London Members—London, UK
Building an altar at home is to offer daily sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and devotion to our Lord. This comprises more than just the physical action of praying and reading the Bible. It is about genuinely seeking to align our heart with God’s, to know Him better. We can learn from David's example, a man after God’s own heart, who did God’s will (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam 13:14). It is a constant learning process to pursue after God’s heart, and requires regular introspection to identify areas we need to improve.
We give thanks to God that despite the inability to have physical gatherings during the lockdown, the church in London has organized various online activities to build up our altars. These online activities include midweek services, youth fellowships, daily Bible studies, and weekly choir sessions.
In this article, the London brethren share their experiences.
AN ALTAR OF FELLOWSHIP
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)
Thank God for this opportunity to share about His grace.
God has truly guided me into my first year of university and has spiritually fed and nourished me despite the extended physical church closure during the pandemic. Having applied to study in London, I had greatly looked forward to worshipping and having fellowship with the church youths there. I had even chosen my accommodation to be within walking distance from the church.
However, God’s ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts than my thoughts (Isa 55:9). I did not foresee that these fellowships would be brought right to my fingertips. The first UK lockdown began in March 2020, before I was due to start at university. Around the end of April, one church sister from my home church in Edinburgh, studying in London, invited me to join their twice-monthly online Saturday youth fellowships. These fellowships are well-attended. Around twenty youths join each session to hear preachers and brethren share wide-ranging topics, from our basic beliefs, awareness in servitude, and fasting prayer to spiritual cultivation at home. Through these sessions, God provided me with an opportunity to build an altar of fellowship with the church youths in London even before I had moved there.
Through WhatsApp chats and Zoom, I have genuinely felt the love, spiritual support, and warm welcome of these London brethren. Reflecting on the time since I joined these fellowships, it is clear that being active in the numerous online activities, regardless of the physical environment, was invaluable in establishing my personal altar. As God spoke to me through these brethren in Bible studies, fellowships and services, I grew to trust that it was worth putting aside schoolwork, entertainment, and socializing to set my eyes on things above during this period of transition and uncertainty.
May all glory be given to God! Amen.
AN ALTAR OF PERSONAL FAITH
The pandemic has been a difficult and uncertain period for many of us. Having attended Sabbath services at church all through my life and being used to the weekly in-person fellowships, the experience of having Sabbath worship at home was initially a struggle. I missed that familiar warm feeling of church gatherings.
I soon realized that this weird, uneasy feeling was because my faith was reliant on others. My altar of faith was to please men rather than God. If such was my faith, how could it stand when faced with tribulation? How can my faith stand when those around me begin to stumble in their faith? In last summer’s national student spiritual convocation, we studied the parables of Jesus. From the parable of the ten virgins, we learned how the foolish virgins did not prepare enough oil for themselves. Consequently, they endangered their salvation, highlighting the importance of taking our faith seriously. We cannot rely on other people’s faith when the Lord comes again. This message of taking our faith seriously has resonated with me throughout the pandemic.
I thank God for the church's arrangements in organizing the various online fellowships, Bible studies, religious education lessons, and convocations during this period. These activities helped me understand the need to focus my worship on God rather than it being an outward expression towards men.
So Samuel said:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam 15:22)
Is our altar built on obedience and faith towards God? Or do we only worship God in the presence of other people? May we always be willing to build our altars towards God and not towards ourselves and others.
AN ALTAR OF SINCERE WORSHIP
The announcement of a national lockdown in March 2020 brought our joyful weekly choir practices at church to an abrupt halt, and we had to move to online choir sessions. Directing choir members via Zoom is vastly different from the experience of hearing a whole choir praising God in church. The process was challenging and a steep learning curve, often a test of our patience with technology. Roughly twelve to fifteen choir members join the virtual choir practice each week. A typical session involves teaching the choir how to sing and express the lyrics of a four-part hymn, but only the leader’s microphone is switched on to prevent latency and feedback issues. It is challenging to sing together without being able to hear the other choir members’ voices. Yet, the blessings, teachings, and joy received through sharing our reflections on the hymns far outweigh any difficulties.
Give to the LORD the glory due His name,
Bring an offering, and come before Him.
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! (1 Chr 16:29)
When learning a hymn called Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness, composed by a church sister in the States, we reflected on the above verse. We asked ourselves: do I genuinely bring the same heart of reverence and worship before God at home, although I am not physically at church? I realized it is easy for my attitude to become lax when listening to sermons in the casual surroundings of my living room. However, God sees our heart, and He is worthy of the best. The hymn continues to remind me that whether we are streaming Sabbath services online within the confines of our home or whether we are in the church building, God deserves that we bring our hearts fully before Him in true worship.
DAILY BIBLE STUDY: GOD FILLED MY VOID
Hallelujah, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, I testify.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Eph 1:3)
The arrival of the first lockdown in 2020 enabled me to truly reflect on my faith and how God continues to lead me in His amazing ways. One example of His guidance is through Bible study.
Not long after the lockdown began, church youths in London decided to organize an informal daily Bible study. Since its initiation, together, we have studied most of the New Testament and part of the Old Testament. We encouraged one another to continue learning God’s word and to have fellowship, regardless of the circumstances. But personally, this small and regular affair has had a far more profound impact on me than just learning.
