As Creationtide draws to a close, the Revd Caroline Windley reflects on the link between the different roles of honey bees in their hive and the different gifts and roles that Christians have within the Church.
I have kept honeybees since 2010. I have since discovered many clergy are beekeepers; historically parish clergy and religious communities would have kept bees for wax to make candles, rather than honey. Wax is a precious commodity; it can take 10lbs of honey consumed by the bees to create 1lb of wax.
I find inspiration in observing a honeybee colony. Within a hive there will be three castes of honey bee; workers, drones and the queen. On emerging from their cell in which three weeks earlier the queen laid an egg, a worker bee will begin its life as a house bee, cleaning its own cell and then tending and feeding an unhatched brood. They might become undertaker bees removing dead bees or debris from the hive. As they develop they produce wax glands and so get involved in building comb in which the essential stores of honey and pollen are stored. Later they can fly, and their stings develop so they might progress to being guard bees or foragers.
The drones have an easier time of it, their sole purpose is to mate with new queens, but they pay a price for this as the act of mating results in their death. Drones are expensive to the colony; they need feeding and don’t pay their way. As a colony approaches the winter and seeks to preserve its precious stores, drones will be evicted from the hive.
The queen is the mother and servant of the hive. She doesn’t exercise monarchical power but can only act within the wishes of the colony; so, it is the workers who decide whether she lays eggs that will become either drones or workers or even a replacement queen. A harmonious colony is one where there are sufficient pheromones including one known colloquially as queen substance to keep things together. If levels fall, the colony can become out of sorts and might even move towards replacing the queen, who paves the way for her successor.
Bee colonies reproduce through swarming; the existing queen having ensured her succession will leave the colony taking with her half the flying bees, leaving behind a sealed queen cell and the remaining flying and young bees. It’s a risky strategy as it will be another eight days before the new queen emerges and then a further five to 10 days to mature and to mate before she is able to start laying thus ensuring the future survival of the colony. I sometimes wonder in a whimsical way whether this might be a model for church planting?
As a superorganism, each individual bee works for the good of the whole colony. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the body of Christ; how each of us individually has a gift or role that is essential for the well-being of the body. Just as worker bees within a colony have a role to play which may change as they develop, grow and mature, so as members of the body of Christ it is incumbent on us to identify and occupy the gifts and roles we are called to that the church might become more Christlike.
Caroline Windley is the Diocesan Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Oxford.