For a little while, my local church is St Michael and All Angels in Blantyre. Kind friends, currently on leave, have lent me their house on Blantyre Mission while I wait for my own house in Zomba to be ready. It puts me within a stone’s throw of one of my favourite spots.
Historically it is full of significance as the first permanent church building between the Zambezi and the Nile. Architecturally it is a feast for the eyes. In Malawi it is a national monument, emblematic of the history of the nation. It is also doing today what it was built to do – providing a spiritual home for a thriving congregation.
For someone like me, absorbed with the remarkable history that connects Scotland and Malawi it is a stirring building to contemplate. All the more so since it transcends the identity of either nation. Not by accident is it called St Michael and All Angels. Its architect, David Clement Scott, was a man of wide vision.
Not for him a church named to echo his Scottish background. St Michael is a name that points to the Eastern Orthodox tradition and through it to a cosmic vision of what the church is all about. It points beyond a selfishly human outlook, anticipating today’s ecumenical mission theology:
Human greed is contributing to global warming and other forms of climate change. If this trend continues and earth is fatally damaged, what can we imagine salvation to be? Humanity cannot be saved alone while the rest of the created world perishes. Eco-justice cannot be separated from salvation, and salvation cannot come without a new humility that respects the needs of all life on earth.Together Towards Life(World Council of Churches) §23
The evocation of angels also invites us to look beyond the confines of modernity with its privileging of human rationality and to break free from the postmodernity that has turned us in on ourselves. It invites us to see ourselves in relation to the deeper mystery that is evoked when we speak in terms of St Michael. Angels bring a message and how urgently we need to hear afresh the message that connects us with the depths of our being and announces the salvation that comes from beyond us – the gift of God in Jesus Christ.