On one of my visits this week I was fascinated to see the object in the picture. It caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have to admit that I had never seen one before, and secondly it looked quite incongruous in a setting where I am more used to seeing toys and games and all kinds of other paraphernalia connected with children. Such an ornate item seemed oddly out of place in such a setting. I was informed that it was a ‘samovar’ – a traditional Russian pot for boiling water to make tea. I’ve since discovered, thanks to YouTube, that a samovar traditionally was indispensable to a Russian home, a bit like a fireplace was to a British home. My education, if not complete, has been considerably enhanced by this knowledge!
The samovar stood as silent witness to the meeting that I was having with the officers (pastors) of the corps (church). I was there to go through the membership rolls and also the attendees at the services which are held there. This is not an easy situation to work and minister in, as will become apparent, and I was tremendously impressed, and moved too, by the fact that, like all good shepherds, the officers could give a good account of their flock and knew something about everyone of them, even if it was, in exceptional cases, to say that, sadly, they no longer knew their whereabouts.
It was a unique experience for me. I have conducted many such meetings, but never one quite like this one. I listened to a litany of incredibly sad stories about some of the people who have attended the church in the recent past. I heard about a lady who had been murdered, of another who was now in prison for murdering her own son, and of a number who had been hospitalised, and were likely to be so for a long time to come, some of them, the officers told me, were actually unlikely to ever be well enough to come out of hospital. I knew the answer the officer would give me when I asked what the common denominator was to all these stories – the abuse of alcohol. The lady who had been murdered was evidently a lovely lady who had made real progress with her addiction, but then one day got involved with a group who were drinking heavily and was murdered. The mother had killed her son when they had had a drunken squabble, and a major contributory factor to the hospitalisation of many of the others was their heavy drinking or alcoholism.
One couldn’t help but be touched by the overwhelming sadness and futility of all this waste of life. In light of this, I hope the title of this piece will not seem insensitively trivial, it’s just that I found myself looking at the samovar and wondering how different their lives might have been if a samovar had been the centrepiece in their homes.