Reflections from London
Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I… Matthew 18:20. (NRSV)
Where two or three are gathered together
in my name, there am I… Matthew
makes church, I wonder as the smoke tickles my nose. It irritates my throat and I cough. It stings my watering eyes and I close
them. Then, in my mind’s eye I picture
familiar surroundings. The African
high-veld on a clear, cold, June, Sunday morning seems to stretch endlessly
from KwaZulu-Natal to Matabeleland. I
picture the insides of a small hut where forty, or so, squeeze together for
worship. Most people sit on grass mats
spread over the dung floor. A few hard
wooden chairs and benches elevate some of us leaders into honored positions.
apologize to me about the humbleness of the worship space: a hut of grass
thatch, mud walls and dung floor, smelling of the cook-fires that have burned
within and lit by greasy kerosene lamps.
everyone brings their own hymn books. In
accented cadences I hear the words of “Holy, holy, holy Lord God almighty,
early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.”
said. Scripture read. The Gospel preached. Communion celebrated.
a rude hut, in a poor community, people congregate, as they have for years, to
worship the Divine who is behind all, above all and through all. We believe that God encompasses all that we
do. Surely the Holy Spirit fills our
smell of smoke in my nose, the cadences of the songs in my ears, the hardness
of the wooden chair under me says, “Church in Africa.”
when I open my eyes I rediscover: The smoky smell comes from the incense
censure swung by a priest. The accented
words of “Holy, holy, holy,” pour angelically from the boys’ choir dressed in
their frill-necked, Elizabethan choir gowns.
The hard chair beneath my bum was gifted to the church five centuries
ago by some Lord whose name I neither recognize nor remember. And the grandeur of Salisbury Cathedral
rises around me on this Sunday, in the year of our Lord 2011. Surely, this magnificent building erected to
the glory of God eight hundred years ago is church.
upon layers of history, bricks and beliefs, fill the English countryside. We visit ruins of abbeys destroyed in the 16th
century by Henry VIII. And solid
cathedrals, missed by the ravages of kings and German bombs, touched only by
the ravages of time, still tower to the heavens.
spire of our own church, St. Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Brockley, in
the London Borough of Lewisham, has stood high above the community since
a Presbyterian church, it joined the United Reformed Church a half century
ago. As we say the ancient Sursum Corda
in each communion service, the layers of history come alive. As the 1967 United Reformed Church Statement
of Faith fills the sanctuary each baptism service (we have 3-4 baptisms each
month), the cloud of witnesses joins us connecting us through the years.
whether on the arid plains of Matabelaland in Zimbabwe, on the Salisbury plain
or on the twisted streets of London brings together the faithful of all ages
and all places. The Jamaican, Nigerian,
Ghanaian and South London accents in St. Andrew’s lift together to glorify and
praise the God of all time:
help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.
Ana & Tod Gobledale
Ana & Tod are Associate Missionaries with the Common Global Ministries
Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of
Christ, and serve as co-pastors at St. Andrew’s United Reformed Church
Brockley, London, United Kingdom.