Archive for January 12th, 2009

So here we are

I usually have rules about coffee after 7pm. Generally it all goes wrong when I don’t follow them. I end up awake all night with the head buzzing. Oh well, too late now, the coffee’s in the system so I’ll do whatever I usually do when I can’t sleep. Clean or blog. I’m not sure the lads would appreciate the former.

I’ll start with a bit of background.

I live in Portadown. More specifically I live in the middle of the Garvaghy Road area of town. Portadown is famous for very little – though we do seem to do a good line in sectarian violence. Most people know Portadown most famously for Drumcree and the Garvaghy Road came at the centre of that.

It is just far enough in the past (at least the worst bits) for it to become partly history. It doesn’t inflame the same passions it once did. Most are thankful for that.

Whether I like it or not, I am in Northern Irish terms a Protestant. This is how I would be viewed by many definitions. Again I say – whether I agree with that definition or not. As a Protestant I am also expected to subscribe to a number of national past times – being British, Bible bashing, and wanting orangemen to walk down the Garvaghy Road.

I travel on an Irish Passport, politically speaking I’d prefer a united Ireland, I think a lot of people made a lot of mistakes about Drumcree. I think the church in Northern Ireland was either co-opted into the loyalist agenda and in other cases was simply drowned out in the noise.

Portadown has issues in its past. All of Northern Ireland does – in many ways ours maybe aren’t even as big. Reconciliation is a big, tough word. We’re not there yet.

So as a Protestant living in the midst of the Garvaghy Road I realise there’s a bit of history and background that I can’t simply walk away from.

More background.

About 6 years ago I got involved in helping to run a youth club in town for a bunch of kids – from both sides of the spectrum. This was back when it was simple, you were either a Mickey or a Prod. Nowadays we’ve all the overseas guys are making our bigotry all a little bit more complicated.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – I grew up in nice sheltered middle-class suburbia in a stable 2 parent family with endless opportunities ahead of me. Some of these kids weren’t so lucky. It was somewhat of an eye opener.

I remember chatting with two other folk in particular thinking that why is it that all the Christians live in certain areas of town, while very few live in others. Thinking that if the church was doing what it should then maybe the church should be moving into certain areas, and indeed maybe I should…

So that’s how I ended up here. 6 years but I made it here eventually. Good thing GOD isn’t in a rush.

Now I’ve never quite understood the concept of calling or vision in the Christian life, maybe I’m a bit better with vocation. Most of the time I am doing what I think most people are doing – making it up as they go along.

But being here, living here is about the one thing I’ve ever felt called (which is a big, complex, hard to explain type of a word and I’m not gonna try that)… to do. That and medicine. I think so anyhow. Glad that’s as clear as mud then…

In particular I’ve always been excited about the idea of a church based on the Garvaghy Road, filled with and for the people of this area.

The evangelicals involvement in this part of town in the past has largely been “ship lots of folk in to do something and then leave at the end of the week.” Which has not been all bad by any means but hardly satisfactory.

More worryingly we have often committed that most heinous of crimes and tried to make good old fashioned Northern Irish Protestants out of them. We have not always covered ourselves in glory in that regard.

We are very bad at grasping other people’s point of view. That maybe not everyone is as keen on the Union with Britain as we are. Maybe not everyone is a big fan of the orange order and maybe everyone isn’t a big fan of some guys coming in and telling them that their mother Church is the anti-CHRIST.

So maybe if we’re talking about church and JESUS and all that we need to see it from their point of view.

People, generally known as missionaries, have been doing this in the church for years, but generally in some foreign country where us Prods can’t see them doing it. We’ve never quite learned to apply the same lessons at home.

And so that’s what we’re kind of about. To put it simply – trying to plant a church here. That term of course carries a lot of baggage and you will no doubt have pre-conceptions of what I mean by that. We are in the process of working all this out.

I think I’m beginning to understand what “working out your salvation with fear and trembling means”. None of us claim authority or all the answers. Anything we proclaim, we proclaim with humility and an acknowledgement that what we are doing we have not always done well in this place.

I get very excited about church. I mean the concept of the church, the big, universal, holy catholic church that they used to talk about back when I was growing up anglican where they had nice things like liturgy.

There are not very many people in Ireland doing this. At least not that I am aware of, though that’s maybe not saying very much. I know Zoomtard does this for a living in many ways in Maynooth and seems to be doing very well.

The North is one of the most churched places on earth though we’ve not always been renowned for being innovative in how we do church.  Hopefully we’re learning.

At the minute we’re still only beginning. There’s a group of us living here, with the same vision, the same heart for the place and the people. We meet on Sunday mornings in this house to chat and pray and eat bacon. Kind of simple but it’s a start.

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