Fore Street Topsham, Exeter

Minister : Reverend Paul Collings BTh (Hons) : email : : Telephone : 01392 206229 : Mobile : 07941 880768

About Us

St Nicholas Methodist Church has existed on the present site for over 150 years since it opened in 1867.

We are a friendly community of believers where all are welcomed. We help each other to worship God, and strive to live more like Christ in service beyond the walls of our church building.

Part of the
Exeter Coast and Country Circuit of the Methodist Church.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Tent making Ministry

 Acts 18:1-4 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.

A Renewal of the Tent Maker Tradition - What is your image of an ordained minister? No doubt you picture someone employed full time by the church as a leader of a congregation, with pastoral and pulpit responsibilities. But was this always the case and is it the only mode of ordained ministry? 

As a former Salvation Army officer working in the Special Educational Field, I struggled for many years to redefine the seat of my ordination outside officership until I realised that ordination was far greater than the constraints of denominational imposed boundaries. 

Currently I am an ordained non-stipendiary minister within the British Methodist Church with pastoral care of a congregations as well as a lead chaplain of Exeter City Centre Chaplaincy and until 5 years ago, the Principal of an Independent Specialist College for young people with leaning difficulties. If you like, I am a minister of the tent maker variety.


Dual Vocation Tent Maker ministry is a relatively renewed ‘order’ within the church, although the term itself comes from Paul's insistence on supporting himself whilst conducting his mission of proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles. The idea of a professional elder-ship, wholly supported by the church, took some time to become a regular feature of the emerging Christian community of the first century. Although the subject of much discussion, I am concerned that this renewed mode of ministry is often seen as financial expediency rather rediscovering a particular mode of ministry. Whilst much of the official rhetoric gives ascent to non-stipendiary ministries as equal importance within the church, in reality. it is often seen as second best by both ordained and lay members. 

An example of this surrounds my own circumstance where people have asked, "so you are  a part-time minister", or “ will you ever see yourself going on to be a proper minister?” I want to challenge the popular view that Non-stipendiary Ministers are only ordained for the time spent in 'church' work as this seems to point to a suspect theology of ordination and an impoverished view of the ministry for the whole people of God. The use of the term secular work in respect of a Christian's day to day employment would seem to indicate that there are ‘no go areas’ in which the faith and ministry play a secondary role. In fact the origin of the word Secular meant "of a generation, belonging to an age" and in the ancient world, saeculum was not defined in contrast to any sacred concerns

Ruth Ethchells, former principal of St John's College Durham, described a true layperson as one 'whose centre is outside the Church, in the world'. If we further expand this idea to include the strongly held concept within the Methodist Church of the priesthood of all believers, there would appear to be ‘no place where pastoral ministry cannot be exercised’. Placing this concept within the context of non-stipendiary pastoral ministry exercised through day-to-day employment gives a renewed emphasis to ordination.

We can also apply this principle to all followers of Jesus, in that their vocation, although centred in the body of Christ, is lived out beyond the boundaries of what many see as Church. That every activity and facet of life, how ever mundane, is a platform for mission and ministry.

Dear Lord, help me to continuously be aware of all people around me every single day. Where there are people, there are needs. Give me Your eyes to see some of those needs and the wisdom to know how to help as well. Help me to be your hands and feet as I serve others right where I’m at. And allow them to see Your light in my life as I do work in your name. Amen.

Tomorrow - 7 days a week vocation.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 21

Evangelical-Augsburg Holy Trinity (Lutheran) Church by Rev’d Paul Collings 

Final farewell and homeward bound.

1 John 1: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

For the final gathering we once more gathered with our new christian friends at the Evangelical-Augsburg Holy Trinity (Lutheran) Church where we couldn’t have got another person into the church with over 500 in attendance.

The service was a mixture of music, testimony and sharing the word. I have a number of memories from the evening, I can still hear the Bravo as we played a brass arrangement of their national composer’s Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1 (nicknamed the "Military" Polonaise) by Chopin. Or hearing my linguist colleague David, following his 8 month crash course in Polish, gave his testimony, something that was clearly appreciated by the eager congregation.  The Colonel’s Sermon where he spoke of how the Holy Spirit is constantly at work through, in and even in spite of us.

The congregation stood as we played both theirs and our national anthems. Our Coach drivers, whilst in Warsaw had managed to find the scout headquarters that also had a shop where they purchased a polish flag for every member of our party.  The Colonel asked for the Salvation Army flag to be brought to the front and threaded one of the polish flags alongside the yellow red and blue.

Sadly, it took another 17 years before the Salvation Army started work formally in Poland. I often questioned was this a missed opportunity and perhaps reflected the initial reticence of the Army to give permission for us to undertake  the campaign in the first place. Brian Hart, the architect and organiser of the campaign rightly stressed, ‘ We did not come to bring Christ here - he is already - but to share in Christian fellowship in this land of miracles.”. He perhaps prophetically also so said, “A fire had been lit in our lifetime. A spark of the Holy Spirit is here in Poland. In pray it will sweep across Poland in Eastern Europe and that warmth with will flow back into Western Europe.”

