It's Sunday night--Amy and I have arrived in England after a week with the Choir in Kiev and Moscow. We had a special time with the choir, enjoying their concerts, sharing insights, hearing their stories, laughing together and understanding more of Eastern Europe and the churches we visited.
Dan and the choir did an amazing job memorizing 20 pieces of music and adapting to all kinds of venues. People were amazed at our choir and bells. We had to remind ourselves that our choir is a called choir, not a professional choir, because they sang with such conviction, skill and energy. Their faces told the story along with music from different genres, from classical to spirituals. I turned to Dan on the last night of the concert and told him I couldn't imagine the choir and bells sounding better. I was impressed and proud they were representing Christ and our church.
Here's a few thoughts from our first time in Moscow:
The Kremlin is a walled ancient city with impressive historical buildings, but what was so surprising was the centrality of historic orthodox churches within its walls. The three orthodox churches plus the bell tower were used for baptisms, coronations, worship and weddings during the time of the czars until the Revolution. The Church of the Assumption was used as a storage facility for much of the Soviet Era, but it was not destroyed. The icons and frescoes are amazing.
That night the choir sang at the Central Baptist Church, which is 125 years old and the only protestant church open during the Soviet era. There were 6000 members in the early 90s, but those members began other churches around Moscow and now the membership is at 1600. The concert was scheduled during a normal Thursday night prayer service, so there was a good crowd for the concert, including teens from the bell choir leaning over the balcony to see the choir. There was a film crew from the Christian television network interviewing Alex and there were two Asian young women from a local music school who were interested in hearing the choir sing.Don King, Dan Bird, Amy and I had the opportunity to speak with Alexander, an "unorthodox" orthodox priest who shared about his ministry to the poor and homeless in Moscow. Caring for the poor is a new experience for Christians in Russia. During the Communist Era the government took care of the poor, now Christians are learning to demonstrate charity. Alexander is unorthodox because he believes salvation is for all believers, that Jesus calls us to be a part of his Kingdom and to follow his way. After he shared what he believed was the "Jesus Way" I said, "Well, then we are brothers." He responded with a smile, "I hope so."
That day I spoke with an orthodox priest, and Anglican dean, and a Baptist minister who have all said we need to be united around our love for Jesus. If I'm the fourth and we all agree, that's pretty good! Unity around the person of Jesus is a very precious and important thing in Russia and across the globe. I used John 17:19-22 as the text for my message that evening. As the choir sang I thought about how they demonstrate unity. They are all different, with different personalities, gifts, ages, experiences. They sing together because they follow the director who keeps them all on the same page and helps their voices actually sound beautiful. In the same way Jesus is our director and has music for us to sing so that our song is a beautiful song for the world. When we have unity Jesus says the world knows that God sent him into the world. John says No one has ever seen God but when we love one another God iives in us and his love is made complete in us. What greater witness is there to the world, yet what greater challenge do we have than unity?
I have a Ukrainian icon of Jesus in my office. It looks very much like the one I saw in the St. Andrews Church, the mosaic in Red Square and another one we saw in St. Michael the Archangel in Kiev. Now when I see my icon I will remember that we may all worship differently, but we worship the same Jesus. I'm grateful to Doug Burleigh, the former president of Young Life and longtime visitor to Russia, who encouraged us to see there is one church in Russia--the Church of Jesus Christ.