Welcome to St John the Baptist Church in Smalley, Derbyshire.
People know why I lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land: in the steps of Jesus. They may appreciate why I go to Turkey or Greece: in the steps of St Paul. They may wonder why I take people to Iona in Scotland or along the Camino in Spain: in the steps of more recent saints and pilgrims. But why Ethiopia? Why to the most populous landlocked country in the world? Why to one of Africa’s poorest states? Why to this nation of origins: of ‘Lucy’, the Nile, coffee and long-distance runners?
Ethiopia is a Biblical site. Which Bible passages do I read there? The most important verses are Acts 8: 26-39, the story of the Baptism of the Ethiopian court official. But we also read 1 Kings 10: 1-13, the story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon; Ethiopians believe that their queen returned home pregnant by Solomon; and when their son Menelik was 22 he visited his father in Jerusalem and returned to his mother’s capital Aksum with the Ark of the Covenant; this was the wooden chest containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which Solomon had put in the Temple he built in Jerusalem. We also read the story of the Wise Men in Matthew 2 because Ethiopians believe that one of them was an Ethiopian king. At the source of the Nile we may read about biblical happenings further downstream: the stories of Moses, Joseph and others. And in some beautiful place in the country, surrounded by exotic flora and fauna, we read Matthew 6: 25-33: part of the Sermon on the Mount which you can look up for yourselves!
Ethiopia is also home to one of the world’s oldest and largest national Churches. It is wonderful to visit so many highly decorated ancient and modern buildings, often full of our brother and sister Christians at worship, even on ordinary weekday afternoons. 300 of their churches are monolithic (rock-hewn); how they were built we don’t know. Perhaps the locals are right is saying the angels
My favourite memories? A Welsh lady priest leading our St David’s Day Communion high in the Simien mountains; meeting the founder (now 94) of the famous Hamlin mission hospital for women in Addis Ababa; and dancing the night away with a party of Sudanese Muslim pilgrims.
The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall