I was in a large garden on a gloriously warm summer day. The fragrance of the newly mown lawn filled the air. The whole garden was bathed in a golden sunshine which lit up the rich colours of buddleia, lavender, honeysuckle, roses and a multitude of other flowers and shrubs.
As I walked, the garden was suddenly totally transformed into the depths of winter. A few large snowflakes danced on a bitingly cold wind and a crisp white hoar frost scrunched beneath my feet. The fruit trees were denuded and bare. I could see a group of people in overalls pollarding some of the larger trees.
A group of people came towards me, unaware of my presence. At the centre of the group was a tall sun-tanned man wearing wellington boots and dressed in garden overalls. He was showing a party of guests around the garden on a sort of guided tour. He was smiling a lot and seemed very content with his surroundings. He would occasionally stop and point something out to the visitors in a rather exited way, like a young boy showing off a new toy to his friends. The guests looked intently focused on what they were being shown and spent a long time watching the other gardeners pruning the trees and shrubs.
Just before the dream ended, the winter had melted quickly away and the scene had returned to summer again.
I believe the gardener in the dream was God, showing a group of angels? around the church in the UK in the early Twenty First Century. Whereas many look at the Church and see a wintry picture of brokenness and barrenness (dwindling numbers, divisions, an institution out of touch with contemporary people and death), this vision suggests that God sees things from a different perspective.
God is seeing this winter not just as a time of death, but also as a time of preparation. God sees behind the frosted garden the coming spring with its riot of fresh growth. God sees the sap rising in seemingly barren trees and shrubs which in time will produce next summers flowers and fruit. God looks at the current winter and sees within it, all the potential locked inside and ready.
I think we need then to accept that this current time in the Church is a lot about the waiting of winter. It is a time of divine preparation for what is coming, for what God is yet to do both in the Church and in the nations throughout the western world.