“Agape” in London

by Dcn. Joshua Bautista

On May 14th, the Parish of Saint Stephen The Martyr (ICCEC London) welcomed yet another episcopal visit from the Most Reverend Jose Elmer Belmonte in the year of 2023.

The Mass was held at Saint Martin’s Church Hall, in Plaistow, East London. The hall was graciously rented to us—courtesy of Mrs. Mary Ann Lopes, widow of the late Rev. Marco Lopes, a former priest in the ICCEC, who had become the rector of this very parish whose halls we rented. Despite the Eucharistic service not taking place inside the main chapel, but inside the mess hall, the worship was anything but a “mess” … it was a Mass: Worship at its most sacred and highest form!

Bp. Elmer with parishioners of ICCEC London

Needless to say, Saint Stephen’s is still included every Sunday in the Prayers of the People along with all the parishes and mission churches that are still searching and praying for a permanent building. And yet, though these may be humble times for us, there certainly was nothing modest about our worship on that particular Sunday. In Unity, Spirit and Truth, we worshipped God through our music, our singing, our giving, and ultimately: through the Eucharist. One of the key moments was when the bishop blessed the place before worship. Instead of sprinkling the Holy Water on the walls, he sprinkled it onto the people: it was like a subtle reminder that at the end of the day, the church is not made of stones, but of living stones. In fact, we should be striving to sanctify ourselves on a daily basis.

The Gospel on that Sunday was: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Bishop Elmer mentioned C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves, from which we’re taught that the highest form of love, the one we call ‘unconditional love’, ‘sacrificial love’, ‘divine love’, is known as the Agape kind of love and is essential in accomplishing the impossible task of every Christian: loving God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

After the Mass, as any Filipino would expect, it was time for a ‘hearty’ and yet different kind of Agape; this time, in the ‘parish meal’ sense of the word. Thus, still targeting the heart, only with a bit more cholesterol!

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