The English Baptist pastor Frederick Brotherton Meyer who drew thousands to the church in the early 1900s once advised: “The one thing that pierces the heart of God with unutterable grief is not the world’s iniquity, but the church’s indifference.”
Decades later, an historian – not a preacher, indeed a self-confessed apostate – Trevor Marshall, has echoed the long-dead evangelist’s message as he gave his own “tough love” exhortation to the Anglican community.
In presenting the annual Dean’s lecture of the St Michael Centre for Faith and Action – “The Anglican Church in the 21st Century – Decline, Division or Re-dedication – on Tuesday, the historian declared in no uncertain terms that he expected leadership from what was once the Church of England that was once, up to a half-a-century ago, the Church of Barbados from settlement in 1627.
Marshall declared: “The Anglican Church must come out of its comfort zone. The Anglican Church must not only be a church of the planters’ class. We must not just recite everything that we have learnt 50 years ago and more. Any planter coming back here from 100 years ago could come to an Anglican service and chant along with us and nothing would have change.
“Don’t get in your tinted cars and drive away from the church meetings and services on Sunday.
“Spend some time in pastoral activities, not just visiting to give [comfort] to persons at the point of death. Go out there as Jesus said, in the highways and byways.”
Among the gathering was the newly enthroned Bishop of Barbados, the Right Reverend Michael Maxwell.
We say amen to his timely message, but go further to suggest that his sobering homily would be fitting not just for Anglican ears, but certainly for all our churches.
Marshall’s sermon came not from an ecclesiastical mount but from the well of the Frank Collymore Hall just as the nation rounded the bend from a Weekend of Prayer and Reflection during which Christians were invited to encourage all citizens to seek divine intervention into a bloody start to the year, with an unprecedented nine murders so far.
Marshall suggested that the Anglican Church should not have allowed the crime scourge to spiral out of control. We say that all churches have a duty to promote and foster peace in society.
We make this plea even as we confess the mounting evidence of a disconnect between the purveyors of spirituality and their community.
Today there is strong justification that Christians seem at ease in Zion although their moral compass, the Bible, shows no evidence of early Christians enjoying a cushy, comfortable life.
There was no “comfort zone” for Jesus Christ who healed the sick, the lame, the blind, fed the hungry, raised the dead, cast out demons, and incurred the wrath of the rich, the powerful and the wicked.
Historians of the early Church tell us that during his ministry on earth, Christ called those who sought to follow him to take an entirely different path.
But when today’s churches appear to spend rather more time and money enticing the converted to join their flock than evangelizing the wayward, build grand edifices rather then feed the poor and counsel the depressed or the morally stranded, we fear that the heart of the Almighty must indeed be pierced by indifference here.
We can only but wonder whether we would end up mourning the iniquity of nine senseless deaths had the Church been really fulfilling its original mission.
Some may argue that Barbados is fast becoming a secular society and that interest in organized religion is waning. We argue that the Church has to take some responsibility for this.
Church is more than putting well-clothed bums on wooden pews every Sunday, Saturday or Wednesday.
We may hope that the recent outpouring of prayer will spur a change of hearts but faith without works is dead.
The Church – the whole body of bishops, clergy and laity – cannot sit on the sidelines and wish for a miracle.
Priests and congregations have a duty to reach out and help not only their fellow parishioners, but the wider community in a tangible way. The Church must not only talk the talk of Christian values but walk the walk of making people’s lives better.
All our churches, religious groups, faith-based organizations must reach out to the wider community to tackle that which lead to violent crime – poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, fear and greed.
Three decades ago, country and western singer Ray Stevens posed this question in song were Christ to return: “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?”
We ask now what would he make of Barbados in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nineteen? What would he say of his Church, riven by brand name rivalry, yet immersed in immense comfort? If church is a hospital for sinners, would he find a desperate attempt in the casualty room to save lives, heal torn souls and comfort the afflicted?
Or would he find a cushy hotel for those claiming to be cured, yet afflicted by comfort, inured to the desperate cries of those in pain, the sorrowful, the suffering and the dying?