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STANDING AT THE GATE OF THE YEAR (New Year, 2018)

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In his Christmas Broadcast in 1939 George VI, quoted some words by (at the time) an unknown poet, that struck a chord with a country facing an uncertain future:

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”‘

So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.’

These words were, in fact, from an obscure poem, God Knows, written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957), a retired London School of Economics academic. The poem was just a small part of a career which included working in India and the East End, industrial welfare and academia.

Minnie Haskins was an interesting character. Born and educated near Bristol, she studied at University College, Bristol, whilst at the same time working in a voluntary capacity for the local Congregational Church. By 1903 she was working in Lambeth for the Springfield Hall Wesleyan Methodist mission and in 1907 she went to Madras, India to work in the Zenana Mission to Women with the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. In 1912, to raise funds to support her work, she published a small volume of poetry The Desert which included the poem God Knows.

Poor health meant a return to England in 1915 where she ran a munitions workers’ hostel in Woolwich for six months, followed by three years supervising the labour management department of a factory in West Ham. At the age of 43 she went to LSE to study Social Science. A long and distinguished academic career followed during which, Minnie Haskins played an important part in the establishment of the Institute of Industrial Welfare Workers, the forerunner of the Institute of Personnel Management, now the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and promoting ‘a spirit of co-operation’ between worker and employer. During this time, she continued to write, both novels and poetry, being describes as ‘a woman of unusual capacity and character … [with] rare understanding and sympathy and infinite patience, combined with a great deal of love and interest in people.’

Finally retiring in 1944, Minnie Haskins died in 1957 but her now famous words on how to face the future without fear lives on, inscribed at the entrance to the George VI memorial chapel in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

For many of us 2018 presents us with a lot of ‘unknowns’ … perhaps more than any other ‘new years’ in recent years. How will Brexit actually ‘pan out’? What will President Trump – the most powerful man in the world – do next? Can anyone really control ‘North Korea’? What about the ongoing threat of militant Islam? Will the NHS finally ‘go under’? And so, we could go on. Perhaps, like never before in recent times, the future seems decidedly shaky? Well … it is if you leave God out of the equation!

The Psalmist reminds us that ‘Our times are in God’s hands’ (Psalm 31:15), and as Arthur Ainger (1841-1919), the hymn writer, reminds us: ‘God is working His purpose out, as year succeeds to year’. We may not be on the verge of WWII, but Minnie Haskins’ words have a very relevant ring to them – which we need to take to heart as we face an uncertain future – ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

For Julia and myself, 2018 is going to be a very exciting year. We haven’t go a clue what is going to happen but, as we have waited prayerfully on the Lord for the last few months especially, we have had a growing conviction that God is about to do something new and exciting … and we are really looking forward to what that will mean as God reveals the future to us ‘step by step’ (Proverbs 4:12). God given ‘faith’ you see, is a solid conviction – not a fantasy – that has ‘substance’ to it although it is impossible to explain that substance to anyone else. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1). God-given faith is a divine deposit in the soul which means that it is actually harder not to believe than believe. It was the kind of deposit that drove Abraham, Noah, and all the rest of the ‘heroes of faith’ listed in Hebrews 11 on to reach their various goals, even if they found it hard to explain to others why they had such confidence for the future. Faith is as substantial as the air we breathe – you cannot see it but it there none-the-less!

So, as we have this real sense of something significant about to happen in 2018 for us, Julia and I also pray for your, and your family’s happiness and well being as well. May you too all have and amazing year ahead! But … don’t forget to put your hand in the hand of God as you go!

Jim Binney

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