What a 10 days, 19 opportunities to work with fellows christians, but perhaps the lasting image was to see groups of young polish christians stranding around people with praying in the street. These 32 years on, many of those young people are now the leaders of the free and growing churches of Poland. Those 10 days certainly changed me and looking back was partly instrumental in my move from Salvation Army Cap to the Collar of Methodist Minister.  

Whilst the 2 day journey home was tiring, we were elated as the news filtered through of changes in government, but more importantly, the gospel once kept behind closed doors was finding a renewed public expression and to this day is having an impact much larger than we could have ever imagined.

Father God,

We thank You for this day. You are the same today as You were yesterday, and as You are tomorrow. Since the beginning, You sought to have a relationship with Your creation, to instruct us in the way that we ought to go. Today we pray for discernment. We pray that the indwelling Holy Spirit gives us a peace beyond understanding to know precisely when something is You, and when something is not. Father, we want to be obedient to Your call in our lives. We pray for such discernment to not only make wise choices, but in the course of it all to know we can trust Your guiding hand.

In Jesus Name,


Tomorrow - Tent Making Ministry.


Monday, 28 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 20

No Ordinary Sunday Afternoon in Lublin by Rev’d Paul Collings 

Sunday Afternoon 18th September 1988

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

Like a mighty army, moves the church of God, so wrote Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould of Lew Trenchard, Devon in 1865. A hundred years later another anglican priest, Rev’d David Watson used a parody of Baring-Goulds in the preference of his 1972 book, ‘One in the Spirit’

Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God

Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod,

We are much divided, many bodies we

Very strong on doctrine, weak on charity.

However, the former resonated more with the  Sunday activity than the later parody as we marched along the pavement towards the Ogród Saski (Saxon Garden) and the Concert Amphitheater known locally as “The Shell”. There were over 700 people gathered in spite of the threat of rain as for one final time of our visit, we shared the gospel of Christ in the open air. Just like the previous afternoon the young people from across the spectrum of Lublin’s free churches where seen to be in deep conversations with those gathered on the fringe of our outdoor congregation.

At the conclusion of the gathering we made our way to the entrance of the gardens a little like the Pied Piper of Hamlin with the complete amphitheater 700+ congregation following behind.  At the entrance to the park the local police were there ready to stop the traffic and allow us to march along the wide avenue. I am convinced that the policeman we encountered the night before was to be our escort and there was a moment of recognition as we both looked and smiled at each other. One of our drivers, a retired UK Police Superintendent, learned from our escorting Polish Policeman, that they were not permitted to be church members - was there a glimmer of some igniting spark of faith in that conversation.

However, in no time at all, the 700 had grown to 3 times its number with over 2000 marching behind  our 30 strong UK contingent. By the time we got back to the Europa Hotel we were completely surrounded by this massive crowd and the police were totallly helpless as the crowd wanted more of our music. It brought a new meaning to the phrase - power to the people - what a humbling experience. 

David Watson, added in his book, ‘One in the Spirit’ a parody of Baring Gould’s refrain with the concluding with the line, “with the cross of Jesus vaguely kept in mind.” 

That afternoon, there was no vagueness about the message, particularly in the bravery of the young christians of Lublin, who had been banned from sharing the christian message in such an open way at the height of the Martial Law era.  We were just the catalyst that enabled them to speak out and share their faith at time a great change.  Was this new tolerance due to the fact that Poland was on the crest of tidal wave of change and that we had come from the UK with a history of close alliance in the war years (we had added the union flag to the top of our uniform sleeves for the visit). Where the authorities nervous of heavy handed treatment as within weeks there was a planned visit of the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher who on the 3rd of November 1988 would be the 1st to address the Polish Government. What is certain was for a fellow polish sisters and brothers, the words of Isaiah - But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

I often wonder how today’s UK churches, might have a similar impact on our society and become a catalyst for witness and change.  The proof of these young evangelists’ faithful endeavours can be seen in how the congregations have continued to grow and become established beacons of faith in their greatly changed 21st century context.

Holy One, You call us to live in this world

as courageous bearers of hope,

standing in the face of all that seems

to contradict your Gospel and demean life.

Let us be courageous.

As  our media bound world condenses life into a product acquisition,

and elevate prosperity and material possessions,

help us to show that the greatest gift of all

is Your presence at the centre of our lives.

Let us be thankful.

As lockdown families feel the tension of living in these times,

save us from false expectations and exclusivity;

from holding onto old hurts and resentments,

and from seeking love instead of giving love.

Let us be loving.

As we celebrate life in all it’s fulness 

by our willingness to risk doing things differently,

Strengthen our witness to a deeper source of hope

that reflects your love around us.

Let us witness!

