- Dean Geoff Wilson
“I will build my church”. Mt 16: 18
Since arriving in Maridi, I’ve met many people and had many conversations. One conversation, with a young man I met last week, stands out in particular. He had been allocated as my translator for the day. He has just completed his studies in Theology at Juba and hopes to complete his master’s degree next year. He is articulate, highly intelligent and extremely inquisitive. This young man gently probed me that day around the matter of issues which we face in the church in Ireland. I suggested to him that perhaps the greatest challenge was in the area of church attendance and the age demographic of those who do attend. He asked me what I thought was behind this…..BIG QUESTION!!
I tentatively suggested that Post Modern thinking, which asserts that everyone’s truth is equally valid, had shaped people’s choices and worship patterns. So some would argue that going for a walk on a Sunday morning was part of their truth and that their experience of truth as they walk is just as valid as mine. However the truth which I hold to is in Jesus’s life, ministry, teaching and word. The truth I see in Jesus encourages me to gather with others for worship, just as he did and invites each of us to do so also. We have sadly lost sight of this truth in many countries in Western Europe.
So, back to my young friend.
The day after our initial meeting, he returned to translate for me once more. But before we began our work for that day, he asked me if he could ask another question. He had been reflecting on our conversation from the previous day and he asked if I was not concerned for the future of the church. I answered immediately that I was not. If the church were simply the people in Western Europe, then I would probably have said yes, I was. But the church is more than the Church of Ireland or Lutherans in Germany. The church is more than Roman Catholics in Spain or Pentecostals in England. The church is global, and the global church is growing.
On my first Sunday in Maridi, I attended a service of confirmation for 33 candidates in the Parish of St Peter, 21 senior leaders in MU and 2 lay readers were also commissioned. 2886 people attended the service, which included post-service celebrations lasting 5½ hours in total. The atmosphere was electric and the worship was dynamic; there was a real sense of the Lord’s presence in our midst. Both young and old sang, danced and worshipped the most extraordinary God in the most ordinary of contexts. And this attendance was considered to be very low in the Diocese of Maridi!
So I say no, the church is not dying, for the global church is very much alive. But perhaps the church in Western Europe is being humbled for a season. But that view is for reflection on another day following my return to Ireland.
Jesus said to Peter, “ I will build my church”, and that is most certainly what I have experienced in Maridi.