‘I pray for England to become spiritually rich’

by
31 August 2019

As the Archbishop of Canterbury arrives in India, Godfrey Kesari reflects on ministry in the country of his birth and his home in England

LAMBETH PALACE

A group of Christians of Indian heritage from around the UK visited Lambeth Palace in June, for a eucharist and lunch hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury

A group of Christians of Indian heritage from around the UK visited Lambeth Palace in June, for a eucharist and lunch hosted by the Archbishop of Cant...

GOD chooses the place and purpose of his calling. We moved from India to the UK in 2004. My time here has taught me that the gospel is universal and does not change fundamentally in relation to the context. But how we present it in different cultural milieux is important.

It is no longer fashionable to go to church in England. Having grown up in a religious country, I sometimes find it confusing to live in one where secularism is on the rise. It is sad to hear people say that eternal life is just a myth. It is also fascinating for me to see that, while the Church of England wants more people to come forward for ordination, the Indian Church (the Church of South India in particular) is unable to accommodate all who come forward for ordination because there are too many.

GODFREY KESARIMarthandam Church in the Kanyakumari diocese of the Church of South India, where Dr Kesari worshipped as a child

For a priest in England, finding enough people to be members of the PCC and to serve the church in other ways can be, I find, an onerous task, whereas a priest in India has to console and comfort people who didn’t make it on to church committees. Elections are fiercely fought. They sometimes even result in scuffles.

Yet, while the churches here are far from full, I see that it is only people who are really eager to be present who are in church week after week. Worshipping God in church is a matter not of habit or duty for the faithful, but of priority and joy.

 

IT HAS been a pleasure to see how the health, education, and social-security systems work in the UK, and heartening to see many charity-minded people working to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. Indisputably, the Church in England fulfils its prophetic ministry by standing up for justice and serving communities. Many other countries have a lot to learn from the dedication and contribution of the Church in England. 

Equally, we in England have a lot to learn from poorer but more religious countries, such as India. It is quite sad that the land that sent missionaries has come to suffer a certain spiritual impoverishment. It is time that we relearn that it is not materialism or popularity that makes us really rich, but the knowledge of the presence of God in Christ with us.

I have often wondered whether people in poorer countries are happier than those in the developed countries of the West. In poorer countries, a certain level of acceptance that this world is not heaven is always there. Metaphorically speaking, the poor are empty enough to accept readily what God can do in their lives. They are bereft of worldly possessions to cling on to and regard as a substitute to God. Suffering is a part of life, but we can take comfort from believing that God is there, even in the deepest valleys. There is joy in knowing that we always have God to be our comforter and redeemer. GODFREY KESARIThe Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari

I am not suggesting that we pray that England become materially poor, nor am I arguing that becoming less affluent is a precondition of becoming closer to God. But accumulating more wealth should not be our sole or primary goal in life — certainly not in the Christian life. I am suggesting that we pray persistently for England to become spiritually rich, too. Only then we can tap into the joy of God in all its abundance.

 

IF WE want to live a fulfilling life based on faith in Christ, we need to learn not the culture of the East or the West, but the culture of Jesus, cemented by the true inwardness of his teachings. He was in constant communion with God the Father through prayer. That was where he received his joy and strength. God’s love for his people overflowed from Jesus to others in word and deed. He exemplified how we should love God and love one another. He is the model for us when it comes to seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness first.

Cross-cultural ministry can be challenging, but the redeeming good news is that the love of Christ on the cross has the power to breach cultural differences and save the entire world.


The Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari is the Interfaith Adviser for the diocese of Chichester, and the Vicar of the Holy Innocents’, Southwater, in West Sussex.

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