Tomorrow- final farewell and homeward bound.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 19

Lublin Pentecostal Church by Rev’d Paul Collings

Sunday Morning 18th September

Close fellowship and Green Shoots 

John 14:12-14 “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Before the day’s event started, I took an early morning walk along the routes that we would be using later in the day and saw many worshippers making their way the various Lublin Catholic Churches. Our first engagement of the day was a free church united service at Lublin’s Oasis Pentecostal Church. However, when we arrived in this downtown area we found that we were in the middle of a building site and next to construction was what looked like and small industrial shed with a single entrance of what looked like a domestic house door

When we entered we found a room measuring no more than 25 by 50 feet  where most of the chairs had been taken out and the band squeezed into one corner of the worship area, with over 200 standing for the 2 hour service and at least 80 to 100 spilling out through the door to the outside.  The congregation came from a number of churches, including Lutheran, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist and Polish Catholic Churches. The latter being an independent entity from the Roman Catholic Church. The unity was evident as the Polish Catholic Priest shared that the Pentecostal congregation supplied cement to help his congregation build his church and now they were returning the favour.

Appropriately, the Colonel’s sermon concentrated upon the theme that in spite of our national differences and context we are all disciples of Jesus. At the end of the service many raised their hands in dedication.  

Following the service, the pastor of the Pentecostal church invited the band to play around the foundations of the building site next to their current makeshift worship hall.  You see, such was the faith of this fledgling congregation that they felt called to construct a self-build 1,000 seater church, brick by brick with the own hands. Today’s image shows my impression of that morning’s service and the 1000 seater church that now occupies the site.

We also met a family who had travelled 400 km (6 hours) from Silesia because the 19 year old son wanted to meet us having heard of an “Armia Zbawienia” and felt he was being called to ministry.

Such faith, still astounds me, whether the building of a new church against all odds, or the determination of that young man. I often wonder where he is today and how we in our context and situation would/could exercise our faith.

Prayer for Vision

Gracious God, source of light and truth, when Your Son, Jesus, encountered the blind man, Bartimaeus, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Master, I want to see.”

We too Lord, want to see. We want to see how we can better serve You as members of your Church. We want to see more clearly how we can honour You by honouring our sisters and brothers. Guide us Lord in this Visioning Process upon which we have embarked. Help us to see more clearly the paths You call us to follow.

Give us, we pray, the spiritual gifts to faithfully answer Your call to make disciples, share the Good News and love as You loved. Help the Church in northeast Kansas, under the guidance of our Archbishop, be the Church You call us to be.

Help us may we see more clearly and may our efforts bear abundant fruit for Your glory

and for the good of Your Church. We ask all this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen

Saturday, 26 September 2020

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Sharing Witness at Lublin Courthouse by Rev’d Paul Collings

Saturday afternoon and evening 17th September 1988

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3


By the afternoon, the mist had rolled away and the mid-September sun shone as we formed up outside the Europa Hotel for our first engagement in Lublin.  We only had permission from the authorities to march the streets once on the following Sunday afternoon so we compromised; we marched along the wide pavement to the the steps of the Courthouse where the leaders from the local churches had arranged for us to share the gospel. Again, change was in the air, as up until now, overt witnessing by the churches was ‘zakazana’ (forbidden).

Again, tv and newspaper reporters as well as more political police where there and the high profile of our visit in the past week seemed to have given our fellow polish Christians the courage and the incentive to share the word. When we arrived outside the courtroom steps and started our outreach service, crowds gathered around with Lublin’s minority Free Church members openly sharing their faith with the assembled number.  I recall that the crowd was the largest we had encountered so far.

In the weeks following our visit we received word that over 600 new people from across the city engaged with the local churches in Bible Studies.

Along with the a cross-section of our new church friends, a number of those contacted in the afternoon were encouraged to attend our evening gathering at the 200 year old Evangelical-Augsburg Holy Trinity (Lutheran) Church with over 450 in attendance.

That evening, the Colonel spoke of coming face to face with Jesus, and it was so encouraging to see the young people, who in the afternoon had distributed leaflets hanging on his every word. What a day of contrasts.

However, just to give a sense of the underlying tension, I recall how three of us went for walk after supper to try and process all that we had experienced that day. As we walked the cobbled streets of the old town (not in uniform), we mulled over the extremes of the day. One of my colleagues kicked a bottle top on the pavement and as we continued our stroll we tapped the top back and forwards to one another.  We hadn’t gone far before we became aware of a blue flashing light coming down the road behind us and drew up next to us. Two police men got out of the car and approached us with stern faces. My linguist colleague managed sufficient Polish to convince these lawmen who we where and that we were not football hooligans from the UK. On production of our passports there was a complete change in their attitude, and I read in their faces, a sense of dissonance, as if they were uncertain of how to react to these UK visitors who had such a high profile on their television screens.

