Nazareth may be a dump but still home
I am sending this blog from just ten minutes walk away from the most religious road in the country! In terms of the sheer number of the places of worship, those with planning permission or otherwise, nowhere can rival the Old Kent Road, otherwise known as the equal cheapest property on my Monopoly board. No less than 25 black majority churches in just one mile and a half, along with all the other congregations!
You can see why church attendance in Greater London grew by 16% between 2005 and 2012. Now some 9% of the capital’s population are in church on Sunday. Again, during that time the number of places of worship in our capital city has risen by 17% from 4,100 to 4,800, mostly through immigration.
Speaking north of the river last week Archbishop Justin spoke of the shock of returning to London, the place where he was born and raised, after an absence of 24 years. “It has as much buzz and excitement as any major financial centre,” he recounts. Innovative and brilliant, London draws in talent from all over the world. And today it is “unimaginatively more cosmopolitan.”
Which means that London is different, very different from the rest of the country. You have the sense of being at the centre of things. The big problem is that it sucks in resources from the rest of the nation, from the rest of the world even, often drawing in the brightest and best of our young people. I came across this only earlier this week through taking a funeral in the parish.
Certainly over the years our church’s youth ministry, particularly in Heswall and Rochdale, has been a gift to the church in the South East.
And as Archbishop Justin, with his recent ministry in Liverpool and Newcastle, can testify – the gap is growing. He observes that wealth in London is not replicated in most of the UK with the result that it is in danger of developing a culture of passing by. Our capital city is in danger of becoming detached from the rest of the country and dismissive of the problems out there in the sticks. An unhealthy situation.
Not that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were any better. They were only too conscious of living in the city of the great King. And prophet after prophet warned the people of Zion not to presume of their status. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Privilege always means responsibility; status must mean service.
Even so the ruling elite of Jerusalem mocked the disciples of Jesus, people from up north with their pronounced Galilean accents, “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). The Zion-centric Sadducees in particular were contemptuous of provincial people, especially the Pharisees.
Archbishop Justin and his wife may well have been shocked at their return to London, no less shocked than when Jacqui and I moved from Heswall, a much-sought out location in Cheshire, to Rochdale just as the last cotton mill was closing. I don’t know the situation today but then, in 1984, Rochdale was at the very bottom of the Daily Telegraph league of education authorities.
We also moved during a very cold and wet February when the melting snow revealed an incredible amount of litter and street debris. The days were indeed dark in every sense of the word. (For the record, those initial impressions were misplaced).
During those first few months I kept saying to myself “Nazareth was a dump too!” For on hearing where Jesus came from, Nathaniel exclaimed: ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ (John 1:46).
And yet it was Nazareth which was home to Jesus. Nazareth of all places, not even mentioned in the Old Testament, not even a footnote, not in any document anywhere! As one commentator observes, the wonder is that Nathaniel had even heard of the place. The best estimate places its population then at about 480.
And yet it was to Nazareth that God chose to be the place which would be the home town for the Messiah, the saviour of the world. As always God does things differently, in fact the very opposite that we would expect. We look one way; he comes from the other.
Jesus may be Lord of all but he will forever be known as Jesus of Nazareth.