Friday, 28 December 2012
Saint Paul writes "to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1.2).
This Sunday we as a family participated in one local expression of 'those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ' - the local Hebron fellowship in Gajuwaka.
Each time we visit Ammamma and Thatha in Vishakapatnam we also worship at Bethany Prayer House - which they have been faithfully going to every week since they shifted here. Over the years we have seen the simple asbestos-roofed shed gradually get more and more 'neighbours' as appartment buildings have sprouted on what used to be vacant land.
The service pattern however remains the same. Everyone sits on straw mats on the floor. The men on the left and the women on the right. A single bench at the back accommodates those who are too old to sit and kneel on the floor.
After the initial singing session, there is a 'worship message' where the preacher encourages us to worship God will all our hearts. This is then put into practice. As every one kneels people take turns to pray out loud. A man, then a woman, then a man and so on. Sometimes a chorus of a song will be started and everyone joins in. Since most of this was in Telegu, it was hard for us to follow. But here we were, joined with people working as executives in the Vizag Steel Plant as well as with day-labourers, worshipping God together.
After the time of worship it was time for the Communion. To prepare for this another message was preached. Again being in Telegu I did not understand much, but since the copious Bible references were given in English I was able to follow the overall picture.
I have had the eucharist in a variety of settings - in a century old Episcopalian church in New Haven, from a Marthoma priest in Thane, with the medical Sisters in Jharkhand... in our own house-fellowships we share the bread and wine each Sunday to remember our Lord Jesus. Here was another expression of the universal body. I raised my hand and the thick sweet chappati (unleavened bread) was brought to me, followed by a sip of sweet grape juice from a common cup.
Normally after the communion another message will be shared. But on the Sunday we attended it was time for the Sunday School children to have a special programme.
The kids from the church were brought to the front and shared with us what they had learned during the year.
Songs were sung.
Some in Telegu.
Others in English.
Then each child came up and told something that they had memorised.
Bible verses were the most common - but there were also recitations of all the books of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.
No such problems for the little ones at the Bethany Prayer House.
They were quick to say their verses.
Each greeted the congregation with a 'Praise the Lord to all' and then launched into their recitation.
At the end one of the guests was called to give his contribution.
Enoch got up and said that he was going to tell Psalm 103 "verse 1 till whatever I can remember" (to the appreciative laughter). He then proceeded to tell the whole Psalm by heart.
Near the end of the Sunday School programme prizes were distributed to the different students. Each child got at least something.
The little girl on the right is one of the special needs children from the congregation.
Over the years we have seen a number of kids who have developmental challenges.
Just before the end of the Sunday School programme we saw the sign that this congregation is not heaven yet. One of the bigger boys had somehow been overlooked in the memory verse recitation. His mother angrily asked why they were being ignored.
The boy was brought forward and he said his bit before the 'vote of thanks' was given.
Nothing new. The very earliest church struggled with divisions, with St. Paul writing to the Corinthian church about this problem. He said that he had heard that there were quarrels among them and writes: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought" (1 Cor. 1.10)
As anyone who is part and parcel of any local church knows 'Saints above are full of glory, Saint below, that's a different story.' We have so much work to do to accept and bear with each other - and at the same time to genuinely see changes in each other. Its a life-long process.
With the service over it was time for the 'love feast.' The straw mats were rolled up and narrow mats put in their place. The smells of big pots of rice and sambhar being cooked had wafted in during the 4 hours of the church service. Now it was time to eat.
The brothers came by with stainless steel buckets of rice and mutton curry, followed up by sambhar and curd. Everyone was served the food. Grace was said and then all ate together (other than the servers of course).
Someone said that the 1st century church never had a meeting without there being eating.
Over the years we see an echo of this 1st century Christ-following in the life of the Bethany Prayer House. We have eaten many a meal together after the service. The sambhar was out of this world. Blessed food with God's blessed people.
Enoch has shown that he can make friends in a flash.
Even if he doesn't fully understand the language.
Who knows when we will next meet with these dear people.
But till then we will have happy memories of another memorable day with them.
God be with you till we meet again,
Let His rod and staff uphold you
In His loving arms enfold you,
God be with you till we meet again...