Thursday, 6 May 2010

Christians learning together

Young flag-carriers at Celebrating Our Nations
(photo Padraig O Flannabhra)
Nenagh Churches Together
Nenagh Churches Together is the name chosen by a group of lay Christians from different denominations in and around Nenagh, who come together to work on common projects. Last year we organised two events involving Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Church of Ireland people: a Day of Prayer for Climate Change in October; and a Prayer Vigil for Copenhagen in December, using and adapting materials prepared by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). Both were lovely, well-attended, prayerful events, and gave a powerful witness to the faith we all share. I also enjoyed meeting and getting to know the organisers from the other churches - it was a real learning experience for all of us, working together, developing trust, discovering each others gifts – and it was fun!

This year lay members of the Nenagh Roman Catholic Pastoral Council invited Nenagh Churches Together to help organise an ecumenical service to celebrate the diversity of our Nenagh community and to welcome newcomers from so many different countries and church traditions to the town. Once again we shared the pleasure of working with and learning from each other, and making new friends in an even larger and more diverse group.

A Celebration of Our Nations
The service, entitled ‘A Celebration of Our Nations’, was held in St Mary’s of the Rosary Catholic church on 29th April. It was attended by close to 350 people, both native Irish and many foreign nationals, and all agreed it was a great success – a truly worthy celebration of God-given diversity.

Flags of many nations at Celebrating Our Nations
(photo Padraig O Flannabhra)

We began with a colourful procession of 22 foreign flags, most carried by natives of the country concerned, followed by our own Irish flag, and lastly the UN flag, carried by Nenagh Town Mayor Hughie McGrath, representing the Civic sphere. Nenagh Catholic priest Fr Tom Whelan then welcomed everyone to his church, including Nenagh Rector Rev Marie Rowley-Brooke – Methodist, Baptist and Romanian Orthodox ministers were unable to attend, but sent their apologies.

There followed five themed sections, each with a scripture reading, a prayer and music: congregational hymns, solos - even a colourful liturgical dance! The themes were:

All Christian Churches: We celebrated the glorious diversity of our Christian churches and traditions – yet diverse as we are, we are united as followers of Jesus Christ.
The Nations of the World: We celebrated our many homelands, and our diverse races, languages and cultures – yet for all our diversity, we are all united in our common humanity.
God’s Creation: We gave thanks for the diverse universe God has made, and for the miracle of our living world, which provides so bountifully for all our needs – yet underlying this diversity, science reveals a deep unity in creation.
Our Community: We reflected on how our lives in our communities of Nenagh and North Tipperary are so enriched by those amongst whom we live and work, whether native Irish or from other countries.
Those in Need: We prayed for all those in need, both locally and around the world, and we prayed that we might ourselves become agents of God’s transforming love, working to relieve the suffering of others.
Among the marvellous variety of readers and musicians involved were: students from the town’s primary and secondary schools; people from England, Russia, India, Poland, South Africa, Romania and Ireland; members of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Romanian Orthodox churches, and the Living Water non-denominational prayer group; a harpist, a soloist with guitar accompaniment, a creative dance troupe, and the joint choirs of the Catholic and Church of Ireland parishes.

At the end, as we prepared to go out together as God’s people, we joined in the Lord’s Prayer, each in our own language - a powerful symbol of shared faith, reflecting the experience of the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. The clergy present then pronounced blessings and led the people in saying a Community Blessing together:

Blessed are we when we sing God’s praises
and walk together faithfully on God’s earth.
Blessed are we when we proclaim God’s justice
and enjoy together the fruits of creation.
Blessed are we when we are guided by God’s wisdom
and live in harmony with God’s world.

Finally we were all invited to join in refreshments prepared by the ladies of the Catholic parish. The hall was packed, we met old friends and new, the craic was mighty, and the refreshments were delicious – I can confirm there is no truth in the old adage that protestant cakes taste better!

The Future of Churches Together
Those of us involved in Nenagh Churches Together certainly hope to continue working together on future projects. It would be wonderful if our work on ecumenical events were to lead on to joint outreach in our community, bringing the love of Christ to the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged.

There are many ways in which people are already involved ecumenically. Clergy organise ecumenical services during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. There are ecumenical Bible Study groups in many places. And there is the marvellous Oak House inter-church fellowship which has been meeting for many years in East Galway. With no desire to diminish these, but to complement them, I suggest you might consider forming a local ‘Churches Together’ group in your own town.

The ‘Churches Together’ model of local, lay-led, practical ecumenical action is working well for us, and would be a good model for others too, I think:
  • It unlocks the energies and gifts of a host of committed lay Christians, largely because it is lay led with clergy support.
  • It strengthens Christian mission to the wider community by the joint witness of different denominations. We are stronger together – as Paul puts it, the body of Christ needs all its parts.
  • It encourages people from different denominations to learn from each other as they work together. They grow as disciples – they grow together in love - and they enjoy doing so.
  • Most denominations are members of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), which provides a host of useful approved materials, and gives legitimacy to the name.
  • All you need to make a start are one or two enthusiastic lay people, with tacit clergy support, who will work to organise an ecumenical event with similarly enthusiastic lay people in one or two other churches, while reaching out to others – see for ideas.


Daniel & Sonja said...

What a good idea and also a great example for other churches to follow.

Joc Sanders said...

Thanks, Daniel. Based on our experience here, I do believe this is a model which works. And it is also fun!