The first British Orthodox Liturgy celebrated at St Paul's Church of England, Burslem, Stoke on Trent, was a more wonderful experience than I could have imagined. Though even on the three hour drive up from Maidstone to Stoke I suffered from a degree of anxiety that I had forgotten something important. The sun was shining for the drive up, and I was able to spend much of the time in prayer for the event and those we hoped would attend. Without any traffic problems I arrived at St Paul's, Burslem at about 9:15 and started to unpack my traveling liturgy kit and set it up in the Church.
St Paul's is an Anglican Church, and the vicar, the Rev. Darren McIndoe, has already shown hiself a great friend and partner in Christian service. He was already there, with some of the local enquirers, and made me welcome. Everything had been prepared by the time that Metropolitan Seraphim arrived from the train station, with Deacon Daniel, and Peter Louis, an Egyptian visiting the UK from Australia.
By the time we were ready to begin our service Father David Seeds and Archdeacon Alexander, from our Church of St Hubert in Doncaster, had also arrived, together with those preparing to be received into the catechumenate. The congregation was swelled with many visitors, including the Anglican Bishop of Stafford, other Anglican clergy and people, and Orthodox from the Coptic and Eritrean Churches.
I won't describe the Liturgy in exhausting detail. I will say that the large neo-Coptic icons which made up our iconostasis seemed to suit the location perfectly, and it was a great blessing to hear the whole congregation joining in with the responses with great enthusiasm. The church building was filled with a joyful sound.
Between the Raising of Incense and the Liturgy itself four local believers were made catechumens by Father David Seeds. This brings to five the number of catechumens who are now preparing for baptism and are the first fruits of our mission in the area.
After the Liturgy there was a very warm time of fellowship together over an expansive buffet provided by the local community of catechumens. It was wonderful to see so many conversations between worshippers from so many different backgrounds. There was a strong sense that our Orthodox mission in Stoke had found generous support from many local friends.
This was an exciting beginning, and I think that all of us associated with the mission in Stoke are filled with hope that God is moving to draw many to him, ordinary British people, to life in the Orthodox Church. If Orthodoxy is the fulness of life in Christ, if it is real Christianity, then it must surely be for all people, and if it is for all people then it must belong to the British people of Stoke as their own life in Christ.
I am planning to travel up regularly to Stoke to support this growing community. Your prayers are requested.