Festival of Methodist Fellowships and language-diverse congregations

15 November 2022

To see the world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour  (William Blake)

Most of the mission of the church happens in the valley, in the ordinary faithful day-to-day dedication of making the hard-slog sweat into the joyful-heartfelt Gospel of Christ. But, just as it was for Jesus and the disciples, from time to time, there are mountain-top experiences, such as that of the mount Tabor, the transfiguration (Luke 9). The mountain top is where in ordinary time and space, heaven and earth combine, angels and prophets of old meet us in adoration of God. “Wouldn’t it be good if we could remain here, Lord?”, asked Peter.

It was a mountain-top experience that the Fellowships and language-diverse congregations had on a Sunday afternoon at St Mark’s Methodist Church in Tottenham, London. The Church was full, including the gallery, around 250 people were present. They were of all ages and from all over the world. The occasion was a Festival of Music and Food. What a joy!!! The music was lively and mostly accompanied by dancing; and the food was out of this world.

It happened within a proper Methodist ritual structure, of traditional Charles Wesley’s hymns to begin and finish with, and World Christian songs in the middle, interspersed with moving testimonies and prayers, a reflection and a great deal of dancing. We felt that we were not alone even though in perhaps a strange Land. We were able to sing the Lord’s song. On that blessed afternoon, it felt as if the time had stopped and eternity could be tasted in that very moment.   

fellowships-festival-2-1122The participating groups came from near and far, from London itself and as far away as Liverpool. It was telling, when the Auntie who leads the Zimbabwean Coventry Fellowship gave way to the very young teenager to lead the chanting. Led by a boy, the whole altar was consumed in flames. They danced and shouted words of acclamation.

The drum beat inviting people to join in, ministers included. The Revd William Davis who had organised the event, managed to get the Revd Stephen Poxon to join the dance. It has to be said that perhaps for the Chair of the Fellowship Committee (Mr Poxon), who was the perfect Master of Ceremony for the Festival, the dance might have been a challenge culturally too far.

Iranians were there too. They have been recently baptised. They could hard believe what they were witnessing. Indeed, they found out why the great missionary to the East, Henry Martyn, once said: “Sufis are the Methodists of the East”. The Spirit descended and those on the altar were transfigured. The Ghanaian colourful costumes shone moved by the rhythm of the Choir Master. The organ, drums and trombone  led to the swirling. It sounded as if we had arrived in heaven.

It was meaningful and moving when the Hong Kong Methodist Fellowship that gathers at Sutton Trinity LEP sang in Cantonese about God’s protection and provision. It contrasted with their story of having to leave their country and seek a new beginning elsewhere. A quietness took over the church. Is there faith as theirs? The same deep quiet spirituality characteristic of the East was present too in the songs shared by the Sri Lankan Tamil Fellowship. The Christian faith easily manifests the oneness of God in the diversity of the world’s cultures. ‘Our God contracted to a span’, incomprehensibility revealed in diverse cultural forms.   

It is not known why there was an interval of 12 years between the last Festival and the one that happened at the end of October 2022. Whatever reason, it was worth the wait. Let’s hope the next one won’t need to wait for such a long time. Perhaps, it might be an idea to make it an integral part of the Black History Month celebrations every year.

When the spiritual mountain-top event ceases, the swirling gives way to the dawn. As for the disciples after the Transfiguration experience, now, it is time to come back down to the valley, where great faithfulness is required, and bad spirits confronted.

It is our time to ask: “Lord, wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could have remained up there, where earth and heaven combine?”


Leão Neto, after Stephen Poxon’s biblical interpretation of the event.