You Can Never Go Back Home

Well, it’s been a full six days since I’ve blogged. Life has been manic. We are busy selling possessions bit by bit on eBay (if you want to see what we’re currently selling, I pasted some code into the home page of my main website). Then there is all the protracted negotiations over work to the manse where we shall be moving in August. I might do some real minister’s work some day soon.

But last Sunday was a highlight. I had been invited back to the church where I grew up to take their Church Anniversary. It has changed so much, and for the better. Only the ‘old guard’ remember me from thirteen years ago. It was great to catch up with them, embarrassing when I’d forgotten someone’s name or didn’t recognise them, of course, but also thrilling that there were so many people there who didn’t know me from Adam. A church that had between sixty and eighty adults on a Sunday morning when I left now has about one hundred and seventy, plus fifty to sixty children and teenagers.

The most heartening change was this, though: even by the time I left the majority of the congregation had become majority African-Caribbean (and woe betide you if you mixed up the Ghanaians with the Nigerians, or assumed that somebody from Montserrat was Jamaican!). However it was still in many ways a ‘white’ church. I remember when the first West Indian became a church steward. All the usual comments came out about not understanding what he said when he gave out the notices in a service. But now all the stewards are black and it was apparent that the lady on duty on Sunday morning could comfortably do her duties in the vestry and in the worship gathering in a way appropriate to her culture, and it was now the norm. Her greeting was very West Indian in style, the choir sang a few pieces before the service that would have been known back home in the islands, and so on. No longer were they marginalised, now their culture was at last central to the way the church functioned.

So you can never go back home and find it just as you remembered it, and my sermon took up that theme, with reference to postmodern culture. Too many churches behave like that: a yearning for ‘how it used to be’ when we actually have to live in a different world. Even the West Indians and Africans at my old church, although they bring their customs into worship now and do not suffer the stigma of the past, cannot simply recreate how it once was back home. And for the younger generations, ‘back home’ never was their home: this place is.

It would be interesting to see what shape that church takes if Methodism ever sends them a black minister. That hasn’t happened yet, although I’d hate that to be read in any way as casting an aspersion on the current minister, because he was wonderful in facilitating things for me, and he seems to be regarded very warmly. I just hope he isn’t treated with the old colonial-style deference.

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