On Sabbath 29th October 2017, a day of fellowship was held in Area 5 of the North England Conference to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Exactly five years later, on 29th October 2022, Area 5 met for a day of fellowship for the first time in 5 years!
The use of e-bulletins (via QR codes and the NEC website), designated areas for those not wishing to be photographed or filmed, and bank details displaying the offering information demonstrate a few of the changes that have taken place in our churches over the last few years. However, God's faithfulness and His ability to "still calm the troubled storms of this life" have remained unchanged. The day of fellowship was "like a celebration of how He has kept us during everything we've been through."
"Wonderful Words of Life" was the opening hymn for Divine Service and could have easily been used as the theme for the day: messages of hope, praise and encouragement (orally and visually) permeated every aspect of the morning's services. Participants came from churches across the area and beyond with an inclusive variety of cultures, ages and worship styles - all assembling for fellowshipping and praising God.
Lively Sabbath School Lesson Discussion
A panel of members expounded biblical clarity on the resurrection. The central message was of the hope in the first resurrection despite the soul's non-immortality. We were left with a thought-provoking application from Inez Brown, "We've got this hope that we'll see our loved ones again…but we'll only see them if we're in the right resurrection. Many of us come to church, we play church, we pretend church, and we're not talking to each other. Members will come in, and they'll see a brother or sister and walk straight past because they're holding a grudge. If I die tomorrow and I'm holding a grudge, which resurrection will I be in?"
During the welcome, Pastor Isaac Liburd reminded us that we were here to worship God and enthusiastically retold praise declarations in case they were forgotten. We had convened not to look at blank screens, unable to participate – as in Zoom – but to engage actively in worship. An energetic group of young singers and musicians led by Byron Taylor delivered a lively and uplifting praise and worship session that made it easy for the congregation to respond to Pastor Liburd's request. Very soon, the exclamations of "Amen!", "Praise the Lord!" and "Hallelujah!" filled the auditorium.
A spirit of praise pervaded the atmosphere and was strongly felt during a memorable and vehement offering appeal. Pastor Jermaine Swaby (the self-declared "COVID-19 pastor" who found himself in lockdown three months after arriving in the UK) was glad to attend his first day of fellowship to celebrate "the goodness, provisions, sustaining power, loving-kindness, healing power and mercies of almighty God."
Encouraging Words in Song
During Sabbath School, Trio (a group from Handsworth) reminded us that "sometimes we have not because we ask not" and should, therefore, "take it to the Lord in prayer." In addition, a harmonious, traditional rendition of "Master the tempest is raging" by Coventry North's choir provided a well-received reminder of the peace we can experience through Christ.
Naomi Parchment, after refreshing our spirits with the song "It Is Well With My Soul" brought further reassurance in her introduction to the meditational "Stand." "The word of the Lord," she stated, "declares that after you've suffered a while, the God of all grace will perfect, establish and strengthen you."
Inspiring Sermon - The Breaking Point
Dr Brinton McKenzie, the pastor of Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church in St Louis, presented the varying responses of King David to his experiences with King Saul, culminating in his decision to join the Philistines. In doing so, he found himself alone, without support from his own men, having to "encourage himself in the Lord." Several teenagers commented that his sermon was true to life, easy to understand and demonstrated how we should treat each other. Lauren, one of the many young adults who attended the celebration, found the message exciting and encouraging. "It was a lively message that I felt was needed and something I could relate to," she declared. A senior member felt it was "timely with substance." They felt they wanted to go home and listen to it again and wished the sermon had been longer!
The North England Conference administration supported the celebration, with Pastor and President Kumi encouraging attendees on behalf of Pastor Bran and Mr Agyei-Asare. The Pathfinder Director, Pastor Ikwisa Mwasumbi, area co-ordinators, drum corps, and local pathfinder clubs were present and involved in the service. Pastor Patricia Douglas, Children's Ministries Director, coordinated the children's Sabbath School classes, and Pastor Joe Philpott managed the media team.
Fellowship was visibly sweet as people exchanged warm hugs, expressed their delight in meeting up after such a long time, and commented excitedly on how much some of the children had grown since they last saw them!
Words of Appreciation
Dr Patrick Herbert, field secretary of Area 5 and pastor of Coventry Central, North and Nuneaton churches, thanked the pastors in Area 5 for their hard work and dedication to ministry. He was supported by his wife Anne-Marie, and together, they presented gifts to the pastors.
There was a strong sense of appreciation among our members for Pastor Herbert and the team who organised the day of fellowship. Some newly-baptised members have never attended a day of fellowship and were thrilled to have the experience and be introduced to other pastors in our area.
One member, Maxine Carradice, was particularly appreciative of all the day's proceedings and described her experience as "someone finding an oasis in the desert. When people are in a crisis, "she expressed, "they should understand we need to praise God with heart and soul. It is especially important for the young to know that God is everything, and He's trying to bring us back into a perfect relationship with Him."
Highlighted Church Activities 2022
Area 5 churches have been busy thus far in 2022. This was demonstrated by an afternoon programme with churches highlighting their various evangelism initiatives. It was a timely reminder to know that the work of God is alive throughout our area with health expos, shelter relief for the homeless, prison Bible correspondence courses, Great Controversy distribution, football ministry, refugee food deliveries, furniture distribution, social supermarkets, VBS programmes and the list continues. Pastor Isaac Liburd probingly interviewed representatives from those churches to spotlight exciting details from the various PowerPoint and video presentations.
The Way Forward
After a full day of worship and celebration, Dr Patrick Herbert, Area 5's Ministerial Field Secretary, had the last word. He acknowledged the hard work that had gone into the momentous day. He shared Area 5's aims and encouraged our churches to get involved, which would find their climax with a day of fellowship in 2023. Pastor Herbert finished with a new initiative, "Help a Church to Buy a Church" (a collaborative method of purchasing churches) and a motto for our congregation, "Area 5 Together We Will Strive."
All would agree that our Day of Fellowship was indeed a Day of Celebration.