On reflection, my situation is different from that of the other youths; I am no longer based in London, having relocated back home to Limerick, Republic of Ireland. Here, I do not have many friends or close peers, nor are there any local church youths. Hence, I spent much of my time independently, which could have been detrimental to my faith if it had persisted. But God saw my need for companionship. Through these Bible studies, London church started to re-involve me in various fellowships and servitude. These include leading fellowships, helping with the national student spiritual convocation, and assisting with the audio-visual support for online sessions and sermons, delivered via Zoom and StreamYard. God indeed works in mysterious ways; by allowing me to serve, He has delivered me from loneliness and emotional isolation. We can consider it a double blessing!
I am reminded that small, casual, spiritual gatherings can never be overlooked. The Lord Jesus says: “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20), and from there, Jesus blesses us even more. I also give thanks to my peers who still consider me as one of their own in all forms of activities; unknowingly, they have helped me, and I pray that God will continue to bless every one of us.
May all glory be to our heavenly Father! Amen.
So he built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Gen 26:25)
When I think of building altars, I think of the patriarchs from the Book of Genesis. They showed us that, wherever they went, building altars was vital to their lives. They needed altars to worship and to overcome problems; they were blessed in their actions because they remembered they had this great God.
Likewise, during my studies, the midweek fellowship for London youths (FLY) was an altar for me. These sessions consisted of students and working youths gathering for fellowships, Bible studies, and prayers. Sometimes I felt reluctant to attend; I had little time to spare and would rather spend it on my studies. However, I knew that, ultimately, God is in control. It is He who gives me wisdom, strength, and the chance to study, so I should not neglect this altar. Fellowships allowed me to pray over my issues, ask God for guidance in my studies, and be encouraged by how biblical characters relied on God to overcome problems. Thus, I believe God will help all the students who face the same stresses and difficulties as I did.
Although the pandemic resulted in youths being unable to gather and have fellowship at church, it showed the importance of continuing to build our altars. In the absence of services and fellowships, it could be easy to neglect this and spend more time on studies, work, or leisure. Therefore, as a youth fellowship coordinator, I knew it was important to keep the FLY schedule active so that the youths could still have that midweek opportunity to gain God's blessings and help during this unstable period.
Despite the move to online being technically challenging—finding the right platform and weekday to host FLY, while addressing audio and connectivity issues—by God’s grace, the fellowship has been up and running smoothly on Zoom since the lockdown began. Also, FLY being online meant that it could cater to youths who previously could not attend because they lived too far away to commute. We truly thank God for guiding the youths. May we all be encouraged to build our altars.
May all glory and praise be unto God! Amen.
COMFORT THROUGH HYMNS
Bow the knee,
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King,
Bow the knee.
Hallelujah, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, I testify.
I am a senior nursing assistant and have been in my current position for six years. I work at one of London’s busiest hospitals and, since the initial wave of the pandemic, work has been hectic and stressful. Often I have been so tired that I would come home, have a shower, and go straight to bed. I have been exposed to the coronavirus daily, and I worried about my safety and that of my immediate family. So every morning and every night, I would pray to God for protection and that He would keep me safe. In October 2020, I received news from my mother that my nephew was hospitalized because of his asthma. I did not think much about it because he was in his early forties and healthy. However, days later, she told me that he had died from COVID-19; I was deeply shocked and upset by the news. None of us knew he had the virus. My family and I mourned for him. It was out of our hands.
Weeks later, I was devastated to learn that my mother, who lives in Brazil, had contracted the disease. My mother is seventy-six years old and has multiple health issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure, putting her in the high-risk category. When she was hospitalized, my family and I believed she was going to die. We feared the worst. I was confused, and I remembered asking God, “Why? Why my mother? Why is this happening?” I felt desperate and lost; I did not know what to do. It was like I was going out of my mind.
However, while I was trying to come to terms with the situation, I felt the Spirit of God surrounding me. A feeling of peace and calm came over me. I heard Him speak to me through the hymn above, which we sang in choir: “When the path grows dim, and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.”
I also thought of Psalm 23:4:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
It was like God spoke to me directly and was comforting me with this hymn and His word. I needed to pray, and I knew that I did not have to pray alone—I have my brothers- and sisters-in-Christ to pray with me. I sent a message to the choir WhatsApp group asking them to pray for my mother. I also told my family that the members of the church were praying for them and my mother. God is so amazing; He heard our prayers, and my mother survived. During this experience, I felt overwhelmed by the love of my brothers- and sisters-in-Christ.
My mother was discharged from the hospital, and she has now fully recovered. I continue to share with her about the church and how the brethren are praying for our family. I am so thankful to Jesus for His grace and blessings. At times I was so busy at work, I did not spend a lot of time praying. It was only during this moment of desperation that I remembered that I needed to pray to God. As I shared my heart with my brothers and sisters online, asking for intercession, praying, and singing, I received much relief from my crazy work life. To be able to spend time with God and the brethren through online services kept me going. I thank God that I can pray at home with my brothers and sisters. This is my altar. I hope that in this difficult time, others will find comfort and hope through this testimony.
