‘This is a fantastic start to a conversation that obviously needs to continue,’ Rev. Norbert Stephens told a gathering of pastors and lay persons Saturday night at Elmslie Memorial United Church.
He made his comment toward the end of a symposium organised around the topic of ‘post-Ivan spiritual reflections’.
Main presenters were Pastor Alson Ebanks of the Church of God on Walkers Road and Chief Secretary George McCarthy. But the people in the pews did not hesitate to offer their own reflections, questions and problems.
One woman asked for ideas on how to deal with children who don’t want to pray anymore because their parents have stopped believing in God.
A man asked if the church has been ministering to people’s physical needs and not their spiritual needs. ‘Preach the word of God; don’t water it down,’ he urged.
Another asked why Ivan should not be treated simply as a normal act of nature instead of a sign from God.
‘A lot of people are angry with God,’ one woman commented.
Maybe prayers weren’t answered the way people wanted them to be, and so they have gone their own way, a member of the audience observed. People have to ‘get past denial’ and submit to the will of God, she said.
Pastor Alson spent some time talking about prayer. He referred to pastors as ‘the spiritual watchmen on the wall.’ The only way to render spiritual protection is through prayer, he commented. The church needs to free pastors for more prayer and less administration, he suggested.
But lay persons need to understand that they have the watchman’s role also. How much do Christians pray? He had recently started an initiative called ’30 days to a successful prayer life’. The idea is to encourage people to pray 30 minutes a day for 30 days. Participants will reflect on their experiences in mid-April, when the 30 days will be over.
‘God was not asleep’
In his address, Mr. McCarthy said he was speaking personally and his views might be different from those of church ministers and students of the Institute for Theological and Leadership Development (ITLD), several of whom were in attendance.
He quoted the Our Father: ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’
He then elaborated: ‘If I accept that God is Sovereign, and I am asking for His Kingdom to come and for His will to be done, this leaves me no choice but to accept the experiences which He will send into my life.
‘Further, I am left with no other choice but to accept God is Supreme and that He knows and, in most instances, has planned all the experiences I will encounter in this life time. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He was, therefore, certainly not asleep when Hurricane Ivan ravaged Grand Cayman and He knew exactly what the economic, social and psychological impact would be from the devastation of this hurricane upon our community.’
Mr. McCarthy read from the Parable of the Rich Fool, a man who believed himself to be in control of his own destiny. ‘Christ Jesus is saying to all humanity that whenever we are blessed by God’s abundance, we should not be carried away in thinking that it has been made available for us to consume ourselves, or that we will necessarily have the privilege of deciding how it is to be utilised. At best, we are stewards of God’s provisions and His purpose should govern how these resources are used.’
Mr. McCarthy posed a question many people may have asked: If God is merciful, benevolent, loving and kind, where was He when the hurricane was ravaging Grand Cayman?
‘I would suggest that God was on His throne, lovingly, caringly containing the devastation and intervening in sparing our lives. To determine if this is a reasonable conclusion, how can we account for having gone through an experience like this with such minimum loss of life?’ he asked.
If God is Sovereign, He is answerable to no one. He may reveal to us why the hurricane happened, as well as He may not. Or He may give insight without disclosing the full picture.
His final question was ‘If being righteous will attract some discomfort from God in our lives, why should we strive to walk in obedience to His will instead of focusing on self and our personal gratification?’ The answer, he said, is simple.
‘For those who will inherit the kingdom of God, God intends to shape us through our earthly experiences to qualify us to reign with Christ Jesus in eternity. Our destination is eternity… what we do in this lifetime will determine where we spend eternity.’
The symposium was presented jointly by the Cayman Ministers Association and the ITLD-Cayman.
Rev. Stephens is the minister for Webster Memorial United Church in Kingston, but visiting here as facilitator for the training of church elders. He said he was happy to serve as symposium moderator as an expression of solidarity with the churches in Cayman.
Rev. Joseph Crawford offered the opening prayer. Pastor Al Ebanks welcomed everyone and Rev. Nicholas Sykes introduced the presenters. Pastor John Macmillan gave the vote of thanks and Mr. Bryan Bothwell offered the closing prayer.