Sunday, 15 May 2011

An early morning start at Webster Memorial United Church

Webster Memorial United Church in Kingston Jamaica has two services on Sunday mornings and the first one begins at 7.15 - this is quite a shock to the system, and I speak as someone who regularly led Sunday worship at 9.15. Even more impressive at Webster is how many people of different ages were present in the church which seats 700 when full. It's a wonderful cross-shaped worship space and because this is Jamaica the walls are windows open to the outside with fans whirring in the ceilling, all of the work on the building was done by congregation members. It's an impressive and welcoming space.

Webster Memorial is celebrating 70 years of its foundation, and the service was a time of joy and celebration both of history and of the present. It was also a privileged time for those of us representing the world church to be part of a local event full of joy and history. It was a lively and quite long service but there was a strong sense of graciousness and welcome, a blend of the formal and informal that worked well.

One wonderful moment was a sort of extended extemporary greeting of one another about half way through the service. One of the choir members game down to greet us and she like many people in the congregation was wearing a name badge. I was so pleased, she was Marjorie Lewis the first female principal of the United Theological College of the West Indies and someone who while in the UK really encouraged the Daughters of Dissent project and in particular highlighted the work of the redoubtable and brilliant Madge Saunders. It was wodnerful serendipity to meet Marjorie at church because I'd been given a book for her in Geneva and she was busy handing out invitations to the book launch during the greeting session. Now at least there will be one copy of the book at the book launch tomorrow, but you can also find out more about Righting Her-Story: Caribbean Women Encounter the Bible Story. So, as is often the case if you want to find who you are looking for, just got to church! Marjorie is pictured here alongside a new WCC colleague Garland Pierce, who will be working closely with the general secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit who preached at the service.

One of the things that really impressed me at Webster Memorial was the scale of their social ministry and the way they manage to hold together tradition and renewal within the congregation. The 10.45 service is more charismatic in feel but this is very much a united church, a place holding together much diversity and celebrating. Perhaps some of that diversity just depends on what time you like to get up on a Sunday morning. Anyway it was a really good place to begin our time at the IEPC.