Following up the movement of officers I wrote about in ‘All Change’, this weekend I have been to two of the places where new leaders needed to be officially welcomed and presented to their congregations.
On Saturday Iveta and I made our way to Sarkaņi where Inga, the officer from the neighbouring corps, Liepa, along with her husband, Jānis, had offered to take responsibility for the work there. We arrived to be greeted by a room full of people, some, of course, from Sarkaņi and others from Liepa who had come along to support. We enjoyed a time of worship together, and then I reminded Inga of her responsibilities as a Salvation Army officer in a little ceremony similar to one used the world over in The Salvation Army on such an occasion. It was a reminder to keep the Bible, the truths of the Christian Gospel and the needs of the poorest in society as her focus, and to aim to introduce people to Jesus. The congregation also made its own response too, promising to follow Inga’s lead and promising to pray for her and Jānis.
The people came forward with the inevitable gifts of flowers, and then Inga preached, very cleverly combining an Advent message with her manifesto to the people of Sarkaņi. She used the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel to illustrate the fact that it is important to communicate, not just at a superficial level, but at a deeper level where it is possible to hear people’s real needs and longings. The proceedings ended with the Sarkaņi folk extending hospitality to us all in the shape of huge buns and tea and coffee! It was a good start.
The next day we went to Saldus to welcome Ilona and Dmitrijs as the new leaders there. When I walked in everyone seemed very subdued. I’m usually greeted with smiles and hugs but these seemed in much shorter supply than is usually the case. I realised that this is the first time this very new Salvation Army community had experienced change, so it was obvious that they would be a bit apprehensive about the change of leadership. If they were nervous, so were Ilona and Dmitrijs, particularly as Ilona was to preach for the first time to the assembled company. The pattern followed was similar to that at Sarkaņi the day before, with worship, the ceremony and then the sermon preached by Ilona. Using Scripture (it was lovely to hear the rustle of pages being turned as she gave the Bible references) she emphasised the need for the Christian community to worship together, speaking about the fact that we need each other if we are going to be effective in our work for God. Ilona’s style was engaging and sincere and evoked a response from some members of the congregations during the time of prayer at the end of the meeting. Buns, coffee and tea followed, and, I don’t know if it is my imagination, but everyone seemed far more relaxed at the end of the meeting than they were at the beginning.
Reflecting on these two visits, there is one small incident that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind. New beginnings are exciting, but also slightly scary. One lady, on her way out of the meeting at Sarkaņi on Saturday, said good bye to me and added ‘būs labi’, and I agreed, yes, ‘būs labi’ – everything will be OK. Whether she really felt that or whether she was looking for my confirmation that everything would be OK was beyond my knowledge of Latvian to find out. However, the phrase seems to be an appropriate Latvian shorthand for something Julian of Norwich said many centuries ago:
‘ All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’