once in Britain, and away from the crowds who attended his chapels in Ireland, Fursa set his emphasis afresh on making disciples through community and teaching face-to-face. This relational focus would have meant that Fursa’s hope for lasting fruit was generally invested in a very few people at a time. To persist with his few would have taken a good deal of faith – especially in those inevitable moments when the youth and immaturity of his teenage companions promised to exasperate him.
Weekly, Fursa sought to persuade his pagan neighbors to give up familiar ways and beliefs in exchange for the new and unfamiliar notions of the gospel of Christ. Such work requires a faith ready to bear with frustrations before fruit and disappointments before reward. Fursa’s was a faith that persisted for the long term, and for the good of his neighbors.
Something else bounded Fursa’s circle of influence, too. As Fursa continued in his ministry, he came to lay ever greater emphasis on his times of reclusion away from the community, spending progressively more of his time each week alone in his secret cell, given over to contemplation and conversation with God. This rhythm of life meant that Fursa’s time in conversation with people had to be even more selectively chosen. Again, such a strategy calls for faith: faith that these fewer encounters would in due time bear fruit, whether pastorally or evangelistically. In that sense, Fursa’s twofold emphasis on relational ministry and extended times of solitary prayer limited his constituency. Staying so long in one place at a time also limited the scope of Fursa’s immediate impact. But stay he did, for the good of God and of neighbor.
We can all be tempted – whether by the excitement of the new, or boredom with the old, or the simple dread of the day-to-day duties of life and faith – towards a rhythm of life that runs too swiftly from one activity to another, or from one physical or social environment to the next. That is why it is most especially at those times when our feet are itchy that we need to pray soberly with Fursa that our moving and our staying will always be determined by a self-less motivation, in other words that “the good of God and of neighbor” may instruct our feet.