The beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic is full of many wonderful old treasures. Last week I had the privilege of walking some of its streets with a group of students from ADC. A little off the main tourist track, I took them by a delightful old church called Bethlehem Chapel. If the building was in Canada we would all be in awe of its historical significance and perhaps even its ancient beauty, but in the spectacular old city of Prague, many people just walk past it as merely another old building.
When we are in the middle of spiritualizing and contemplation about our churches, we often are heard to say that a thirsty person will go to where they find water. A favourite metaphor of mine is that the church needs to build wells that attract people, instead of fences that keep them in. This is precisely the story of Bethlehem Chapel. Two things from its history attracted thirsty people.
First, within this somewhat ordinary building, the great reformer John Huss preached regularly to thousands of people from 1402-1412, and laid much of the foundation for the protestant reformation. As a 33-year-old priest he began his preaching ministry in this chapel. He spoke the language of the people – he identified corruption and injustice where he saw it, he connected the daily struggles of people with the message of the Gospel – and thirsty people came in droves! Soon he was preaching to standing-room only crowds of up to 3000 people, and the seeds of the Kingdom took root and grew in the community. Thirsty souls came for the water they so deeply craved!
But other type of water also flowed out of the Chapel. Every day, people came with empty water buckets to fill them in the well – the well that was located in the chapel! Just inside the small door on the front of the church, a deep and plentiful community well was located. What a beautiful picture! History doesn’t tell us exactly what the original reason was for having the community well inside the church, but it certainly couldn’t have been planned better! People came to church every day to meet the one physical need that surpassed all others, and the church provided for their need.
As we look to strengthen our churches and plant the seeds of the Kingdom in the communities around us, I wonder if we need to learn a lesson or two from Bethlehem Chapel. What would our churches look like if we set about ministry with the basic goals of providing for the spiritual and physical needs of the people in our communities? The world around us is thirsty –why don’t we try it and see what happens!