Raze the Roof in Worship

Photo by Robert Capa: St John the Evangelist, 1941

Photo by Robert Capa: St John the Evangelist, Waterloo (London) 1941

The Church of St John the Evangelist is a parish very close to Waterloo Station in London.  During a recent visit to the city my wife and I happened to stay nearby the parish.  As we walked by on our way to the Southbank we learned the parish was having a church fête.

We decided to stop and enjoy the party for a little while enjoying the food, music, and games.  We tried a few times to beat the odds of some games of chance and win some prizes

but did not get that lucky.  All-in-all it was a nice distraction from our other activities.

As we were waiting for the raffle winners to be called, we decided to take a little tour of the church building.  It was a great choice.  There is a variety of art on display, a magnificent pipe organ, and, as a confirmed church architecture geek, many other things to see.  The best thing I saw however (I must say “I” because my wife thinks the best thing was the organ), was not actually “on display” or part of the church.  The best thing was a picture that was being used as the wallpaper on the church’s computer.  Yes, the best thing was a picture.  Not just any picture – A 1941 picture by Robert Capa of the sanctuary at St John’s.  Robert Capa has provided the world with some of the most iconic photos from the WWII era and he took one of St John’s.

The photo is above.  In it you see the priest and deacons leading worship (for those not familiar with eastward orientation in worship – the congregation is behind the priest and therefore out of the frame.)  The first thing I noticed in the photo was the shrapnel pock marks in the walls.  After a few minutes of looking at the photo I realized that the roof was gone.  It was destroyed by the bomb that hit the church building.  That reality clinched it for me – this is the best church photo I have ever seen.

Hang out with people in the church for more than “over coffee pleasantries” and you will inevitably hear some “the sky is falling” story or another.  “Christians are being persecuted today more than at any time in Christian history.”  A true statement (check out Voice of the Martyrs for more information) but largely removed from the daily life of the guy sipping his Starbucks and complaining that “Blue Laws” have been repealed.  “Liberals run the seminaries and therefore ministers are not being trained in orthodox Christian theology.”  Largely true in many denominations, with some notable exceptions, but if the complainer has a reliable priest, pastor, minister, preacher, or whatever preferred title, the complaint really does not have much traction.  “That church over there is full of heretics.”  Well it may well be but if the complainer is in the church over here rather than the one over there what is the concern?  It just seems there are many who are waiting for a catastrophic church failure in order to be the ones to say – “I told you this would happen.  The sky really is falling”

Well one day back in 1941 the sky fell – really the roof fell – at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Waterloo (London).  A bomb hit the church and “razed the roof.”  In response the parishioners came, cleaned up the rubble, and returned to worship.  A true catastrophic loss did not inspire a spirit of quitting or pessimism but a spirit of relying on God to overcome the circumstances.  In the swirling storm of war the people of God come to worship and hear Jesus say to the storm of their lives, “Peace, be still.”  St John’s is not alone.  Metropolitan Tabernacle (AKA Spurgeon’s Church) had all but the façade destroyed.  The church building was rebuilt and worship continued.  The Guard’s Chapel was also destroyed, rebuilt and worship continued.  These and other churches all across London were destroyed in the German bombing, rebuilt and worship continued.  And that worship still continues.

Yes, the Church faces many challenges today.  Many people and organizations who claim to speak as Christians have spread a message very different from the Gospel message given to us by Jesus (among other issues).  But the sky has not fallen and we live at a time when Christians who do live according to the words of Jesus abound and faithfully share the Good News.  It is up to you where you focus your attention.  Do you want to look at a problem? – We have a bombed out building and all is lost.  Or, do you want to look to the solution? – God is in control of all our circumstances.

I suggest you take some motivation from the picture above and the faithful Christians it represents – worship God and trust Jesus to say “Peace, be still” to whatever storm you are facing.

God Guard You and Keep You,


the Rev’d Dr SG Rindahl


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