A very extraordinary few weeks…
By Revd. Alex Pease
Lucy and I have been away since Easter on a 25th wedding anniversary trip to South Africa and returned at the weekend and then attended an event at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Interspersed with the game drives and all that South Africa offers, we had the immense privilege of preaching at St John the Baptist, 24 Rivers, at the invitation of their leader Shane Dowinton. Miles from anywhere in the bush, along a long, long dirt road of red African earth, about 20 minutes from the nearest town Vaalwater, in the Waterberg region of South Africa, passing antelope, warthogs, monkeys and all kinds of wildlife, we eventually reached this church built by Sir Herbert Baker (architect of many public buildings in Pretoria and Johannesburg)for English settlers 100 years ago. Although the roof is rush and the walls are of local stone – the church has a feel not unlike that of one of our parish churches in the Valley – like perhaps its namesake St John the Baptist Itchen Valley – or perhaps I should call it St John the Baptist, One River!
But lovely as this tiny church is, with its pews (seating about 30) and its memorial to a Lt Colonel lost in the First World War, in fact, despite its great distance from the tiny local town, the building was just too small for Sunday use for the British, Afrikaaner and African church population which has expanded to over 150. The church now meets in a church hall built in a similar African roofed style close by, with a separate rush roofed building housing a kitchen for coffee and biscuits after the service in the sunshine!
But despite the similarities (but in a different place) to our own worship in the Valley, the style of worship was more akin to the other event which Lucy, Rebecca, Gerry and I attended immediately after our return from Africa – the Holy Trinity Brompton Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. There, over 6000 people in the Hall itself, a further 1000 at Holy Trinity Brompton and other venues and 25,000 people on line, worshipped God and listened to some incredible talks by a huge range of speakers.
The world renowned Pentecostal pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kaye spoke movingly of the suicide of their son during the course of last year. The Benedictine monk Brother Luigi Gioia spoke about authentic leadership and there were fascinating talks by Bobbie Cheema, a Treasury QC, and Clare Chapman, the HR chief of BT. Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Baptists, independents and Anglicans all rubbed shoulders for two days and filled all the local cafes.
But most striking of all, for us was the interview with Prince Philip of Prussia, the direct descendant of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria (who of course built the Royal Albert Hall in his memory) and of Kaiser Willhelm. The Prince is a Lutheran priest and was attending the conference with his son, who is a worship leader. He said that although the last Kaiser had been a Christian, he had not allowed the Holy Spirit to guide his life. Philip felt that had he done so, he could have stood up to the German generals who wanted the war with France and Britain.
He then (very movingly) and, conscious of the 100 year anniversary, apologised on behalf of his family for the First World War. Prince Philip of Prussia speaks at RAH
The war in which the Lt Colonel who is remembered in St John’s 24 Rivers perished.
Revd Alex Pease
Itchen Valley 07/05/2014