Viewpoint by Janet Smith, member of the Harborough Baptist Church leadership team and Chair of Churches Together in Harborough.
My maternal grandmother was in domestic service in rural East Kent in the early 1920s before she married my grandfather, firstly to the then High Sheriff of the county and then to a local landowner and peer. She was not alone in this. According to the 1911 census there were some 1.27 million people in England at that time working as domestic servants.
I often wonder whether life ‘below stairs’ was really as it is portrayed in Downton Abbey and other such dramas. My mum remembers my grandmother recalling in later life how physically tiring it had been working the long hours and of the stamina needed to wait on the family at dinner parties that seemed to go on for ever!
To be in service certainly meant hard work, but for many domestic servants it also involved developing a deep loyalty to the family who employed you. Thinking about my grandmother has prompted me to ponder afresh the nature and meaning of service and servanthood in the Christian faith.
First and foremost, it demands of both its leaders and laity that they live out their faith with a servant-hearted attitude. Jesus was the supreme servant, who washed his disciples’ feet and said some pretty radical things, and is seen as the ultimate role model. Jesus, who when his disciples had been arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest, stood a child beside him and told them, “it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (Luke 9:48).
Secondly, servant-hearted discipleship demands true humility. As St Paul says in one of his New Testament letters, “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). It also requires us to serve others whenever we encounter people in need around us, viewing them as if we were indeed serving Jesus himself in “the least of these” brothers and sisters.
Last week at the Churches Together in Harborough AGM, we were able to read and hear about the ways in which the churches in our town and surrounding area have worked to serve others during this challenging past year.
What I read and heard demonstrates to me service at its best, through the work of our joint ventures such as the Bower House Counselling Service, the Cube youth centre, the Jubilee Foodbank, Street Pastors and much more. For me it is a joy to see how the different worshipping communities in Harborough continue to serve our local community.
As Jesus himself said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:35). This we shall continue to demonstrate as we emerge from the pandemic.
By Janet Smith, member of the Harborough Baptist Church leadership team and Chair of Churches Together in Harborough.