Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Spirit of Rehoboam: We've forgotten our heritage

It will disappoint many Mackems (Sunderland people*) to know that the real city crest is not made up of vertical red and white stripes and black cats.  This is what it really looks like.  If you don't believe me, look up high on the wall of the city library on Fawcett Street.

Whoever thought up that Latin motto didn't realise how timely these words would be in the early 21st Century.  The small remnant of believing Christians in the city need to shake off despair and honour the God who saved them.

A A Boddy
A hundred years ago, Sunderland was the biggest shipbuilding port in the world.  Also, it was well known by Christians too.  Alexander Boddy, the Vicar of a Parish church in Roker, has the reputation of being the founder of Pentecostalism in the UK.  Not only did he do the Sunday Services, parish visiting, Baptisms, Marriages and funerals that any good parish priest would.  He also held yearly Pentecostal conferences in his church!  The leading lights in the 20th Century
Pentecostal movement such as Smith Wigglesworth and the Jeffries brothers came, along with others from throughout Europe and North America.  In addition, he edited and distributed 'Confidence', the earliest magazine of the British pentecostal movement.

Graham Scroggie
A the same time, Graham Scroggie preached at Bethesda Baptist church.  Scroggie was known nationally for his Bible correspondence courses and was one of the best known preachers at that time, going on later to minister at Charlotte Chapel and Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Among Scroggie's books was 'The Baptism of the Spirit and Speaking with Tongues' in which he took an opposite view to his Anglican contemporary north of the River Wear.  However, it appears that there was some mutual respect between the two, as Scroggie delivered a series of Sermons at Boddy's parish church in 1909.  Bethesda Church went on to produce numerous leaders, evangelists and missionaries over the following century.  It remains to this day and is still one of the more effective churches in Sunderland.

This is not to mention, of course, the Methodist camp meetings in Sunderland and Seaham and the great impact of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century - before which William and Catherine Booth ran their 'Converting Shop' in Gateshead - a very successful church linked to the Methodists before the Army was founded.

So, why all this nostalgia?

I put to you that I'm not being nostalgic!

Let me quote you a scripture:

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1 ESV)

Now let me ask you a question.  When Nehemiah prayed that prayer and resolved to restore the walls of Jerusalem, how long ago had the city been destroyed?  Five years?  Ten years?  Twenty or thirty perhaps?

Nope.  150 years - yes one hundred and fifty!

Like Nehemiah, we should look back, and then grieve over what has happened to our city.  Then we should be crying out to him to forgive the city of its' sins and visit Sunderland powerfully again.  Nehemiah was just one man.  But he left his secure, prestigious job to make it his business to do his part in restoring Jerusalem with a small remnant of people.  Can some of us follow his example?

*A Mackem is a native of Sunderland.  The phrase "Mak 'em and tak 'em" (the Wearside pronunciation of "Make them and take them") probably refers to the ships that were manufactured here.  A Geordie, in contrast is from Tyneside or Newcastle further North.  'Geordie' is a Scottish nickname for a man named George.  The folks of Newcastle were staunch supporters of King George II during the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, and the term stuck.

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