May 27th, 2006 | By | Category: Sermons

Rector’s Letter from Saint Matthias’ Parish magazine:

It is twenty years since I was ordained, 22nd June 1986.

Never being very good at retreats to mark such occasions, I could never keep quiet for very long, I decided instead to go walking for a few days to take time to reflect. My son Michael and I are walking the Hadrian’s Wall path—from Newcastle in north-east England to Bowness on the north-west coast—from Monday 19th to Friday, 23rd June.

It is hard to picture those years, the world is not what it was. RTE television have very helpfully produced a week long series called The Time of Our Lives: Ireland ’86-’06 that will help to understand some of what has gone on.

The one thing I do know is that the last year has been the most difficult.

Harder and harder work in the parish seems to have produced less and less results.

The collapse of the Church Army project at the turn of the year reflected not only the weakness of the project, but the weakness of our own church.

More than once I have been tempted to look through parish vacancy lists to seek an opportunity to go back to a farming community where at least I might have some chance of understanding how people think. Life, death and resurrection are part of the annual cycle of life for rural people. Belief in a power beyond this life comes naturally in the country. There was no need to explain things. I remember people in the country who had no need for the Prayer Book at services, they knew each word by heart.

As the Church shaped itself to adapt to different circumstances and conditions down through the centuries, we have to look around us and ask ourselves how we need to adjust the way we do things in order to be able to tell people the unchanging Good News of Jesus Christ.

Irish people continue to be people with a great sense of community and a great enjoyment of being part of a crowd. The suggestions by American writers on Church growth that we should organise our church in cell groups of five to fifteen people simply does not fit in with Irish culture and tradition.

How do we build up our community and create a crowd? The strongest point in our worship continues to be the morning service on the first Sunday of each month, where we gather as a parish family for worship for all ages—even on Sundays when there are no baptisms, congregations can be double what they are on other Sundays.

When September comes, we will need to work at building on our strengths.

Ireland in 2006 is unrecognizable from Ireland in 1986; Ireland in 2026 (the year I am due to retire!) will be unrecognizable from today. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. We have to work out how to tell the Christian story to people today, so that there will be people still telling the story in twenty years time.

On 22nd June, as we trudge westwards, I will ponder that problem.

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