What the Church means to me

From our Link Partner, Dr Simon Challand in Kasese, Uganda, and read as the second reading at our 10.45am Eucharist on Sunday 20th December 1998. This formed part of our Advent sermon series on "What the Church means to me".

I was sitting in my little Suzuki with Michael Tindikahwa in the car park of the Queen Elizabeth National Park when a muzunguu (white man) came up to us and said, with an East Coast American accent, "Hey, you are with Church of Uganda, that’s Anglican, right? The same as me, I am with the American Episcopalian Church". Mark, for that was his name, was no fool and he had correctly interpreted the evidence in front of him - a car bearing the words "Church of Uganda" and "Rejoice". It transpired that he was a trainee priest from New York who was here on a short sabbatical, suffering a mild dose of culture shock, and keen to grab hold of something familiar to help orientate himself. Michael and I were happy to oblige, although we struggled to understand how someone who works in a soup kitchen in a city which has such delightful areas as "The Bronx" and "Queens" could be in Uganda worrying about the "violence and poverty" around him. So we spent the day together, representatives from the Church of Uganda, the Church of England (currently on a free transfer) and the American Episcopalian Church - not exactly Lambeth but an interesting gathering all the same. When I was in England, "Church" always meant a certain group of people who gathered together under the same roof once a week. Coming out to Uganda as a CMS Mission Partner meant leaving behind such reassuring comforts and stepping out into the unknown. Would "Church" still exist here?

World Wide Web

I find that the Church is bigger than I once thought. On Sundays I worship in All Saints, Kilembe, along with around five hundred other Christians spread over four services. Today my motorbike broke down and as I wandered through the hot streets of Kasese I was rescued by Rev. Ezra, such are the benefits of being the only white face in his flock. From Monday to Friday I work with the Church as it lives out the good news of a "holistic gospel", bringing health in body and spirit, to the people of South Rwenzori Diocese. Within this geographical boundary the Anglicans do not enjoy a monopoly, so I find myself working alongside Catholics, Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. Church is there on Saturdays as well, when I go camping with my American Conservative Baptist friends, with whom I have agreed that "out here what divides us is not nearly as important as what binds us together". I travelled up to Kampala a few weeks ago for a meeting of the Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau, a gathering of Christian doctors from around the country - reminding me that in every corner of this beautiful and troubled land, the Church in all its various guises is hard at work amongst the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and the sick. Like working from the inside out of a Russian doll I find the Church reaching across national boundaries as I receive letters from friends and co-workers in other parts of Africa, India, Nepal, Thailand, and the Philippines and of course from my Link Churches in the UK. When I pray I use the liturgy of Celebrating Common Prayer as used by the Society of St Francis which reminds me that as I say the words I am praying in unison with many Christians around the world.

Although in many senses I live and work alone, I am constantly discovering the truth of Jesus’ words:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Matt: 19:29

For me "Church" means a World Wide Web of Christians living, serving and praying, bound together in the love of Christ. "One Church - One Body - One Lord".

Simon Challand

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 27th December 1998