LOCATED on a hillside in Stonebridge, in the Brent Borough, north-west of London, St Michael & All Angels Church sits in Gothic holy splendour with its arches and towers as ancient as history.
It was built (or rebuilt) in 1896 and dedicated to the memory of King Edward the something—I don’t know which of the Edwards but I saw an ancient stone slab bearing King Edward inside the church.
The vicar, Rev. Ron H. Herbert was in the middle of a sermon when we walked in solemnly—me, my wife and two sons, to worship, to seek the face of the Lord in London on this glorious Sabbath day. Didn’t the Holy Book ask us to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”?
Like a buffet, there was a smorgasbord of faiths, assorted churches to choose from, but we settled for this Anglican Church. Because we were Anglicans originally by faith before we switched to the evangelical faith with its strong, radical approach to worship. However, we always find ourselves going back to the Anglican faith when the occasion demands. And where else can one rekindle the nostalgia for Anglicanism than in England, the mecca of the Anglican faith?
Oh, those timeless hymns from the forgotten past, driven by the harmony of the pipe organs. They bring back the past. They bring back tears in the eyes of man and the eyes of God. The pipe organ is as old as the church itself. It is God’s favourite musical instruments. In the words of one churchgoer, “the organ sound is a safe place to put your voice no matter how you sing. No other instrument has the sound to accompany a large number of people like the organ.” Nothing can beat the joy of entering a cathedral and hearing the melodious voices of the cathedral choir singing a hymn accompanied by the organ.
Inside St Michael’s Church on this morning of 21st August, there were far more empty pews. It was a case of church empty seats begging for occupiers. To put it bluntly, here in this great kingdom, people have stopped going to church. The number of those who don’t even believe in God outranks those who believe. And if you conducted a headcount, you would find that the population of black people in the congregation were more than the white in a ratio of 2:1.
Here in England as in other parts of Europe, the main religion is football. The god they worship is football. Every Saturday or Sunday or Monday evenings, they troop to the stadium to watch football. They sing, they chant, they scream in ecstasy each time a goal is scored. And each time they lose a match, it is like the end of the world. Anger. Agony. Angst.
In this temple of football, the gods and demigods are local and foreign stars like Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson, Diego Costa, Harry Kane, John Terry, Jamie Vardy, Paul Pogba and the self-claimed “god of Manchester Zlatan Ibrahimovic, just to name a few. If a book has not been written about you, then you are not yet great.
So much is the grip of football on this society that the nation is divided into tribes. You either belong to the tribe of Arsenal or Chelsea or Liverpool or Manchester United or the newly crowned kings Leicester where our very own Ahmed Musa has just been unveiled to strengthen their squad. Soon, he would be a god in Leicester, if not the whole of England.
The sermon was about the love for children. The vicar spoke about how good it is to love our children because they represent our future. He quoted Luke 18: 16, how Jesus had to chastise his disciples for trying to bar children from “bringing their babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them. And when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to Him and said ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of God belong to such as these. Truly I tell you, if anyone does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, he will never enter it.’”
After the sermon, there was child dedication. Three parents, all Africans, brought their children to the altar. Out of the three, two were Nigerians of Igbo origin, judging from their names. One baby was named Chelsea obviously by her soccer-mad father or mother or both. And when Reverend Ron Herbert carried the baby Chelsea in his hand, his prayer was: “Oh God of heaven and earth, may this baby Chelsea not turn into an Arsenal fan when she grows.”
And the whole church burst into a cacophony of laughter!
This is the extent to which soccer madness has even crept into the church.
After the sermon, it was time for prayers. Rev. Herbert prayer was for the “Olympic heroes” who were out there representing “this great country of ours,” who were using their God-given talents to win honours and glories for Great Britain. He asked God to bless them abundantly, to preserve them and strengthen them for the next Olympics. He blessed God for making it possible for Britain to have the best Olympic performance in the island’s history. He thanked God for “the great men and women who have done us proud in the Olympics.”
Next, he prayed for the homeless and for those who won’t have money to go on holidays this summer. He prayed for God to provide for them, to make it possible for them to travel next summer.
He prayed for the Notting Hill Carnival that will be held this year on August 28 and 29th. He prayed for it to be successful and for there not to be any negative incident or accident.
Overall, the prayers were short and straight to the point. No jigsaws. It set me reflecting. I was thinking about home and the kind of prayers we pray in our churches. At home in Nigeria, we pray, long, convoluted prayers. Our prayers are more poetic, more creative, more spiritual, more philosophical, more bombastic, more rhetorical, more cliché-ridden and more of everything, so much so that it can even get God confused. At home in Nigeria, when we pray, we pray against witches and wizards. We pray against ancestral curses that are still haunting us. We pray against our close relations that are impeding our progress. We pray against enemy within that is behind our downfalls. We stamp our feet on the grounds to crush imaginary enemies that must be crushed.
If praying were to be part of the Olympics, Nigeria will clear all the medals! We will win all the gold, silver and bronze in the prayer category. We believe prayer is the magic wand that can do everything, even if all we do is to pray and do nothing.
As for the white man, he doesn’t know how to pray. Even though they are the ones that brought us Christianity, we have surpassed them. Just as we pray, so do our problems keep mounting like Mount Everest or is it Mount ‘Neverest’? Sometimes, I used to wonder which country disturbs God most, when it comes to prayers. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-prayers. And this is no satire. Everything I have achieved in life, everywhere I have reached, it is by the route of prayer. I am not against prayers. I am only amused by the white man’s prayer request compared to that of the Nigerian. While the white man is praying for a good holiday, the Nigerian is praying for deliverance from witchcraft and ancestral curse inside an abysmal darkness in a country where everything was stolen by our own people, our own leaders who should have used our God-given wealth to build the necessary infrastructure that we lack everywhere and can’t make us progress as a nation. May God help us!