So, whilst Chris and others are travelling across Devon to visit Sidmouth, I find myself the other side of Europe at the First Evangelical Pentecostal Church in Sofia (Първа Евангелска Петдесятна Църква – София). I have been invited by Shelly, who until recently had been a youth worker at Methodist Central Hall in Plymouth.
My first impression was of surprise as I walked in to what was a remarkably big space, complete with balcony: not at all expected from the very non-descript outside. There was a worship band preparing on the stage, and very few people at this point….well it was still 20 minutes until the service started. However, I was a little disappointed that no-one came and spoke, after all I was a visitor and it might be assumed that a new face would attract attention in a welcoming community.
It was not until 10am, as the worship started, that I was offered a headset for the service translation as my Bulgarian is not so great! To be fair the pastor did make a big thing of the availability of translation. I guess this is a new part of their ministry and he was keen that all non-Bulgarian speakers should be included in the worship. He also made repeated appeals for church members to offer to support this service by joining the translation team. So far translation is offered in English and French.
The service started, as one might assume, with a section of worship songs, including In Christ Alone and Blessed Be Your Name – sung in Bulgarian, obviously.
After about twenty minutes the pastor got up to speak…..which he did for about 70 minutes. It was 15 minutes into the talk that he completed his intro section and told us he was taking Psalm 91:1 as his starting point. The intro was focussed around the play on 911, both as an emergency phone number in the US, and as the shorthand reference to the terrorist attack in New York in 2001.
In my experience of Evangelical Pentecostal churches, the talk tends to following of two patterns: Either the same sermon is effectively repeated three times, or the preacher tries to fit three sermons into a single talk. Today was the latter. I am in no doubt that he is passionate in his faith in Jesus, and desires all his listeners to learn of the saving Grace of God, and this talk certainly covered a lot of ground. For my taste it was a bit long and rambling; Starting with Psalm 91:1, then Exodus 23:33, Exodus 34:12, 2 Tim 2:11-13, we were taken on a tour of the risks on being caught up in sin. It is an inevitable side-effect when listening via live translation that some of the content is ‘lost in translation’, however, today’s translator (Shelly) did a great job.
In the absence of any regular English-language services in Sofia, this is certainly an adequate alternative. I would recommend taking your own headphones to use for the translation, preferably noise-cancelling as the translation is hard to hear through the supplied in-the-ear type. Also, get there early: by the time the service started it was full with nearly 200 on the ground floor alone.