As we returned to the Europa Hotel, I could not but help reflect upon the three Hebrew lads in the 3rd Chapter of Danial. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were the three Hebrew men thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, when they refused to bow down to the king's image; the three were preserved from harm. As I got ready for sleep that night, my prayer was that the Lord would protect the young people moved by the Holy Spirit to witness in their own city in spite of the challenges of doing so under martial rule.

Lord, thank you that our comfort abounds through Christ. Nothing in the world can bring us the comfort and peace that you alone can offer. Thank you that you understand our trials, and you care. Through our own struggle and pain, help us to be your vessels to offer comfort and strength to others who are hurting. Amen

Tomorrow Close fellowship and Green Shoots 

Friday, 25 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 17


Madjanek Concentration Camp Mausoleum - Lublin by Rev’d Paul Collings

Saturday Morning 17th September 1988

Face to Face with the Holocaust 

Following breakfast and morning prayers we left the Krakow Area of Lublin and headed towards the Majdanek concentration camp built by the Third Reich as a labour facility that later became the site of extermination. The camp had seven gas chambers, two wooden gallows, and some 227 structures in all, placing it among the largest of Nazi-run concentration camps and accounted for up to 300,000 persons who were inmates of the camp at one time or another.

Recent research indicates that the SS deported between 74,000 and 90,000 Jews to the Majdanek main camp (excluding subcamps). At least 56,500 were Polish Jews: 26,000 from Lublin District; 20,000 from the Warsaw ghetto, 6,500 from the Bialystok ghetto, and roughly 4,000 deported between November 1943 and May 1944 from other labour camps.

It is estimated that 17,500 came from other European countries: 8,500 from Slovakia; 3,000 from Bohemia and Moravia; 3,000 from Germany and Austria; 2,000 from France, Holland and Greece; and 1,000 Jews from countries other than Poland transferred to Majdanek after November 3, 1943.

At least 78,000 inmates where exterminated in the gas chamber. 

The somber weather was apt for our visit. Following the opportunity to view a film that highlighted the horror of that place, we where then guided around the camp, including the gas chambers, crematoria, and the prisoners huts. On entering one hut we had to mount 5 steps to a walk along a narrow walkway where we saw hundreds of thousands of adults shoes piled 5 foot high on either side. In silence we passed the length of the long hut measuring some 20 foot wide and 50 feet long. We then passed through a door at the end of the walkway into a similar room, only this time, piled high with children’s shoes.   I am not ashamed to say, my eyes filled with tears.

Following our tour, we returned to the coach near the entrance and formed up in the mist and marched in silence towards the huge domed Mausoleum in the middle of the Camp. The band came to a halt at the steps leading to up to the memorial. A lone cornet player played the last post and as the band played the hymn-tune St Theresa, associated with the words below, the Colonel and I mounted the steps to lay two wreaths at the memorial.

Let nothing disturb thee,

Nothing affright thee;

All things are passing,

God never changeth!

Patient endurance attaineth to all things;

Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;

Alone God sufficeth. 

St Teresa of Avila 1515-1582

I can still recall my intake of breath on reaching the top of the stairs and saw the huge pile of human ashes. The mound was created in 1947. It was built from mixed-up ashes of the murdered found in 15 heaps located around the camp. In 1969, the ashes of Majdanek’s victims were placed in the Mausoleum. On the frieze of its dome, the creator of the monument, Wiktor Tołkin, engraved the message: "Let our fate be a warning to you."

The visit or should I say pilgrimage, is engraved upon my heart and mind, and often brought to mind.  I close today’s episode with El Male Rachamim (God full of compassion), a Jewish prayer for the departed that is recited at funeral services, on visiting the graves of relatives. In a sense, that day, I visited the resting place of my sisters and brothers; we who share the same Father.

O God, Who art full of compassion, who dwellest on high, grant perfect rest in Thy Divine Presence to all the souls of our holy and pure brethren whose blood was spilt by the murderers in Auschwitz, Belzec, Bergen Belsen, Dachau, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka and other extermination camps in Europe; who were killed, strangled, burned and buried alive for the sanctification for Thy Name. For whose souls we now pray. May their resting place be in the Garden of Eden, may the Master of Mercy shelter them in the shadow of His wings for eternity; and may he bind their souls in the Bond of Live. Amen

Tomorrow - Witnessing with Lublin Christians.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

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Pencil Sketch of Caritas Pulawy House by Rev’d Paul Collings

Friday 16th September 2020

Singing Nuns and Happy Children 

John 17:20-21 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Before setting off on the next leg of our journey, we visited Palace of Culture and Science formally known as the Stalin Palace of Culture  a notable high-rise building in central Warsaw, Poland. With a total height of 237 metres (778 ft) it is the tallest building in Poland, the 5th-tallest building in the Europe. Constructed in 1955, it houses various public and cultural institutions such as cinemas, theatres, libraries, sports clubs, university faculties and authorities of the Polish Academy of Sciences. We were able to go to the top of the building and look over the whole of Warsaw.

