During the season of Advent in a year that has been very challenging for all of us, the EBF suggested that churches might like to invite preachers from other countries to share the Word of God with them online.
Perhaps because this was a new idea, there were not many churches in the EBF who took this up. But from those who did there are very positive testimonies about how this enriched their online worship. It gave a real sense of being joined in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ from elsewhere in the EBF as together we celebrate the coming of Christ.
Pavel Coufal pastor of Brno Baptist Church and President of the Baptist Union in the Czech Republic, writes:
“I am very thankful to our brother Meego Remmel, who brought this Light of the Gospel to our church through on-line preaching last Sunday, December 20. 12. 2020. He shared a very encouraging message ‘From Fairytale to Reality’ about Jesus, who came to change our lives. He is knocking at our doors, waiting for us to open our lives to him, so he could come in and be with us. With him, our life stories always have a good end, happy end. No, our lives are not fairytales, but his reality is above all the realities of our lives, and that is the reason we can have good hope for our future.
Last Sunday we were allowed to have 20% of seats filled in our churches. So in our Baptist church, 50 people were present to worship the Lord and listened to his Word, preached through brother Meego Remmel. And, hundreds of other people were watching an on-line live stream from our church.
Thank you to all who came up with this idea of EBF Advent preachers. It was a blessing to realize that we are part of a bigger family of European Baptists and to be united in Christ.”
Andrew Henton Pusey, pastor of Walsworth Road Baptist Church in Hitchin, UK, wrote of the blessing brought to his congregation through a link with Hungary:
“As a church we made contact with one of the preachers listed offering them an invitation to preach, who very kindly and promptly agreed. We exchanged information about each other, our setting, and our churches, and about how online worship was organised for our congregation. It was then arranged that Dr Endre Varady from Vacegres Baptist Church in Hungary would preach at the service on Sunday 6th December at Walsworth Road Baptist Church in Hitchin, UK, with thanks to Zoom, our regular platform for Sunday worship since March. A Bible text was agreed, and an order of service was prepared, and in the spirit of Advent, we waited, looking forward and praying in hope.
On the day, as we opened the online meeting for worship together, the first connections to arrive were those from Hungary, as Endre and others at the church in Hungary had worked out how to include him as the preacher on one connection, and the opportunity for some to gather in the church and see the service unfold on their big screen, but there were still technicals to sort, as well as introductions to be made indeed.
There were those features of our worship that we shared, as in both churches there was an Advent ring on which the first two Advent candles were now lit, and as preparations had been made for Communion to be shared. But alongside the slideshow of images with stories from the life of the church in Vacegres, the highlight was the timely and deeply pastoral message that Endre shared in excellent English (despite his concerns in advance) from the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet who starts with questions about the significant difficulties he and his people are facing, but who hears back from the Lord with words to reassure and encourage.
We were reminded that Habakkuk demonstrates a desirable attitude, pressing on when the pressure is on; we don’t give up even in the face of challenge or pain. Habakkuk also remains prayerful and attentive. In turn God’s response to the prophet is a promise of a vision, the long awaited kingdom of justice and peace, which is surely on its way; the bird’s-eye view is assured even as we become pre-occupied by the details on our pathway. And as the people of God, we will live by faith.
Endre reminded us too of the power of a hug especially as we have missed these in the current season of isolation, pointing indeed to the name of the prophet (‘the Lord embraces’), suggesting that the Lord was offering us a hug. In grateful acknowledgement of his ministry, we dared to look to the day when perhaps instead of enjoying an online connection there might be occasion for a handshake, or even a hug in person. The response from our congregation was hugely appreciative for the experience and the opportunity, and Endre and I have been able to continue some contact since by email, but we are so grateful to EBF for the initiative, and for the wonderful encounter we have shared together this Advent.
Dane Vidovic, pastor of Belgrade Baptist Church, Serbia writes about how the message from a Czech preacher spoke into their own situation:
“Today we had our church service with brother Pavel Coufal from Brno. It was an excellent afternoon together, both as a church service and as an informal sharing and virtual ZOOM fellowship afterward which we used to get to know better our two churches, and also a little about our historic link through the personality of the first official pastor of our church, brother Alois Erlich, who was of Czech origin and is Pavel’s grandfather (his mother’s father).
During the pandemic our church has services in two parts. We first have a sort of house service, by families, when we read the sermons, sing songs, pray… and afterward we meet through the ZOOM and discuss the sermon, the topic and try to find all possible applications of it, especially in this situation.
Pavel’s sermon had a Christmas theme, from an Old Testament perspective, based on Isaiah 9. He focused on Christ’s four names and their relevancy for us in today’s situation.
Our discussion has included some aspects and possibilities of the general application of those truths behind those names, but of course, we dwelled mostly on the specific pandemic situation and its challenges for the church and believers, trying to discern how the truths behind those names could be applied in this situation. Pavel has emphasized the good opportunity for us to use this situation to learn how to bring light and hope to the people in dark and hapless times.
As a pastor, I am personally very thankful to Pavel that (on one of my pastoral questions concerning responses of some Christians on this situation) he shared their experiences in his church and his personal approach in similar situations. In his sharing he mentioned the role of medical doctors and other medical workers (including Christian doctors) in this situation, and our need to be thankful to them and pray for them. Interestingly enough among those watching and listening we had for the first time in this pandemic situation one of our Christian doctors and his non-Christian wife following the whole of the service, and I believe it is going to have a very positive effect on them.
We concluded that in the future we should work more on sharing between our two churches, and possibly do some visits. Of course, at this moment all of that is in its prenatal phase and should be more carefully developed and planned as the time and opportunities allow.
All of our people who participated today think that this was a very good initiative, and some openly said they expect more. Thanks, EBF. for the initiative. It is an excellent idea and exchange.”
Tony Peck, EBF General Secretary concluded:
“Though only a small number of churches and preachers took up our suggestion this year, we feel that with more and more churches having to become expert in online worship services, this is something we can develop in the future. We might do this during the Advent season again, or perhaps around the annual meeting of the EBF Council in September. As Pavel, Andrew and Dane have testified, this is one way we really can draw near one another and bless one another in our EBF family. Especially this is true when we cannot physically meet one another as is the case during these months of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Photo 1 is a screenshot from the Brno Baptist Church (Czech Republic) Youtube channel. Photos 2,3 and 4 are from the Walsworth Road Baptist Church in Hitchin (UK).