Friday, August 13, 2010
Good morning God,
One of the joys of being able to keep a church open every day during the day, is the opportunity it provides for prayer and pastoral ministry to the whole community.
Given its size and location, New Malden is a surprisingly diverse community. It is currently dominated by three specific groups;
White Europeans (including a growing number of Eastern Europeans),
Koreans (New Malden has the largest community of Koreans in Europe) and
Sri Lankans (mainly Tamil).
In our cafe we also have a regular table set aside for a group of Syrian Orthodox, Iraqi refugees.
On some days, it can sometimes seem as though the whole world has come to us to share in the warmth and hospitality that the Church is able to offer by its presence on the High Street.
It does, however, also pose some interesting pastoral conundrums - when cultures clash and faith is challenged to think differently about prayer and action, morals and ethics.
This week, for example, I was asked to pray with a Christian Tamil gentleman who had traveled to New Malden from Denmark in search of a wife for his 25 year old Son. "Only God can help me in my search", he explained, "so it makes sense to start here - would you please pray that I will be successful and find for him a wife who will travel back with me to Denmark?"
Although I know that many Christian cultures still practice arranged marriages, it is not something that we encounter very often in the Churches here. Throughout most of the Western world, people presume that marriage is the union of two people who are already in love. The idea of someone else choosing our life-partner for us challenges our presumptions of freedom, individuality, autonomy..
Isn't marriage all about the renunciation of those things? The loss of I in WE, the willing abandonment of personal freedoms in favour of shared responsibilities, the death of self for the sake of something new.
The difference is, of course, that some cultures still consider marriage to be a part of their social and religious duty rather than just a personal privilege. They believe that those who can marry should, for the sake of society; not least, to ensure that children are raised in the best possible environment.
Marriage is not about what 'I' want, or even about what 'we' would like to do, but about what You command and the world needs,
Considered in that light, it is far too important to be left to the whim of an often fleeting emotional or physical response to another individual. If it is to benefit society, and enrich the life of the whole extended family then it needs to be carefully, prayerfully thought through.. and who best to choose the partners than those who know the young people best?
You - and of course, the parents!
Whilst I could never condone a forced marriage or an unwilling marriage - I believe there is much to be said for an arranged marriage based on loving trust and mutual consent. Following conversation, and a shared service of holy communion, I found that I was genuinely happy to pray with the father in search of a bride for his son. What's more, I trust that our prayers will be answered and that you will guide him to the family of the young woman who would be willing to commit herself to the new life waiting for her in Denmark.
It is indeed, a great privilege to be able to share in prayer with people from all over the world, not least because the requests that others make of us are such an amazing invitation from You to rethink our own requests.