Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

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in Unity

Presbyterians Unite

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Sunday was a day of glorious celebration at Chimwemwe Presbyterian Church.  The women’s fellowship from a church in Lusaka was up for a visit, a marching band and majorettes were present, and the former head pastor was preaching.  The church was packed, noisy, and Spirit-filled!  With four different choirs, the band and majorettes, and a long-winded preacher, it seemed as though the celebration would never end.  When the Spirit is moving, though, who wants the celebration to end?!

One of the most beautiful aspects of this service was the coming together of several different expressions of Presbyterianism.  The reasons for different Presbyterian denominations in Zambia are very different from those in the U.S., but they are still distinctive, and one could say ‘divided’, churches.

The congregation itself is of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA).  This denomination got its start in South Africa and is the continued result of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (White British settler Presbyterians) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (Black African Presbyterians) coming together.  It has since spread northward to Zimbabwe and Zambia.

There were also representatives from the Kwacha Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP).  The CCAP got its start in Malawi and then spread westward into Zambia.  Within Zambia is therefore strongest in the Eastern Province, along the border with Malawi.  The CCAP is generally thought of as being a bit more conservative than the UPCSA, but they see themselves as part of the same family.

The marching band was visiting from Mindolo United Church of Zambia (UCZ) right here on the MEF campus.  The UCZ is a union of various missionary organizations and churches that were in Zambia before independence.  These include the Church of Barotseland (French Presbyterians), the United Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland, the London Missionary Society (Anglican and Presbyterian), and the Free Churches on the Copperbelt.  It is now a distinctively Zambian church that has beautifully integrated these different traditions.  Presbyterianism, though, is definitely there at its roots.

And finally there was I, representing the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).

In this day and age a lot of the ecumenical work we have to do is within our own families.  Given modern divisions and fragmentations, some of our bitterest relationships are with fellow Presbyterians.  This is because it hurts more when there is fighting and separation between people who have worshiped together, grown together, and loved together.  The wounds are deeper and rawer.  I certainly have opinions about issues surrounding the cost of unity versus the cost of division and which is worth more, but that is not the point of this post.  And the situation is of course different between Zambian Presbyterian churches and U.S. American Presbyterian churches, including the reasons for the existence of separate churches within each context.  The point IS, though, that Presbyterians can come together and celebrate together to the booming of a marching brass band and the dancing of majorettes.


Posted May 9, 2016


Just Say YES

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

This past Sunday one of the texts was from Acts 16, the story of Lydia of Thyatira who sold purple cloth and presumably founded the church in Macedonia.  In the passage we learn that Lydia was baptized along with her entire household.  This baptism of a whole household has always struck me as wonderful because it is intergenerational, familial, and communal.  In my experience in the U.S. I think I have only ever witnessed the baptism of three or fewer people (babies) in one service.  And until this weekend I had never enacted the sacrament of baptism itself.


As Lydia taught me, though, God can open our hearts and reveal God’s self when we don’t expect it.  Somehow God prepares us for it.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy went to Macedonia on a whim from a vision in a dream, which was completely unplanned.  Lydia was leading a gathering of women outside the walls of Philippi only to be interrupted by these three.  On a whim she hosted them at her home, which became their place of refuge and the launching point for the church.  She was prepared without notice and maybe even without knowing.


Last Thursday a colleague within the MEF campus invited me to preach at his church on Sunday.  I was initially reluctant because I already had a busy weekend planned, but I remembered my goal from way back at the beginning of this fellowship to say YES as much as possible when it came to my ministry here in Zambia.  And so YES it was.


I can say that I honestly hadn’t done much preparation for my sermon that day, and I certainly wasn’t expecting there to be baptisms and Communion.  Yet, God was revealing God’s self.  I learned as I arrived that over twenty people would be baptized and that we would be presiding over the Lord’s Supper.  There were actually close to thirty ready to go through the waters.  They formed a line, and the host pastor and I started at each end and met in the middle.  I baptized five adults and ten babies.  I only messed up the formula once (the very first time no less…don’t worry, though, our God is gracious!)  Only one baby screamed.  Several smiled. 


This beautiful first time presiding over the sacrament of baptism was completely unexpected, and I felt completely unprepared.  As came up in the sermon, though, God labors with us!  It was intergenerational.  It was familial.  It was communal.  



Posted May 3, 2016


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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8