We are being taken to church today. We are all going to the Baptist Church in Nazareth. We are not going to the Baptist Church that meets on the ground floor of the Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary. We are not going to Nazareth Baptist Church, the original Baptist Church planted by the Southern Baptists many years ago but now independent of them. The Pastor of Nazareth Baptist Church is nearly 90 years of age. He is a good man we are told, but although he is ‘going to retire’ soon, he has been saying this for at least 15 years and somehow can’t actually bring himself to do so. I can understand that – I am only 68 but still have a passion for sharing the Gospel with others! Any way we are not going to Nazareth Baptist Church. We are not going to the Baptist Church that meets just down the road from where we are staying – the Baptist Church that was planted by the Pastor who came to Nazareth to take over from the nearly 90 year old Pastor at the original Baptist Church a few years ago, but who never quite managed to do so. We are going to the Baptist Church that meets in the Baptist School, right next doors to the original Baptist church with the nearly 90 year old Pastor! Confused? So are we … but we decide to go with the flow anyway!
After breakfast some us decide to walk down to the church. It is about a 15 minute walk downhill all the way. It is rather steep but we find our way o.k. Julia and I resolve that we will catch the bus after the service rather than walk uphill all the way back. It is strange walking through the streets of Nazareth with nearly all the shops shut and not too much traffic on the roads. Everyone (even the Moslems) observe Sunday as a day of rest. The Service at the Baptist Church we are going to starts at 10 a.m. today with a half hour Communion Service, followed by the main Morning Service at 10.30 a.m. We have to walk right by Nazareth Baptist Church in order to get into the Baptist School for our church service. The nearly 90 year old Pastor is unlocking the doors as we arrive. He gives us a friendly wave, realising that we are on our way into the ‘other Baptist Church’.
Some of the members of the church and congregation are busy setting up in the big school hall when we arrive. We are warmly welcomed, directed to special seats ‘where the teachers usually sit’. They look just like all the other seats – metal fold up seats – but we are given special cushions to go on our seats. We get a set of head phones as well so that we can follow an English translation of the Service. They have an excellent data projector set up, a great little band, and by the time we start the Communion Service the hall is about half full. It is a nice little Service, quite informal, with people gradually joining the congregation as they arrive. By the time we are ready to seamlessly move into the main Service the hall is packed. There must be somewhere between 100 and 200 people here at least – all ages with an impressive number of young people and children. The Service is led by one of the Elders. They don’t have a Pastor here but they do have an impressive number of highly qualified lay people including the Principal of the Baptist School (one of the best schools in Israel apparently) and most of the staff from NETS. All the songs are projected on to the screen in Arabic and English so we can join in. The Service is informal with a lot of participation from the congregation particularly in prayer. We are introduced to eight young people who are going to be baptised next Saturday. We pray for them, and then we have an interesting sermon from 1 Peter 3 from a visiting Pastor about the need for mutual submission between husbands and wives – especially interesting given the male chauvinism of the Arab society in general. After the Service we have Arabic coffee and cake, and lots of people come and say hello to us.
Despite our initial feelings of concern over the seemingly numerous splits amongst the Baptist Christians in Nazareth (and elsewhere in Israel also we are led to believe), we are impressed by the spiritual vitality of these people. In some way the inability of the nearly 90 year old Pastor to relinquish his office has been a godsend – it has led to to the planting of several other vibrant congregations!
After the Service Julia and I wander off to catch the bus back to Saint Margaret’s. The other members of our group are all doing different things today. David an Margi are going to Akko with Bryson and May, because they missed the trip the other day. Graham and Rosemary are going back to Tiberius for a swim in the Sea of Galilee. Julia and I are planning to spend the afternoon sleeping! We want to be fresh for tomorrow’s lectures. We wait at the bus stop for the number 15 bus. It is a circular route (like the Circle Line on the London Underground) so we could catch a bus going either way. The number 15 comes every 30 minutes we are reliably told. We see a number 15 go by in the other direction as we wait at the bus stop. An hour later there has still been no bus. We have a sudden revelation that perhaps the number 15 is only going one way round the circuit today? We see another number 15 coming on the other side of the road and quickly run across the road to the other bus stop. The nice bus driver waits for us, and drops us off right outside the main gate to Saint Margaret’s, even though it means taking a road that is not usually on his route?! We have a picnic lunch in our room made up of food we purloined from breakfast and then collapse into bed exhausted from our busy first week. We manage to get up for dinner … it is chicken again, of course … but they have managed to make it look like fish this time … and it tastes like veal!? It is yumacious!