For me that visit just highlighted the mismatch of polish society. Extravagance on one hand alongside poverty amongst the rank and file citizens.

At noon we boarded our coach and headed further east towards the City of Lublin, just 50 miles from the Russian Boarder. We were informed by Brian that the churches in Lublin were eagerly awaiting our arrivals as they rarely saw folk from the west.

Brian had planned that on route  we should visit Pulawy House, a home for 70  7-17 year old boys run my the Missionary Sisters of Benedict through Caritas.  Inspired by Catholic faith, Caritas is the helping hand of the Catholic Church – reaching out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, with the aim building a world based on justice and fraternal love. The boy’s placed in the care of the sisters where in many cases orphans, or had significant learning difficulties.

As we entered the Pulawy, we were informed that it was a city with the worst drug problem in the whole of Poland.

The coach parked a little way from the home and we formed up in the street and marched through the gates of the home.  You can imagine the look on the lads faces as we entered their courtyard; they were fascinated by the instruments. I asked the band to turn to the music, “Give me joy in my heart” as be unpacked every percussion instrument that we had on the bus. Cymbals, triangles, drums and helped a number of the lads to join in our music. The sisters complete in their wimples and habits where clapping and dancing across the yard, with one sister pinning an “Armia Zbawienia” crimson ribbon on her veil of another.

For a moment, that which had divided the Catholic and Protestant churches for centuries, paled into insignificance as I saw the joy on those young faces and the common sharing of faith with the sisters. This alone was worth making the 1252 mile journey. Not to be outdone, the boys wanted to march around the courtyard so we formed up with our new percussion section and dancing sisters and paraded around the outside of the home.  I can’t help but think that there must have been smiles in heaven that afternoon.

This was yet another rung on my personal ecumenical ladder that has never left me and continues to grow with the desires to see more of the unifying desire of Jesus who continues to prayers, “that they might be one.”

Dear Lord, we ask that you fill us with your Spirit of love and unity among believers all across the nations.

We ask for your help to set aside our differences and look to the greater cause, the cause of Christ. We ask that you would help us to truly live a life of love. We know that this is only possible through the power of your Spirit, so we pray for your Spirit to move across all lands in fresh ways. Turn your people back to you. Draw others to come to know you. Thank you that you are always with us to give us great purpose, hope and renewed joy. Amen


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

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Warsaw Ghetto Jewish Memorial by Rev’d Paul Collings

Thursday Afternoon and Evening 15th September 1988

Romans 12:17-21 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The diplomacy round continued in the afternoon as Colonel, Brain Hart and I went to Warsaw’s City Hall to be greeted by the Mayor. As it turned out the Mayor had been summoned to the Government’s Office along with Lech Wałęsa of Solidarity and Church leaders from the established churches. To put this in context it was less than a week before the government’s resignation was announced. At the City Hall we were greeted by the Deputy Mayor who had signed the vital authorisation for us to march the streets of Warsaw.

At 2:00pm we were back in Zamkowy Square for our third open-air outreach with hundreds of people gathered to listen. Brian, with his former Bible Society hat on had  sourced gospel’s in Polish and many people with eager outstretched hands received a copy. 

The evening gathering was to be at the reformed church and we were warned that the congregation was rarely over 40.

On route, we went to a large square where we found the stark and somber Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Memorial. In 1940 the area was named  by the Nazi forces as the Jüdischer Wohnbezirk in Warschau, "Jewish Residential District in Warsaw".  At its height, as many as 460,000 Jews were imprisoned there, in an area of 3.4 km2 (1.3 sq mi), with an average of over 9 people per room, barely subsisting on meagre food rations. To put this in context it would be almost like having the whole populations of Exeter, Torbay and Plymouth squeezed into the Exeter’s Shopping area.

The Ghetto had a transient population with many as 254,000 sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. It is estimated that he total death toll among the prisoners of the Ghetto is estimated to be at least 300,000 killed by bullet or gas, combined with 92,000 victims of starvation and related diseases. In 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto was finally destroyed.

Warsaw Reformed Chruch by Rev’d Paul Collings

From there we moved to the Reformed Church and to our surprise found 300 people gathered in anticipation. There was yet another link with the nearby Ghetto memorial.   In 1940 the buildings of the parish including the church, Działyński Palace, the hospital and several other buildings in the so-called "Evangelical enclave" near the Warsaw ghetto area were destroyed during the defence of Warsaw in September 1939. Parishioners and clergy helped save Jews from the ghetto, which is commemorated by one of the monuments on the boundaries of the ghetto, located behind the parish. During the occupation, many parishioners were killed, and several priests murdered. Evangelicals also took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

That night, as the evening’s programme unfolded I was all too aware that the air of that place was think with the history of evil’s attack, yet through it all, actions of selfless goodness triumphed. In fact, that night a collection was taken in aid of the poor in Warsaw and raised 500,000 zlotys, (over £400) the largest that the church had ever seen from a congregation who were relatively poor compared with UK standards of the time.

