One storyline in the episode of ‘Call of the Midwife’ that was screened on Sunday 8 February involved Frank Robbins, the owner of a rope works in London’s docklands in the 1950s. Frank was coming to terms with the fact that his wife had given birth to a daughter when he desperately longed for a son. Frank wanted a son as an heir to inherit the rope works because he was the sole surviving male in the family line. He had lost his father and brothers during World War II, and had made a promise to his dead father that he would father a son to carry on the family name and business.
The importance of the family business is encapsulated in something Frank said as he cradled his daughter and walked her around the rope works: ‘No rope, no navy; no navy, no empire.’ History records that the domination of the seas by the Royal Navy was vital to the expansion of the British Empire, while the Merchant Navy was vital to the trade that developed because of the Empire. Yet without a simple product like rope none of this would have been possible.
When I think back to the many uses of rope when I was at sea I realise how badly ships would struggle to function without rope. Rope is used for mooring ships, for securing items when a ship is at sea, for lifting cargo and stores, for taking soundings, etc. The fact that speed at sea is measured in knots is a reminder that a length of rope (the log line) with knots in it was used to calculate speed. Knowing the speed of a ship was vital for navigation even during my time at sea.
Most of the manila, sisal and hemp ropes of bygone days have been replaced by artificial fibre ropes, while wire ropes have long been used for the cranes and derricks used for lifting cargo. However, all ropes employ the same basic principle of being constructed from many fibres that are woven together to give strength and flexibility.
The thought occurred to me that church could be viewed as a rope, comprised of members and attenders who contribute like fibres to create strength and flexibility in the body of Christ. Problems occur when some of those fibres don’t play their part and weaken the rope. All seafarers know to be nowhere near a rope when it is about to part (break). A mooring rope can cut a man in two when snapping back after parting under tension. Similarly, if those who belong to a church fail to play an equal part and share the load then the church is weakened, and may face the risk of breaking under the strain causing mayhem and damage. How is this honouring to God? If without rope there can be no navy and no empire, then we have to consider that if the people of God are not working, or are not working together, then there can be no witness, and therefore no harvest.
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple- braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NLT)
The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. (Luke 10:1-2 NLT)