Letter from the World Church
We often think of church in terms of the local building where we worship, or as the Christian community to which we belong. But the Church is so much more than that - there are estimated to be 2 billion Christians in the world, and the church is present in every country on earth. This world wide church is huge and diverse and we are blessed in The Six to have Clare Amos amongst us. Clare works in the worldwide church and will be writing a letter every now and then bringing this worldwide church to us in North Kent, giving us a taste of what life and faith are like in other parts of the world.
You can read her letters here. Previous letters are available for download at the bottom of the page
Letter from the world Church
My Easter ...
Clare Amos writes:
On Easter Day 2012 I was glad to be worshipping at one of the churches in The Six – Newington. The church looked beautiful, the music was great, there was a warm and friendly atmosphere in the congregation, young people played a part in the service, the ‘double act’ of Amanda and Alan felt just right and (if I am allowed to say it) I think that Alan’s reflective meditation on Jesus who ‘gives us the slip’ somehow hit the spot. I picked up a copy of ‘The Six’ monthly, marvelled at the variety of activities that were going on, and made a mental note to try and arrange my work diary so that I could get back from Geneva for at least one or two of them.
The following Sunday – yesterday at the time of writing this – I was somewhere rather different. A different continent, a different denomination, and with different companions. I was in the city of Jos, in the middle of Nigeria, worshipping with a congregation belonging to what is known as part of C.O.CH.I.N (the Church of Christ in Nigeria). The Church is an evangelical denomination, instituted by Africans (ie it is not structurally related to any specific European denomination such as Anglicans or Methodists). I was in Jos with a colleague from the World Council of Churches, Nigussu Legesse, who is himself Ethiopian Orthodox. (Intriguingly because this year Orthodox Easter falls a week after Western Easter yesterday was actually Nigussu’s Easter Sunday and the day he broke his Lenten fast – for the previous 55 days he had not eaten any meat, eggs, milk, cheese. The Ethiopian Orthodox put Anglicans in the shade when it comes to keeping Lent!) Nigussu and I had been taken to the church by a splendid Nigerian pastor Revd Wushishi, the General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Nigeria, who was helping us in our work of preparing for a joint Christian-Muslim delegation which it is planned will visit Nigeria in late May.
At the service in Jos children also played a part in the service – they sang to us and one of the older ones gave a heartfelt testimony about prayer. The sermon slot was also interesting – a thoughtful ‘take’ on the story of Zacchaeus (the little man who climbed a tree to see Jesus) reminding us that Zacchaeus’ behaviour in running after Jesus and then climbing the tree meant that he was for these moments behaving like a little child – in other words one of those to whom Jesus had promised the kingdom. Zacchaeus, the tax collector who had ‘trousered’ for himself more than he should, was a figure many Nigerians recognised only too well – given the endemic corruption which plagues the country. There was a lovely moment when we prayed over a young couple who had been married in the church the previous day – and they in turn donated some songbooks in thanksgiving for all the help they had received from the church and its members. As with several of the churches in The Six it was clear that there was need for work on the church building – only here it wasn’t a case of restoring a beautiful old building, but rather finishing off a new one – for the place where we were worshipping was only half constructed – and money was still being raised to finish it off. As with The Six there was also a church newsletter – which carried much of the same kind of information as that which our churches produce – times and dates of services, contact details for the clergy, and a brief note about the worship and focus for the week. The ‘notices’ section of the newsletter though was perhaps slightly different from what might be read in Newington or Hartlip, Upchurch or Lower Halstow, Iwade or Stockbury. Alongside mentioning that the next issue of the church magazine would soon be available and that there were some German Shepherd puppies for sale, the newsletter mentioned the following (I quote); ‘The Pastors, Elders and Security are appreciating members especially women for complying and not coming to Church with their bags.’ ‘The Pastors and Elders appreciate that it is difficult to get to Church in the last four weeks due to checks. No matter what, don’t get discouraged, be more encouraged that we serve a living God.’ ‘Beware of where you park your car, The enemy has devised a new strategy. They may open your car trunk and place bomb in it and monitor you until you get to a target destination where it can be exploded.’
About six weeks ago, on February 26, as people were gathering for the beginning of the service (at 7.00am – worship begins early in Nigeria) a car, driven by a Boko Haram suicide bomber raced into the churchyard, heading for the half finished building, intending to detonate an explosion in such a way as to bring the building down upon the heads of the several hundred worshippers. Fortunately, because it hit a motor cycle parked in the yard it was brought up short and the bomb detonated in the yard itself. Fortunately too, the main blast went in a direction away from where a large crowd of people were standing. In the event ‘only’ four church members were killed. But of course the scars remain, not only physically and visually on the building, in the yard and on a mango tree which took a lot of the shock, but among the congregation – both those physically injured on that day and those whose scars are more internal. The congregation will take quite a while to get over it. It hadn’t destroyed their faith – far from it – they were even more boldly proclaiming the resurrection. But they were having to live with daily diet of security concerns, checkpoints (over the last few days I must have been through at least 50 checkpoints – and we went through two to get into the Church itself), and constant worry about where and when the next attack would come.
Last Friday, also as part of my visit, I met with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan. He explained to me that he had to leave the gathering we were at early because he needed to go and preside at a mass of thanksgiving for the recovery of a young woman who was the only survivor of another Boko Haram bomb blast in the lobby of the UN building in Abuja last August. (Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city.) Monday morning’s newspaper, the Daily Trust, carried a report of the mass and the young woman’s words afterwards. Her name is Miss Member Feese. Her words were powerful stuff. She said, ‘I would like to beg them (Boko Haram) to stop the violence because violence is never the answer. They can get what they want in a different way, in a more civilised way without attacking innocent people. I would like to thank Nigerians for praying for me because without their prayers, I won’t be here today. I also like to appeal to the government to improve on health care system in Nigeria. The government should take serious steps to improve the system because this can happen to anyone and without proper health care, no one can survive.’ Perhaps it is worth adding that although ‘recovered’ Member has lost a leg as a result of the blast. Also the reason she survived is that her family had the resources and contacts to enable her to be flown by air ambulance for treatment in the United Kingdom. A number of others in fact survived the initial blast – but then died due in part to the poor standard of health care provision in Nigerian hospitals.
I am not one of those who think that Christians in Africa have it all right, and those in the west have it all wrong. We have things to learn from each other, and we are called to support each other. I am also only too aware of the dysfunctionality that dominates life in Nigeria – the vast disparity between rich and poor, the lack of what would be seen as essential services in the UK (basic health and education for example), the mindblowing level of corruption on the part of too many politicians. ( The UK ‘Cash for access’ scandal or MPs being over generous to themselves with their expenses would be very minor tremors when compared with the Richter scale of Nigerian political and financial scandals.) I am glad and grateful for organisations and institutions such as the Anglican Communion, or USPG, or indeed the World Council of Churches which enable Christians, both Anglicans and members of other churches, to build bridges towards each other across the divides of continents and cultures. I have been deeply moved to be with the Christians of Nigeria in these last few days, to share a little of their pain and their hopes for a transformed future.
Please pray for all the peoples of Nigeria.