Loving Lord, help me to not be combative with others. When I experience evil, help me to not get angry and aggressive. Please calm my spirit so I don’t seek revenge. Instead, help me to proactively choose goodness. Allow me to be patient, but faithful. Amen.

Tomorrow, Singing Nun’s and Happy Children

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

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Warsaw Lutheran Theological Centre by Rev’d Paul Collings

Thursday Morning 15th September 1988

1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority,  or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

God works far and above what we expect

Diplomacy was the order of the day as we hosted a meeting at the Lutheran Theological College as we received a cross section of Polish Society’s movers and shakers. The list was impressive including His Excellency, Sir Stephen Barrett, the British Ambassador to Poland, the Polish Government Ministers of religion and international affairs, the head of the Polish Independent Catholic Church, Senior Roman Catholic Clergy as well leaders from the Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Evangelical  and Pentecostal Churches.

Colonel Booth, publicly thanked Brian Hart for 8 years work across Poland as he brought contributions from the UK to support the welfare work of Catholic and Protestant Churches. He also announced that on Brian’s next visit in a few weeks he would return a large X-ray machine along with a GEC technician to instal the equipment, no longer required by a UK hospital, to a hospital in Poland.

Aware of the sensitivities of having communist government officials and church leaders in the same room, the Colonel pointed out that Highgate Cemetery in London contains the graves of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army and Karl Marx, who some would claim to be the architect of communism and that both had had an impact upon the world.

It was wonderful to see church leaders, government officials and members of the band in conversation. I recall having a conversation with a visiting Russian official with my linguist colleague speaking in french to one of the Polish contingent who in turn translated the conversation into Russian. 

However, the impact of that gathering did not fully dawn upon us until we were travelling back through Germany some days later.  You see, at that time, Poland was on the edge of significant change in terms of government that would lead to a greater freedom for it’s people.  Discussions where at the planning stage that would eventually lead  to the downfall of Martial Law and lead to a more democratic government. This in turn would start a wave that would cross Europe including the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Solidarity Movement, and the Catholic Churches as well as other political entities were already part of the ‘Round Table’ negotiations, As we crossed into Germany, word came that a representative group of the Protestant churches where also invited to sit around the table and that this was in no small way down to that Thursday morning diplomatic meeting. Even to this day, I still feel humbled, that through such a simple meeting, far reaching consequences affecting so many could follow.

God of reconciling hope, as you guided your people in the past guide us through the turmoil of the present time and bring us to that place of flourishing where our unity can be restored, the common good served and all shall be made well. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Tomorrow - Beyond the Ghetto 

Monday, 21 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 13

The Dome of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit by Rev’d Paul Collings

Wednesday 14th September

The reality of life and faith in crisis 

1 Corinthians 3:16 

 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?

Following morning prayer and a time of rehearsal, we walked into the shopping area of the town. Part of the requirements of obtaining a visa to visit Poland was that we had to exchange at least 10 dollars into zlotys every day. The problem was, we couldn’t spend it. The commercial infrastructure of Poland’s economy was in dire straits. Inflation was running away at 60% and there was a lack of day to day goods and produce in the shops.  We witnessed bread queues, and one supermarket full of jars of pickled gherkins and nothing else.

In the centre of the shopping area we found two department stores Wars and Sawa, named after the one time King Kazimierz the Restorer’s God children, who he named Wars and Sawa, hence the name Warsawa (Warsaw).  We couldn’t grasp how cheap things were. During that trip I purchased a rocking horse (I kid you not), a jewellery box, handmade earrings, a Fanfara (a valveless trumpet), a brass replica of king’s column of the Royal Square, a hand crafted framed picture of Warsaw, a school satchel amongst other things and still had change out the equivalent of £30. The average monthly wage in Poland at that time was around £10.

One of our number, a music student went into a music shop and managed to buy the complete works of Chopin for the equivalent of under £2.50. Just to give  another indication of the financial difference between Poland and the UK, later in the week in Lublin, our drivers had mentioned to one of the local pastors that we needed to refill the coach with diesel. He said to our two drivers,  “just follow me in my car.”  After travelling through several back streets they eventually came to a stop and the pastor got out of the car and whistled. Around the corner came an small truck full of jerry cans and they set to refilling the coach. When the drivers asked how much they owed, they were told a ridiculously paltry amount.  The drivers insisted that they would pay the equivalent amount in dollars of what they would have had to pay at a UK filling station.  The pastor and the church member were astounded; not only had they helped us but earned a substantial boost to  the church coffers. However, this had an amusing knock on effect, for later that day. a number of other officials from different churches having heard of this lucrative sale of diesel, came to our drivers asking if there was any other ways that they could supply any of our needs.

However, back to Warsaw.That Afternoon, saw our return to the Royal Square and an even bigger group joining our 2nd Open Air service.

