First Larne Presbyterian Church

First Larne Presbyterian Church

On Fences, Stiles and Border Crossing


Build a fence, by all means, if you must; but be sure there’s a stile you can cross.

I penned this proverb after crossing a stunning stile on the Seven Sisters walk between Seaford and Eastbourne.

The farmers probably had good cause to build this fence. As Robert Frost mused in his poem, ‘Mending Wall’, past generations had livestock that needed separating. Better a barrier to save an argument come market time. Perhaps back then ‘good fences make good neighbours’ was wisdom you could hang your flat-cap on?

And yet, construct a barrier and before too long we can’t see, hear or understand our neighbour. She becomes a faceless ‘other’. No need to talk; ‘authorities’ mediate disputes. Traffic ceases and few attempt what now seems a transgression. ‘No trespassers allowed!’

Tensions and troubles rise. ‘Peace walls’ divide towns. Whole communities pass on hate, lacking the conversation to challenge echo chambers and expand horizons.

What difference it would make if those building walls would learn from our bridleways and ‘right to roam’ … to clear a track, remove obstructions, offer a sign plucky ramblers could follow. How might we encourage border-crossing to chat with those on the other side?

What might a stile, for example, look like between Remainers and Brexiteers? Progressive left and conservative right? Black and white? Refugees and residents? Post-Christian secularists and religious devotees?

Facing any wall, Frost would have us ask, ‘What was I walling in or walling out, and to whom was I like to give offense?’ Our first step forward is to interrogate inherited clichés by which we justify division.

Others may side-step such awkward questions. But for those professing to follow the way of Jesus, we are ‘agents of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:11–21). Christ crossed the barrier separating heaven and earth, imploring us to enter his Father’s field through his barb-wired scars. We now extend this invitation to others, leaving self-protection to become a bridge on which people tread on the way home. The greatest right to roam is liberation to love God and neighbour, where all transgressors are met with welcome signs.

In Jesus’ footsteps, how can you help strangers become neighbours and enemies friends – especially in lockdown? Let’s reach across that garden fence and risk ‘trespassing’ in peace. As Frost figures, ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.’ If so, build that stile and let’s get over it.


Dave Benson

Director, Centre for Culture & Discipleship