All glory be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
SEEK GOD IN GOOD AND BAD TIMES
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits. (Ps 103:1–2)
Lockdown came as a blessing to me as it took away the need to leave the house. I could stay at home and not be exposed to further distress due to a skin condition called eczema. I had a terrible flare-up while on holiday in 2019 and developed an angry rash on my chest, precipitated by hearing the news of my mother’s death and that my step-father had suffered a heart attack. My sister and I arrived in Trinidad with the devastating task of arranging my mother’s funeral and visiting my step-father in hospital. (He, too, passed away soon after—eight days after my mother.) The rash on my chest itched and felt sore, but I managed to contain it until I returned to the UK.
As I tried to come to terms with the situation and return to my daily routine, my skin condition worsened, and the rash began to spread. It was painful to move, and the itchiness was worse at night, so I suffered broken sleep. When the pandemic sent us into lockdown, I was no longer forced to get out of bed, get dressed, and travel on the London Underground to my placement. I could stay at home and wear clothes that did not irritate my skin.
The rash was no longer limited to my chest area but covered my whole body, from my scalp to my feet. Only my face was unaffected. I scratched and picked at my skin. I took pictures of my legs, chest, arms, and feet—anywhere the eczema had attacked my skin. I felt I had to make a record of it, as confirmation of what was happening to me. I hated and despised the way it looked and felt. It was making my life a misery. But there was God. Despite the physical torment I felt in my body, I could feel God’s presence willing and encouraging me to pray. I did pray, but my prayers were very short—it was hard to concentrate because my skin would itch even during prayer.
While I was glad not having to go to church and face members in my current state, I missed the opportunity to pray with others, and at times it felt lonely. I had a desire to draw closer to God, but I struggled to fast and pray. I was still grieving over the deaths of my mother and step-father.
Yet, thank God for the opportunity to join the evening Bible studies organized by the London youths, which helped me maintain some contact with members and be reminded of God’s faithfulness to His children. I was able to take to heart the teachings learned from the Bible characters we studied and how those that trusted in God obtained peace and blessings despite the trials they endured. I compare my attitude to theirs. Do I seek God only when in need? Or do I seek Him also in times of peace? As my condition improves, I am relearning the necessity of prayer and building my altar at home. I press on to know God’s heart through His word and to remember to give thanks in all things.
All glory be to God! Amen.
AN ALTAR OF THE HEART
[T]hat Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Eph 3:17a)
Thank God for the opportunity to bear testimony for Him.
In 2019, as I became more involved in London church work, and as I learned and grew in the company of fellow brothers and sisters, I was, in a sense, establishing my altar of worship and servitude in church. This engendered quiet confidence within me that I was, slowly but surely, building a genuine faith in God.
Then, of course, the coronavirus arrived in the UK, and soon enough, I was confined to my not-so-big flatshare in central London, having to attend services and conduct all church work remotely. Inevitably, the lack of in-person interaction caught up with me. Praying, singing, and listening to one another in person—all these things I had taken for granted. I realized that while my altar was indeed being built, a big part of it was founded on other people.
Therefore, thank God that the lockdown has given me a lot more time to ruminate. More importantly, it allowed me to move the altar that I had built up in church into my own home by learning how to do everything at home that I had done in church. This included observing the Sabbath in full, as I would have done in person, as well as giving all due reverence and attention to God when attending various services and fellowships.
I also learned to transform this physical altar into a spiritual one that dwells in my heart. The lockdown has reminded me that, as much as we serve and offer at the physical altar, what God ultimately desires is nothing less than a genuine and willing heart to seek Him. I am now learning how to maintain this altar independently and strengthen it with sharings from others (virtually, of course) and with the word of God through constant self-cultivation and self-reflection.
May all glory be given to His name! Amen.
Building an altar to God is a privilege; it is not for God’s good but our good. God has invited us to establish His throne in our hearts. When we pray, read the Bible, and seek His face, we increase our knowledge of Him and strengthen our relationship with Him. Building altars is an act of thanksgiving, acknowledging that in all circumstances, such as a global pandemic, war, illness, fear, doubt, or failure, we get to turn our hope to Him. This pandemic has shown us that building altars is not limited to our time physically inside the church building but should also be done in our own homes.
We give thanks to God that His word has revealed to us the areas in which we need to align our hearts to Him fully. This pandemic is indeed God’s blessing in disguise—we must not return to how things were before and allow our altars to deteriorate and crumble. We should all the more continue to build our altars at home and, ultimately, in our hearts when church reopens.
The common theme from the London members’ sharings is uncertainty. We may not know what is happening or understand our situation at any given moment, but we find that God reveals and continues to reveal His purpose for each of us. Our circumstances may change, but God never changes. These experiences have taught us more about God, but there is so much more to learn; building our altar is an ongoing process. God is faithful, and it is up to us to strive to know Him more fully.
May we all continue to build altars with the correct heart and seek to know God in all His holiness and glory. Amen.
 Taken from Bow The Knee by Chris Machen and Mike Harland, arrangement by Tom Fettke, 1997.