Steph's reflections after 150th Celebration of Messianic Fellowship formation
CMJ’s Youth Coordinator, Steph, was invited to address the gathering of BMJA supporters who had gathered at the birthplace of the first meeting of the Hebrew Christian Alliance, on the same date in celebration of the 150th anniversary, Here she brings an overview of the evening.
On Monday 25th April, our Youth Coordinator Steph was invited to participate in a special anniversary event in London. This was an unofficial celebration of the 150th anniversary of one of the first gatherings of Messianic Believers in the UK. The building we met in was the former Trinity Chapel off Edgware Road in West London (used as a synagogue from 1957 until the 1990s), which was also the venue used for the first meeting of the Hebrew-Christian Alliance 150 years previously.
A letter had been sent by Karl Schwarz, Minister of the chapel at the time, along with a number of signatories including Herschel. and signed by a number of leading Jewish Believers of the day, including Ridley Herschel (founder of the British Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Jews [now CWI] and the Evangelical Alliance.) who had bought Trinity Chapel and pastored the flock there. In the letter, the purpose of the meeting was stated: _“It has occurred to us that it would be desirable and profitable that as many Israelites who believe in Jesus as can be brought together should meet in London on the 23rd of May.
“Our object is to become acquainted with one another, and to be built up in our holy faith. There are special ties which bind us together as descendant of Abraham. And we believe that this conference for prayer and consultation might issue in a permanent union of Jewish Christian brethren in this land.
_“We do not come before you with any definite plan for action, but would simply say that, as there exists an Evangelical and a Jewish, an Hebrew-Christian Alliance also might be formed.”__
There were around 30 people in attendance at the event, including past presidents of the Hebrew Christian Alliance, later changed to British Messianic Jewish Alliance (BMJA), Agnita Oyawale currently serves on the BMJA Committee and shared her thoughts on the sense of achievement in spite of the challenges and difficulties of serving today’s vast Messianic Community. It was fascinating to hear the memories and tributes of times past, such as those from CMJ-related participants Tom Lori and John Fieldsend (whose papers will soon be available through the book Richard Harvey is editing as a way of celebrating the 150 years of the BMJA); and also from Irene Hyde, who is the daughter of one of the early Executive Secretaries of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, Harcourt Samuel. His father Elijah Bendor-Samuel (author of Israel and the Blessing of the Tribes) was also involved in the formation of the International Hebrew Christian alliance.
It was encouraging to hear how CMJ has been involved in the creation of an organisation which is determined to continue the original mandate to, “…provide a ‘safe space’ for Jewish followers of Jesus to relate together and to empathise with one another in regards to the joys and struggles of their own discipleship…” (Alex Jacob writing in his own paper for the same project) With many of the speakers referencing CMJ I was honoured to have been given the opportunity to be there and represent CMJ in person, as well as being given a chance to address the concerns some of the speakers had about the future generations and their involvement in BMJA / CMJ / other similar organisations. Namely – how do we inspire the next generation so we can survive another 50, 100, 150 years etc? Daphna Israeli, herself a past President of BMJA, had carefully considered the huge missing link between the past and the future of the Fellowship and the fear that if nothing is done, nothing will be survived. She laid out a number of considerations she believed needed to be honestly addressed if we are to reach the next generation of Messianic Believers.
The original aim of the HCA/BMJA was to provide a ‘safe space’ for Jewish followers of Jesus to relate together and to empathise with one another in regards to the joys and struggles of their own discipleship
I really felt stirred by what she said, as I know this is a challenge we are all trying to make sense of. Tom Lori also echoed Daphna’s sentiments at the end of his presentation. Both their papers will be made available through the book when it is published and will make interesting reading.
Host of the event, Richard Harvey, well-known historian and theologian with a particular passion and drive to see the Messianic dialogue brought to the forefront of conversation in the Church, invited me as the Youth Coordinator of CMJ to come and share from the paper I had been invited to write. It seemed to follow in the hope that some of the reflections of Daphna and Tom could be answered or further reflected upon through what I had found as a result of a short unofficial survey I conducted for my paper.
“The challenge,” I said, “isn’t about ensuring we continue to do things the way they have always been done, but to speak to the under 40s to find out what they want from a fellowship like the BMJA. The original purpose of the organisation was to provide support, encouragement, teaching etc, but today, as a result of the prayers and tireless work of our forefathers, many of us are in Churches who accept us as Jewish people who have accepted Jesus as Messiah. That’s not to say ‘The Church’ is there, per se, but we are further than we were 150 years ago. This is, as far as I can tell, an answer to the heart-cry of many of you at this event, and those who had sat here before us.
“But we still have a long way to go. So rather than assuming we know what the younger generations want, we need to spend time talking with them. Tom Lori said that when he was president of the BMJA in the 80s, he spent time visiting all 800 members of the fellowship – I think this is an incredible way of spending time with those we’re leading, where it is possible. What a pastoral heart! It shows me that it shouldn’t be impossible for today’s leaders to seek to spend time speaking to children, grandchildren or others we know about THE future of their fellowship. What do THEY need? We know what the original purpose of the BMJA was, and that was to meet the needs of the Messianic Community of the day. Maybe we need to go back to this question? “I’m just going to be real here. When I was younger, although I knew about the BMJA, I saw it as my dad’s thing. And I daresay that many of our family see it as our thing, rather than something they can or should be a part of too. When it comes to my generation and younger, many of us are actively involved in our Churches, so we don’t need more meetings. We don’t need to pay subscriptions for stuff we can get for free on the internet – especially when as far as well can tell, the meetings are mostly attended by older Gentiles, instead of other young Messianic Believers. We love to network, and achieve this online through social media.
“So in order for organisations like ours to move forward, moving forward is going to involve coming out of the box of the past, and trying to meet the under 40s where they are at instead.”
Following my presentation was a fascinating interview with Irene Hyde, the daughter of one of the original group who saw the need for fellowship all those years ago. While she answered questions about her father and grandfather, some of whom in the room knew Rev Harcourt Samuel, the aspect of the interview which touched me was how this incredible woman had be drafted in by her father as a teenage girl to help with some of the practical and administrative tasks of the alliance. As a result of being actively involved as a young woman, Irene had remained passionate about the alliance throughout her whole life.
Being active and involved creates a desire to remain a part of what we feel we have invested into. This was the message I heard through Irene’s stories of her father and grandfather.
While I understand the importance of remembering the past from which we have come, there surely has to come a time for us to stop looking back, and stand firmly in the present to deal with the future head-on! I used to dislike history at school, and I dare-say there are others younger than me who feel the same way. I would love to find the stories which fire their imagination and passion, and see the future of the BMJA, CMJ and others like us propel further than the next 150 years!
There is a celebratory conference being organised by the BMJA 16th-18th September with worship led by Paul Wilbur and teaching by Sam Nadler – email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.