With a Song in my Heart – 40 Days of Sacred Songs
Day 21 – Friday after 3rd Sunday of Lent
To Listen: Welcome to the Family
Welcome to the family,
We are glad that you have come
To share your life with us,
As we grow in love,
And may we always be to you
What God would have us be,
A family always there,
To be strong and to lean on.
May we learn to love each other
More with each new day,
May words of love be on our lips
In ev’ry thing we say.
May the Spirit melt our hearts,
And teach us how to pray,
That we might be a true family.
(Words and Music – Debby Kerner Rettino)
From the Scriptures:
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.
When we moved to the Parish of Belgravia in the wrong end of downtown Johannesburg we hoped to settle in for a while. Our eldest son Timothy was then five years old and it was his fifth home! With awe and wonder he walked around the spacious bungalow that was the Rectory, then came back to stand in the middle of the lounge and proclaim, ‘I like this house! I hope the Lord gives us a nice year here.’ So was born our own version of the text for the Passover which begins, ‘A wandering Anglican priest was my father…’ Fortunately our boys only had a further four homes to inhabit before they attained their majority.
Wrong end of Johannesburg or not we were made welcome from the first day we arrived – our walk-in pantry had been filled to the brim the day before the movers arrived – until we made our farewells to travel to the Southern Side of Johannesburg where I became chaplain at St Martin’s School. At our very first Sunday service a Swedish Lutheran Pastor (who occasionally led our worship) and his family sang today’s song to us. We had come home and were in the middle of a new family that felt as if it was a foretaste of the Rainbow Nation of South Africa yet to be born. People of all colours and backgrounds led our worship. We sang hymns, gave communion, and preached the Good News in at least five different languages (worship took time to complete)! We served each other, especially the poorest and those with HIV/AIDS. Some of us protested a little, and were arrested for our pain. We married (illegally in the eyes of the State) people of different colours. Was it perfect? Not always!
We argued about being the ‘Anglican’ Church in which only English was to be spoken and not ngesiXhosa, isiZulu, seSotho or sePedi. We competed for space at Christmas – do we have a traditional Westernised Crib or do we imagine Jesus being born in a Corrugated Iron Shack? And of course there were the usual disagreements between any church members. The Mothers’ Union being at the same time the shock troops of the church could also be a hotbed of gossip and meanness, but they knew enough of the Gospel to know disputes must not simmer. Several times two members who were at odds were asked to stand in front of the whole congregation and be reconciled to each other. It was hard, it could get hot under the collar, but it was holy. I have never before or since seen the injunctions of Matthew 18v15-20 taken so seriously, put into action so lovingly, and come to a place of Peace and unity so frequently.
Once a month we held a Family Service. In some ways it was what we now call ‘All Age Worship’ but it had a little twist to it. Families were very welcome at the service but a different family, as they were able, led the service. Some families, like our Swedish Lutheran friends could do the whole service between them. Others would read the prayers, perhaps play the organ, take up the collection or distribute communion as each was able. There were two non-negotiables, the family were to arrange the flowers in church and they were to provide the bread and the wine for communion. Being a church with people of many different backgrounds and cultures we had a wonderful variety of produce. A home-baked Cob Loaf with a crusty Port, Fresh baked chapatis and Rice wine, vetkoek and grape juice. Whatever families used at home as a staple food and a celebratory drink was offered on the altar for the whole Family of God to share. And then one weekend things got real…
One of our families was just beginning to grow, Mum a teacher, Dad a builder and a lovely 5-year-old daughter. They had a mixed-race heritage and fitted in well at St John’s. On a Saturday evening I had an urgent phone call to visit mum in hospital. She suffered a serious brain aneurism, and after spending the night at her bedside with her husband in prayer, she slipped gently into the life after life. I went back to the Rectory early on Sunday morning full of grief and tired out, not quite sure how I would cope with the family service that day. Just before the service a still grieving dad and young daughter arrived at church holding a fresh loaf of bread in a well-worn tea towel. The last thing his wife and her child’s mum did before being rushed to hospital was to take out of her oven the bread she had baked for Sunday’s family service… This is what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. This is what it means to be part of the Family of God. We learnt that Sunday that indeed nothing separates us from the Love of God and God will indeed wipe away all tears from our eyes and gives us the promise of that even in the midst of our tears.
We are given the gift of the being members of the same family, the family of believers. Cherish each other.
sustain us in this vale of tears
with the vision of your grace and glory,
that, strengthened by the bread of life,
we may come to your eternal dwelling place;
in the power of Jesus Christ our Lord.
1) Many churches have a public list of members available to all members. Try and find yours and at least pray for everyone on the list. If you have time perhaps send each one a greeting card this Easter.
2) Find some quiet space and time and eat some bread or a pastry. As you chew give thanks for all that you have received from your church.
Reprise: Only by Grace Can we Enter
Being the Family of God does not happen by a programme of discipleship or an enforced code of behaviour. It comes gently and at the price of having our sharp corners knocked down or even loved off. A lesson learnt by The Velveteen Rabbit may be worth re-reading. This song reminds me that the grace of God is the Supervisor when it comes to building the family of believers.
Only by grace can we enter,
only by grace can we stand;
not by our human endeavour,
but by the blood of the Lamb.
Into your presence you call us,
you call us to come.
Into your presence you draw us,
and now by your grace we come,
now by your grace we come.
Lord, if you mark our transgressions,
who would stand?
Thanks to your grace we are cleansed
by the blood of the Lamb. (Repeat)
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Prayers are adapted from the Psalm Prayers in the Common Worship Psalter. material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2005
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘With a Song in my Heart’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022