by Michael N. Jagessar
I am writing this blog from Busan (Republic of Korea) having just returned from a packed-out church where I preached at two of the four services, and where Dougie Burnett brought greetings from Redland Park URC. I am currently attending the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches and will blog about this in my next write-up.
But now for two recent events: On Sunday October 13th I joined the Revd Raymond Singh, the Revd Fiona Thomas, the community at Christ Church URC, Bellingham and ecumenical friends in the area to celebrate/mark Christ Church’s 90th anniversary. Celebration was all around as one entered the building. I was struck by the high turnout, especially from the other churches. Ecumenism may have found itself in a rut at national levels and even all the way in Busan at the WCC 10th Assembly; but in local/grassroots contexts (and implicitly), it is very much alive and thriving.
It was a great Pentecost gathering of people from all parts of the world who are proud to be called or to be British! I loved the participatory nature of the service that included contributions from all age groups. The creative and dramatic presentation of the history of Christ Church can be a model for presenting the history of congregations. It would certainly grab and hold our attention, lest we fall off our pews!
While the foundation stone of Christ Church is dated November 3, 1923, the origin of the congregation seems earlier than that. At least the organ is much older than the building! Two brass plaques inside the church give an insight into how the church has changed since its founding, and how something of its spirit has stayed constant. One plaque reads:
“in affectionate remembrance of the Reverend Frederick C. Young who died in Hong Kong, Feb 1930 and to commemorate a pioneer ministry in establishing this church 1924-28. He was never weary in well-doing.” Another reads: “in memory of Benjamin Kofi Akumanyi. 22 December 1944 to 8th November 2009. Member and Elder of this Church”.
A church with a commitment to world mission when it started has become a place where the world is present in local mission. The story from 1980 onwards is of a congregation which has continued to embrace the community, given that the majority of members live on the nearby Estate and they can usually be found with their sleeves rolled up helping whenever there is a community event taking place. The local ethnic demography is reflected in the Eldership with origins in Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria, Guyana, 2nd generation Black British Londoner, and White in-comer.
I was invited to preach on “table habits: our life together” as feasting was a theme for the celebration, and as especially seen in the grand meal that followed afterwards. I have learnt that this is a community where “food” and “eating” is a central part of all their community activities. I had some very lively conversations after worship – especially with our ecumenical visitors and parents whose children share in the activities at Christ Church. People wanted to know what a “moderator of GA does”, while others were keen to figure out my accent (which Caribbean island I came from?). A couple of conversations in particular have stuck with me. A woman who attended because her children use the church hall told me how impressed she was with the service, the welcome, the atmosphere and the words I shared. She was particularly touched by my reflection on meals and the importance of the table, table-fellowships and meal-times. She was going to clear her dining table of the papers, bills and all sorts of odd bits that have taken over their lives and will be sitting together with her young family around the table for meals and conversation. I was also impressed with one of the younger BME elders (manages her own company) who shared her vision for the church, her journey of faith, and what she wishes to offer for the life of her church and community. Here are people and church ”not weary of well-doing”! The URC is in for a “long innings”.
And to a different form of celebrating: I am not sure how often a moderator of GA performs the wedding ceremony of his/her chaplain. I was privileged to be asked by the Revd Melanie Smith and the Revd Mark Meatcher to preside at their wedding ceremony. It was a relaxed and joy-filled occasion on October 22nd at Westminster College for the group of us who were gathered to celebrate with Mark and Melanie, and to join them ‘at table’ afterwards.
A well-crafted liturgical rite, the singing of hymns-songs such as “take this moment”, “If one could speak” and “we sing a love”, timely pieces played by John Bradbury, a corporate benediction by the couple and the presiding minister, the reading of John 2:1-1, provided the context for my brief reflections on tasting, timing, overflowing and blessing.
I suggested to Melanie and Mark that perhaps there is a parable in the “best wine left to the end”: that they should consider it as an invitation to see their adventure/journey as one of learning and growing together – filled with many horizons – each taking them beyond to new and better tasting ‘wine of astonishing experiences’, especially when they may be tempted to lapse into any form of “arrival mode” or “having arrived”
So here is a timely reminder to all, including churches: may the cautious vintage of planning make way for the sparkle of the spontaneous appearance of grace. Be blessed and become a blessing!