Wednesday, June 12, 2013

St Peters, Rome

Today after work (in FCO, Rome) I took the bus from the airport to the Termini station, and got the metro to near the Vatican. Rome is an unfamiliar environment to me, I suppose like any big city. While travelling you can see ruins, elaborate hotels and other buildings, nice homes, and tin shacks. The full spectrum of life is on view. From the train it is possible to see a few homes built from waste materials right at the edge of the track. Walking through the streets of the city it is clear that there are a number of homeless people around.

Along with the blazing heat, all of these things are alien to me. I walked down the busy street alongside the Vatican area and arrived in St Peter's Square. It is an impressive place, and an epic experience to be surrounded by thousands of years of heritage like this, huge pillars, massive statues and monuments.

As I walk around the huge open area, whatever way I turn there are works of architectural art. Of course the pinnacle in this area is the Basilica and what's better is that it is completely free to enter. I found the way in and walked slowly around. The excess is everywhere, from the ornate marble floor to the heavy decorative iron gates, to the sculpted engravings on the doors, to the detailed artwork on the ceilings. The statues, paintings and carvings are everywhere, each more elaborate than the next. New wonders meet the eye at each new glance.

I have visited before, a few years ago, however, on this visit my heart was heavy. Today I had the same eyes, but a different heart. For this to be the headquarters of a church claiming the name of Christ doesn't sit very well with me at all. Let me be clear, I don't see a call to live in poverty for the sake of others, but I do see a directive not to live in excess. I think of Matthew 6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" as I stand inside this huge treasure trove, the like of which is almost unequaled in the entire world. This doesn't add up to me. I think of the cost of building and maintaining a place like this, and at the same time those people living in cardboard beside the railway are in my head.

It is an amazing spectacle to see, don't get me wrong, if you're nearby pop in and see it. But it seems to smell a little of injustice when you contrast this extravagance with the local and global poverty that exists. There is no need for any church to have accumulated such wealth. I am aware that there is a lot of charitable work done, and so on, but I struggle to believe that what I see around me is the most efficient or effective way to help people. As I exited the building I had a tear in my eye for the errors of our forefathers and the stewardship of the church.

If you get the chance, go, visit, and enjoy the craftsmanship and the amazing artistic and architectural achievements. But do so knowing that a lot of the money that built it came from people who could ill afford it, who paid it to acquire their salvation, and those who were entrusted with it poured it into excessive property rather than pouring it into people who need it.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

CFC Belfast

It was a series of coincidences that led us to CFC Belfast this past Sunday. I kitesurf with a fellow who goes there, and this I only found out on Saturday when we were talking about our plans. We had tickets to see Belfast Gospel Community Choir, which apparently has strong links with CFC and we had booked to stay the night at the Park Avenue Hotel in Belfast - just across the road.

We knew it would be something modern, but we had no idea at all what to expect. At the door we were greeted by two smiley people, and I was expecting to be recognised as new and mollycoddled a bit, but after they handed us some paper, they left us to our own devices. I asked where to go, and they pointed, and it became quickly obvious where the seated area was.

We picked two of the nice soft seats, and were quite surprised that at the start time only about half of the seats were filled. During the first 10 minutes or so, during the opening songs they quickly filled up.

There are three big screens at the front, and at the start a typographic type video was played, explaining man's fallen state, and what God did to bridge the gap, fixing the problem we could never fix. Gospel presentation within the first 90 seconds! The opening worship started, and it turned out Robin Mark was the worship leader. I thought it was good, Susan was a bit disappointed that she knew none of the songs.

The main service continued with a short communion. Obviously this was *very* different to how Presbyterians generally do it, but I suppose it is refreshing to have a change. There were a couple of things I didn't like though. I felt there wasn't the time I was used to in which to reflect on what is happening. If you were sitting in the centre block, like us, they brought us forward in rows, and there was no easy way to get out of taking communion, which I think is important for those who may not want to. Also, in our communion service, we normally have the passage containing 1 Cor 11:29, about being careful who takes communion, but nothing like that was mentioned, and I felt this was a dangerous omission.

The bread was a loaf of bread, which we got to tear a little off, and the wine was juice served in tiny plastic glasses, which were then deposited into a bin.

The whole thing was a bit rushed for my liking, but that's just my preference.

The speaker was excellent. It was about what commitment to Christ actually means, and dealt with all those difficult verses about 'cannot be my disciple' and hating father and mother. Very captivating delivery, and very scriptural message, backed up with a lot of scripture read and on screen. Before the service this is the part I was most dubious about; I wondered would the teaching be sound, and would I have to go away like a Berean, examining and searching for what I had heard. There was no need. It was all clearly backed up, and made sense right from the outset.

We didn't stay for tea/coffee afterwards which is a pity, but unfortunately circumstances didn't allow.

Overall it was a very positive and good experience, I was nervous about going in, and in the end I had absolutely no need to be. CFC seems to be a vibrant, strong, focused church, seeking and doing the will of the Lord, and long may that continue.