THERE’S a story I’ve told my congregations and also many others. Long before I was a vicar, in my mid-20s I began work as a trainee solicitor in a firm in Birmingham. After a couple of years, I made legal history, for a nurse who had been sacked for not being able to work due to post-viral fatigue. A new law preventing sacking on the ground of disability had come into force and I won what was then a record settlement for my client, with the case making it to the front page of the Financial Times.

In the firm I was lauded and it wasn’t long before I began to believe my own hype, thinking I was invincible. I took on more and more work and spent longer and longer in the office. The firm as a whole was struggling, the closure of branches meant more cases being transferred to each of the remaining lawyers. Other colleagues left because of the amount of work but I couldn’t be seen to be weak or to say I couldn’t cope, so I kept on.

Then one morning, four hours after I had arrived at the office, I got a call from a lawyer with whom I’d clashed in previous cases. He rang to ask where I was. It was 10am and he was standing outside a court in Leicester, where I should have been.

I had been so busy, stressed and overwhelmed with other cases that I had completely forgotten. If I told the truth then he could have walked into court and struck out my client’s case.

I had a second to decide what to do.

The thought of admitting my failure was too much, so I made up a lie designed to save my client’s case but also my own skin. It was a silly lie, but a lie nonetheless, and even as I said it down the phone I knew my opponent didn’t believe me.

A week later the judge in the case sent a letter questioning the lie and asking for evidence to back it up. Of course I had none. So in the end I walked into my managing partner’s office and told him what I had done. He said he would have to write to the judge and apologise and told me to do the same. I did so.

As a result I received an acknowledgement from the judge and some time later, a formal reprimand from the body which oversaw the work of solicitors.

When I left the law over a year later to start working for the Church I told my new boss all about what had happened. “I wouldn’t worry too much,” he said, “we’re in the business of accepting apologies”.

St Augustine once wrote that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. What he realised was the thing that has drawn people to Christianity for 2,000 years – that far from being a gathering of the holy and perfect, church is a community of people who mess things up all the time but have discovered, with relief and gratitude, a God who knows, forgives and loves us anyway.

The occurrence of a crisis – be it failure, redundancy, breakdown or pandemic – is a reminder that in brokenness we can be remade. The wideness of God’s mercy, to quote the old hymn, provides a basis for starting over, hoping afresh, shaped by events that have gone before, however hopeless they may seem.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham.