Sunday morning on the other side of the world and I was going to worship my Lord in this new land
The church was within walking distance and I set off, content with the walk and the cool weather. White clouds scudded overhead and the view across the valley and the bay to the city was worthy of a photograph.
Nevertheless, I felt a moment of uncertainty as I climbed the steps of the modern Anglican church. It was rare for me to be in a place where I know no-one at all. I was a complete stranger in a foreign land
And so as I climbed the first step I do what I often do in times of uncertainty.
I took the hand of Jesus and asked Him to go with me. I closed my own hand around His and together we climbed the steps.
Pushing through the glass doors I was greeted by a whirlwind of activity. I did not have time to walk into the foyer before I was greeted by a young woman whose eyes shone in welcome.
She told me it was their children’s Christmas service and the congregation was invited to dress up to be part of the celebration. It would be lovely if I joined in.
What would I like to be – a shepherd, a king or an angel?
Now dressing up has never been a favourite pastime of mine, but she was so full of enthusiasm I did not have the heart to be a killjoy. Aware that I was holding Jesus’ hand the thought struck me that there would be a gleam of amusement in His eyes as He waited for my response.
Tentatively I suggested a shepherd. But there were no shepherd costumes left.
“You’d better be an angel,” my welcomer said, and she thrust a voluminous white, tent-like garment at me.
It was one of those moments when you are grateful you don’t know anyone other than Jesus!
I managed to find out which way it went and, having pulled it over my head I joined the congregation of shepherds, kings – and angels – as we celebrated Christ’s birth with the children.
A king greeted me and we chatted for a moment. The worship lifted the roof. A tiny angel sang the first verse of Away in a Manger in such a clear, sweet voice she reduced me to tears.
I stood, with all the other angels as the message was given to the world by the heavenly host and we praised God for the gift of His Son.
I went again the next week and met other folk. Each week they celebrated with the members of the congregation their family birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. Each week the Body of Christ celebrated together.
On the last Sunday I was there, after five services in their company, I could feel Jesus nudging me to respond to the call to celebrate.
I know that nudge.
So I got up and walked to the front. The pastor looked at me in surprise. He knew who I was. I had spoken to Him every week, so I was no longer a stranger. He smiled at me.
“What is your celebration today?”
“My celebration is a strange one because today I want to celebrate you – this congregation. For the last five weeks, I have worshipped God with you and each time I have come I have been welcomed. I know several of you by name. You have opened your arms to me and made me feel this church is my spiritual home in this land so far from my own. I want to say thank you and to tell you that God has seen what you have done and your welcome has warmed His heart.”
There was a stunned moment of silence and then the minister thanked me in turn.
“We have so many visitors come and go through our doors. It is good to know they feel and home and welcome here.”
That little congregation holds a special place in my heart. I may never see them again. But for a while, we were able to be family together as we worshipped our God.
And Jesus was there, and He was worshipped, and all was well.