The evening gather was at the beautiful Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit with it’s  200 year old 33.4 metres domed ceiling and amazing acoustics. In this classical rotunda building based partly on the Roman Pantheon we found another 400 people eagerly gathered. The church had fellen into ruin when bombed and burnt by the Germans on September 16, 1939, and required substantial renovation and rebuilding after the war. 

As I conducted the band that evening with a piece of music called, “The Compassionate Christ”, my eyes were drawn to a large painting above the altar depicting the Risen Christ appearing to Thomas, with words in Polish carved into the stonework, PAN MOI I BOG MOI, (My Lord and My God). It is interesting that later in the week we would be entering in a region of Poland that in English we would call, bog (bagno) country.  But in Polish Bóg means God and in a sense in that church, I had a growing awareness that all places where indeed God’s Country, and that each human being is a temple of God the dwelling place of the Spirit.

It was Colonel Bramwell Booth’s grandfather and name sake (Son of the Founder William Booth) who said “Every land is my fatherland, for all lands are my Father's”  May prayer is that  I may walk each day with the an enlivened spirit, and meet Christ in humanities living temples and there be able  to say, Pan Moi i Bóg Moi; My Lord and My God.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 12

Chrześcijan Baptystów (First Baptist Church) in Warsaw, Poland by Rev’d Paul Collings

Revelation 21:1-5 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" 

That evening we gathered with a full congregation in the First Baptist Church in Warsaw. 

After the war, only 14 people remained out of the 100-strong pre-war Baptist congregation, and the new communist authorities seized the property of the pre-war church for the purposes of multi-family housing.

During the 1950s the congregation began to grow again and so they were in need of a new home. With support of the Billy Graham organisation funds where raised and a ceremonial opening of the new chapel with a seating capacity for 300 building at took place on September 9, 1961.

We also learnt that during the construction and digging of the foundations, builders discovered the remains of Jewish children victims of the Nazi’s final solution.  

The high point of the church's evangelistic work in the 1970s was the mission campaign of popular American preacher Billy Graham who visited the church in 1978. But the 1980s saw great difficulties for the church society, and a curtailment of their work.  It was in such an atmosphere that we came to share the gospel in music and word.

With knowledge of the atrocities that took place on that site I included within the programme a Tone Poem called “Faith Reborn”. This piece of music written by a good friend of mine, Major Leslie Condon, tells through music the sad day when the Seoul Salvation Army Boys’ Band form the orphanage where they lived was forcefully marched into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by the communist forces, never to be heard from again. 

I carefully prepared, mindful of the ever present political police in attendance, a note for our translator to preface the piece of music for the congregation expressing it in terms of how faith in Christ can overcome the darkest of situations. I think that the significance was plain for those with ears to hear. 

At the conclusion of the evening, the minister Konstanty Wiazowski, spoke emotionally how Brian Hart had come to their aid during the bad days of the early 1980s “like an angel of God, like ravens to Abraham. 

The whole evening cemented in my mind, that out of the darkest of times and the most dangerous situations the triumph of God in Christ can not be buried and forgotten but leads to resurrection and new life.  Today, in Seoul, the work continues and once more the music of a Salvation Army boy’s band can be heard. In Warsaw’s First Baptist Church within months of our visit and the end of martial law the congregation were once more empowered to renewal of their evangelisation and charity work in line with the slogan "evangelisation through friendship".

May today there be peace within.

May I trust God that I am exactly where I am meant to be.

May I not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May I use those gifts that I have received, and pass on the love that has been given to me

May I be confident knowing I am a child of God.

Let this presence settle into my bones, and allow my soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

It is there for each and every one of us.

- St. Therèse of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Avila

Saturday, 19 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 11

The Royal Castle and Square - Warsaw by Rev’d Paul Collings
Tuesday Afternoon 13th September

They brought children to Jesus.

For the next 3 afternoons our venue would be picturesque Old Town Square. One thing that impressed me about Poland and in particular Warsaw, was how it’s people and planners had and indeed continue to meticulously bring the city’s buildings back to life. Not only was there mass destruction as the enemy forces swept across the country in 1939, and later as the Soviet troops battled from the east in 1945, but as the Nazi troops retreated, they set explosives to raise to the ground any structure that was still standing.

But back to the day in hand. This time with police escort, we marched through the old town towards the Royal Castle to hold an open air service underneath the  350 year old  statue of Statue of King Sigismund III.  Again the National Television Broadcast crew where there filming ready for an item on the evening news.

It was strange feeling sharing music and testimony whilst soviet troops in their distinctive uniforms where much in evidence in this heart of the Capitol City of Poland and though we had the support of the local police, the so called secret police where evident; so much for being ‘undercover’.

As I conducted the band, I became aware of a boy aged 5 or 6 standing on the step beside me with his mum smiling at the bottom of the steps. I looked at him and he at me and though language was a barrier, I pointed to my baton and offered it to the lad. He took the baton and I lifted him up so that together we could lead the band. His, and his mother’s face was a picture.

