Thank you to all who prayed for my safe journeying during my week in Shyogwe diocese in Rwanda. Apart from leaving behind my Yellow Fever certificate, causing Katharine to have to drive from Kilkenny to Dublin Airport, and then losing my boarding card for the second leg of the homeward journey, from Ethiopia to Ireland, it was an uneventful trip. The greatest hardships were travelling on mud roads and washing in cold water in the mornings, neither of which were hardships at all when compared with the extreme poverty suffered by most of the people.
It was encouraging to see progress with agriculture and education and medical care and to see how far small amounts of money could go, it was encouraging also to try to learn about the strengths of the churches there and what lessons might be brought home. Three brief words seemed to capture those things at which the Africans were so strong: community, worship and service.
A gathering of an African church is like a gathering of Christians in New Testament times, it is the gathering of a community, there is a genuine warmth and affection among the members. How far is that true of churches in Ireland? Is there a genuine sense of community, or do we go to church, sit with the people we know and talk with those who are our friends, and sometimes ignore, or even avoid, others? (I have to confess to having too often done this myself!) We need to ask ourselves what we can do to make our churches stronger communities.
Worship in Rwanda is a great event. People take God very seriously, they prepare all week for the Sunday worship, there may be as many as five choirs in a congregation, and the service is something into which people will put their heart and soul. During the visit I attended two services, one lasted four hours and one lasted three hours; these were typical of the churches. How does our worship compare? What resources do we put into our services? Why do we spend so much money on our buildings and then only use them for forty-five minutes a couple of times a month? Is our worship something that would attract people to join us? What can we, as individuals, do to develop worship? How can we have a greater sense of God?
And what about service? The motto of the Diocese of Shyogwe is “a holy soul in a healthy body” and the diocese devotes much of its time and resources to fulfilling that motto, it tries to serve the communities in which it ministers; people see that the church is prepared to practice what it preaches. We might ask to what extent our churches serve our communities? If the Church of Ireland disappeared tomorrow, would we be missed? Do we give to our communities as generously as God gives to us? How can we be better servants to those around us?
May we be people of community, worship and service in 2016.
Happy new year.