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.