Canon Andrew White, formerly the vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, has a chapter in his memoir titled, “Don’t Take Care; Take Risks.”
I’ll admit that I usually say, “Take care” to someone before hanging up the phone or getting out of an Uber. Nevertheless, the first time I heard the motto, “Don’t Take Care; Take Risks”, it struck me as better and truer.
The motto, which many ascribe to Canon Andrew White, particularly due to how he lives it out, was actually instilled in him by his mentor, Lord Donald Coggan.
Lord Coggan first uttered this statement to me as we were walking together in London. We had just come from a meeting of the Council of Jews and Christians and he gripped my arm tightly, looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re a young curate. I want to give you just two words of advice for your ministry: take risks.” The weight of those words stayed with me.
Just a few weeks later, I was in Rome, visiting Pope John Paul II in my capacity as chairman of the young leadership section of the International Council of Christians and Jews. I went for a walk with the Pope through the Vatican and, similarly, he turned to me and said, “You are at an early stage of your ministry. You will go far if you take risks.” I replied, “Yes, Your Holiness, I promise I always will.”
We need mentors who grip us and turn to us and say, “You who are young, take risks!”
Yesterday a friend told me, “I’ve started to ask myself how many risks have I really taken in life? Not brash or irresponsible, but just… exuberant?” His thoughtful self-examination led him to answer his own question with a humble tinge of self-reproach, “I dunno. I’m not sure…”
While Canon Andrew White lived and served in extraordinarily dangerous contexts in Iraq, the ways he conceives of risk-taking are not grandiose or out of reach. He discusses taking the risk of loving, the risk of asking much from God, the risk of seeking reconciliation, the risk of engaging with our enemies, and the risk of trusting God to keep us safe.
Risk does not need to be extreme, but it does always need to cost something. As a mentor of mine puts it, “Effort in, meaning out.”
And Canon White attests: “Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved that didn’t involve an element of risk.”