You will have seen the caps worn by Salvationist that have a red band around it with The Salvation Army in either silver or gold lettering. We had special cap bands screen printed for the campaign with the words “Armia Zbawienia”, Salvation Army in Polish. With the lad still in my arms I passed my cap to my father to take the polish band off and I gave it to the lad and saying “Dziękuję Ci” - thank you, one of my only two polish phrases. He smiled and ran down the steps to his waiting mother waving the cap band.

I have often thought of that little blonde boy in his dungarees these thirty two years later and wondered where he is today, and if he still remembers that incident.

I also thought on the one hand of the polish children who in those dark years had starved and fought and died, in appalling circumstances, whilst in my minds eye I also had a picture of Jesus,  in the gospels, where we read. “One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.” Matthew 19:14-15

This too, the hurt and harm to the innocent was to become a reoccurring theme for the rest of the week, that despite the horrors of humanity, children still matter to God and we are called to share in the ministry of welcoming little ones, who perhaps show us the true nature of his kingdom.

Dear Lord, Your Word calls us to hunger and thirst for righteousness — a righteousness that leads to compassion for the poor and a renewing of minds. Lead us to this kind of faith that works to make a better world for all Your children. Amen

Tomorrow - Sharing with Warsaw’s Baptist

Friday, 18 September 2020

To Poland with Love - Recalling the 1988 Mission during a Communist Era 10

Pencil Sketch of Memorials at St Stanislavsky Kistka’s Church by Rev’d Paul Collings

Haunting Symbols of hurt and hardship

“Jesus Wept!” John 11:35

Today we pick-up from the earlier mentioned visit to the British and Foriegn Bible Society as we made our way later that morning to Saint Stanislaus Kostka's Church and Cemetery. The parish was created in 1927 in the area on the northern outskirts of city which was the site of significant development during the inter war years and in 1930 construction work started on the monumental neo-romanesque church building, it was interrupted by World War II, and was finished in 1963. 

Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Social Reformer, was the parish priest in the early 1980s.  He was  chaplain to the Solidarity movements during  the period of Gen. Jaruzelski’s military dictatorship. His sermons became famous throughout Poland for their uncompromising stance against the regime. On October 19, 1984 he was kidnapped, beaten, tortured and murdered by three Security Police officers. His body was dumped into the Vistula Water Reservoir near Wloclawek where it was recovered on October 30, 1984. Later his body was buried here at Saint Stanislaus Kostka's Church.

A little distance from his grave I found plaques on the wall of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church commemorating the 1000s of victims of the massacres conducted by Nazi-German occupants in the years 1939–1945.

In front of the memorial plaques I came across the Powstaniec statue (the "Little Insurrectionist") commemorating the child soldiers who fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. A similar statue of single child is located on Podwale Street, next to the ramparts of Warsaw's Old Town.

That statue is of a young boy wearing a helmet too large for his head and holding a submachine gun. It is reputed to be of a fighter who went by the pseudonym of "Antek", and was killed on 8 August 1944 at the age of 13. The helmet and submachine gun are stylised after German equipment, which was captured during the uprising and used by the resistance fighters against the occupying forces.

Finally under leadened skies I came face to face with a life size statue of a forlorn Jesus, and I reflected upon Christ's words as he looked over Jerusalem; "Jesus Wept!"

Around the perimeter of the church where numerous banners with the word Solidarność meaning Solidarity, but for Poles it stands for so much more.  The history of Solidarity, tracks the rise a Polish non-governmental trade union, that began on August 14, 1980, at the Lenin Shipyards (now Gdańsk Shipyards) by Lech Wałęsa (who later became president). In the early 1980s, it became the first independent labour union in a Soviet-bloc country. Solidarity gave rise to a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement that, at its height, claimed some 9.4 million members. It is considered to have contributed greatly to the fall of communism.

In this small corner of Warsaw, the silent story of struggle, sacrifice and selflessness can still be found; yet there is hope. Within the grounds of the church is St Popiełuszko bell erected in 1987 that above all this memory of heartbreak  the scriptural words  rings out. "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good" Romans 12:21

I leave that last word for today's diary entry to Father Popiełuszko, “It is not enough for a Christian to condemn evil, cowardice, lies, and use of force, hatred, and oppression. They must at all times be a witness to and defender of justice, goodness, truth, freedom, and love. They must never tire of claiming these values as a right both for themselves and others.”

Judge eternal, bringer of justice, 

hear the cry

of those who suffer under the lash of heartless political oppression;

those who languish in prisons and labour camps, untried or falsely condemned;

those whose bodies are shattered,

or whose minds are unhinged by torture or deprivation.

Meet them in their anguish and despair, 

and kindle in them the light of hope, 

that they may find rest in your love, 

healing in your compassion and faith in your mercy.

In the name of him who suffered, 

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Community Groups Regularly Usiing the Church

Regrettably, due to the current restrictions, there are no community activities at the church premises.

Watch this space for news of when activities will restart.