Palm Sunday like Pentecost – Tooting United Reformed Church

The mood was celebratory. This was not only because the whole congregation of all ages DSCN1698sang “make way, make way” as we processed out of the church and walked around the block, on quite a busy Sunday morning, and then back into the church. My guess is that every Sunday in this very friendly congregation ‘celebration’ would aptly describe the disposition of the community.

I got there quite early, having had to plough through snow and the biting cold to get to the trains. And so did the many others who turned up to generate energy, warmth and passion in worship. I was invited to preach and lead the prayers of intercession. The whole service shaped by the Revd. Helen Matthews, was participatory, with contributions from readers, the Cheerful Singers, a praise bandDSCN1672 lead by Tiago from the local Brazilian Church, prayers by the Revd Antonio Gomez (Brazilian pastor), the benediction by the Revd Daniel Yoo (Korean minister with the United Reformed Church). Helen was the presiding minister throughout. The service felt more like a Pentecost experience, with lively singing in English, Twi/Ga and Portuguese and prayers in English and Portuguese, a procession with palms and singing, Ghanaian style singing and dancing around the church and benediction in Korean.

I was struck by the presence of two other minister colleagues (and their members) had joined us. It was a delight to meet the Revd Ben Nelson and Revd Antonio Gomez. Ben is a minister of the New Testament Church of God, Tooting. He works part time as a prison chaplain, with his main focus being ministry in Tooting. With his team, he has built up a healthy church, including a good number of children and young people. They meet at Tooting URC on Sunday afternoon for Sunday school and then a service, during the week for bible study, youth activities and teaching. They are also involved in street evangelism. Antonio, pastors in a movement called ‘Consciência Cristã’, which I am told is a Brazilian diaspora based missionary movement DSCN1675concerned with building up the church in the UK. This young church group has joined Tooting URC, worshipping with the congregation on Sunday mornings. Antonio has just started bible studies for local Portuguese speaking people in the Tooting and Balham (St Andrew’s) churches. I learned that the congregation is delighted to be working with these two churches, not only in sharing facilities but also in a joint vision for mission and ministry to and with their communities and in the local area. According to Revd Matthews, the two minister colleagues “are a great blessing” to her ministry in Tooting.

In my reflections, I explored the consequences of not being able to live up to the expectations that individuals and crowds place on us, especially when these expectations may not match one’s own sense of call and vocation. As the post Palm Sunday events suggest, we can quickly sense the kind of person the crowd wanted Jesus to be. On their DSCN1706list humility, sacrificial giving for the sake of others and obedience to God would not find a place. So when Jesus demonstrated that his kingdom was not of force but of  the heart – where the last is the first and where one has to lose to gain – admiration turned to fury and the crowd-puller and miracle-worker was nailed to a cross He had refused to conform, to live up to the expectations of others!  He had repeatedly pointed out that the expectations of him and his mission were not those he had for himself, but this had fallen upon deaf ears.  Noting the hymns we sung in worship I asked: how can we repeat these words and then walk by on the other-side of the road while Jesus lies in a gutter? How can we be lost in wonder and praise at the gracious mercy of God one day, and then turn around and make the most nasty judgment of someone the next day, writing them off, DSCN1693without showing any sign of that grace? Can we sing “brother, sister let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you,” and then walk out and treat each other with no sense of the way of the ‘foot-washing’ One we follow? What does our worship mean when we hear others dismissing Jesus and his offer of full life? Do we praise him with our lips or crucify him with our silence? I ended my reflection by reading from a children’s story, with a very animated congregation of adults and children joining in the story as they brought it alive.DSCN1670

The warm, friendly and animated conversations that followed as we shared in coffee/tea and plenty savouries, underscore for me that ‘all is well’ with the ‘heart and soul’ of this community. I met people from as far as New Zealand and Brazil and others who just dropped in, perhaps having seen us, ‘fools for Christ’ processing in the cold with Palm branches, singing and dancing.

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