See, I am doing a new thing...

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”.

[Isaiah 43:19]

You may all be aware of the bible verse “See, I am doing a new thing”…. It’s a verse which looks ahead with hope that God is at work and encouraging us that we won’t be in the wilderness forever. I’ve heard it shared often, but that’s only part of the story…

I don’t know if you’ve noticed (‘perceived’) if you’ve been able to walk or drive around Chester city centre lately, but many of the streets and roads are undergoing some sort of change, whether shop closures, repairs or improvements. I happened upon the sad sight of Debenhams in its final few days before closing the other week. Debenhams was originally the department store, started by the Browns sisters and opened in Eastgate Street in 1976, the year I was born. I remember it as a ‘fixture’ growing up; having my ears pierced there at 16, being taken for a cuppa in the Crypt by my Mum, going to make-up counters there with my girlfriends before my wedding, and many an emergency loo stop when my daughter was a toddler and mid-mastering toilet training!

On St Martin’s Way, the site which was part of the bus station and old City Mission, then a green space, is now making way for the renewed market area with retail and more entertainment space. I remember sneaking out of school before registration to the bus station to meet the boy’s bus to King’s School! It seems that for all the retail which is closing down, that it’s eateries, cafés and more social spaces which are coming into the city. The landscape of our culture is definitely changing… do you perceive it?

Looking at this area with fresh eyes, I perceive that we, as reflected by the demolishing of buildings and the raising up of new spaces, are experiencing massive transition. Covid has changed (perhaps forever?) the way we meet, how we socialise, how we shop, and our priorities. The new things that spring up are exciting, but my goodness, how painful is the demolition. We experience the loss of the familiar, less evidence of our past landmarks and associated memories, the tangible reminder of the wasteland and wilderness. The excitement of the new is merged with the present reality of transition, sandwiched between the sweetness of the old and the unknown of the future.

Closer to home, on the twice daily school run I do, I am noticing the increasing signs of life on Wrexham Road. This is part of our Parish and the site where our team from “The Living Room” will presence themselves and gather people into connection with one another and God. Onto the flattened foundations, bricks and mortar are beginning to make homes; homes bring people, people make community. Onto this building site will be added green spaces, play areas, perhaps shops.

In this, God is not just doing a new thing or creating ‘a way’, but making space for “The Way”; where the streams of grace and friendship will provide for those who are socially and spiritually thirsty in the wasteland.

I am someone who can get focused on what’s ahead. Living in the present and looking to the future, I can forget the former things quite easily; especially now mid-life is starting to play games with my memory!

But I don’t think the scripture is telling is to erase all our tradition and history. So we find ourselves here.

Where’s here…?! If we’re honest, we don’t know. We stand here nonetheless, noticing the changes; remembering the past but hopefully, with eyes ready to perceive not only the new things, but God as change-agent of all that is good and His purposes right in the midst of it all as we wait to see what the new thing looks like.

Anina Thomas

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