I know the church is called a flock because of all the sheep and shepherd stuff in the Bible, but what about geese?
The sun was not quite up when I started Sunday’s walk, but its widening light woke them. They came in sorties of four and six and twenty or more. Hundreds of them, rising from reedy slumber, sounding a cacophony of clarinet squawks, circling and settling into the shallow flow of Mill Creek—“Mill Crick” to Native Oregonians. And there they gathered, milling about, if you’ll pardon, black-stocking-goose-ankle deep in the stony, watery murmur, just outside the walls and towers of the Oregon State Penitentiary. Canadian Honkers, their white cheeks and black necks periscoping from the variegation of their tweedy brown torsos.
You’ve probably heard this before, but it cannot be shared too often—there is a particular and wonderfully organic order to flights of geese:
1. There is no hierarchy—certain birds lead, but never for long. Each goose drafts on the bird before, with the lead goose taking the brunt of plowing through the air, until it is replaced by another.
2. There is no rigid order. Geese don’t move in a strict or even “V” formation—they are an ever shifting mix of W’s and snaky lines, forming and reforming at apparently random will, yet they are never disordered.
3. Encouragement is constant. The incessant honking, we are told, is a message to the lead flyer—it says, “We’re still here!” “Keep going!” “Someone else will take over soon!” It is a clarinetic blessing, never ceasing so long as there is breath, so long as there is flight.
Many have pointed out the powerful model geese offer the church: a model where lead rolls shift and change as needed; no burning out, nor any clinging to status. A model where new groups form and reform, as desired, with grace and ease—following the general outline, but without the need for institutional compliance. A model where there is always always always an encouraging word.
Blessings, then, on the flock, wherever it is found, whether ovine or avian!