I preached yesterday (Sunday) at First Baptist Church, Bucharest (Golgota) at the invitation of their Senior Pastor, Daniel Maris. Daniel is also the President of the Baptist Seminary.
Despite the sub zero temperatures and the unprecedented amount of snow, the 700 seater church was far from empty. As I walked in with the three resident ministers, the congregation all stood – not something I am used to! We stood to sing the opening hymn: Holy, holy, whorl, Lord God Almighty. The service consisted of two or three items from the large choir and a couple more congregational hymns, the sermon and then communion.
Here are a number of observations in no particular order:
- They had worked hard with their building. The church was very warm, despite the outside temperature. Judging by the resident air conditioning, I guess it would be suitably cool in the summer when temperatures soar to over 40C. The lights were about 5 times brighter than Burlington, the seats luxurious (not good for the preacher!) and the carpet pile thick. The church was loved and cared for.
- Technology was on the ball, or at least the operators were. As I preached and introduced new Bible verses they would appear within seconds on the screens for people to follow. This was with no prior arrangement.
- There were two offerings. The usual one and then a second additional one ‘for the poor.’ This seemed to me to be a very good visual reminder of our “tithes & offerings.” Each of the three pastors placed their offering visibly into the bag. That was good too. I don’t do that, although for the record I do give by standing order! The offering this week was for a lady that needed money for urgent medical surgery. This seemed a very good expression of ‘the Body of Christ.”
- The prayer times always included praying by members of the congregation. I can remember blogging about this the last time I was in Romania. The prayer was heartfelt from everybody and with members taking part, even in such a large group, we were reminded of the “priesthood of all believers.”
- Communion was very familiar. Small diced white bread and wine, more disgusting than ours (!) in tiny-weeny cups too. There was one subtle difference: they held on to the bread to stand and eat it all together (like we do with the wine). I didn’t know until it was too late but I had eaten mine “as soon as I had received it.” The words rolling through my mind! So when the time came to stand, I stood facing a packed church without any bread to eat! I think I was forgiven but only as an uneducated pagan!
- The children and young people were upstairs, even so the average age of the congregation was very high. A young organist, who delighted in a semi-tone transposition for each last verse, was one of the exceptions. The future will be hard but I was encouraged by the pastors’ determination to seize the opportunity of their 100th anniversary later this year to spur the community on to new things. When Daniel arrived (1990’s) he quickly led a church plant into the North of the city which has since planted out twice. Since then the demands of leading a large city church have probably kept him preoccupied. I admire his willingness to start thinking afresh.
- At the close of the service people departed very rapidly, despite the cold outside. There seemed little conversation and not as much community as I would have expected. Maybe this is done elsewhere. Like us, the ‘event’ will become less important on its own.