So, the Venezuelan situation deteriorates and we decide we’ll be better off back in the UK. London, to be precise, and New Cross to be even more so. There’s an area called Telegraph Hill (which funnily enough is a big hill that used to be used for signaling) and we find ourselves there, opposite a nice park.
At the top of the hill is a big old CofE parish church, so I give that a go for a few Sundays, but sometimes the bigger ones are harder to get noticed in, and I don’t feel I’m becoming part of the crowd.
Meanwhile, being a bit of a walker, happy to wander the streets and see what’s there, I find myself on the loud, busy road that leads to Deptford, and there, tucked away, is a little Baptist church, so I give it a try. And guess what? The tiny congregation – a couple of dozen on an average Sunday – welcomes me as if I’ve just ridden into their isolated Wild West town, a mysterious stranger with a tired, dusty horse and a tired, dusty body.
It’s a Baptist church, which I haven’t sampled before, but it’s not radically different from what I’m used to and the man upstairs is the same one. Officiating on his behalf is a down-to-earth Liverpudlian who is not a vicar or rector because apparently the Baptists don’t have those. He is the pastor and he hasn’t been a pastor very long. He’s married to a Brazilian girl. They were brought together by matchmaking friends who knew what both were looking for in a partner, and he proposed to her on the first date in a restaurant. They tell me this when they have invited me for Sunday lunch after a few short weeks of my blowing in with the tumbleweed.
The congregation is mainly of West Indian descent, mainly female and universally friendly.
So, I’ve landed on my feet, invited to weekday prayer meetings and greeted by name. Maybe it’s not much to ask for, but as we have seen before, churchgoers and ministers are only people.
Things are going very well when suddenly one Sunday the pastor isn’t there. Nobody seems to want to tell me why, and I only find out when I bump into him and his wife in a supermarket car park. He’s having a crisis of faith. He’s beset by doubts, and he is taking a break from his duties until the situation in his heart is resolved.
It happens. The Archbishop of Canterbury said after last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris that he found the whole situation so troubling that even he had doubts. Christians are under attack (often by people whose families used to be Christian) in response to the actions of muslim extremists, the easy answer for the non-believers being that if there were no religions there would be no such trouble. And yes, some terrible things have been done in the name of the Christian church, and if we’re so clever and so perfect, what do we have to say about that?
But that’s why faith is called faith. We don’t have all the answers and we don’t have excuses. We’re living an imperfect life in an imperfect world.
I was only in London about six months that time, but I was and will always be grateful to that little community for taking the weary traveller under its wing.