This week Fr Martin Magill crossed town to visit the Christian Fellowship Church (CFC) in East Belfast, where Rev Heather Morris, President of the Methodist Church, was the guest speaker.
Fr Magill describes a powerful service which included reflections on sectarianism, exhortations for Christians to commit to reconciliation, and an encouragement for the younger generation to make reconciliation part of their Christian vocation.
Fr Magill concludes his post with these words, with which I agree:
I am very much aware that there are elements of this night in CFC which have huge significance for Belfast and beyond and which deserve to be revisited.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Rev Heather Morris at CFC
This week I worshipped at Christian Fellowship Church (CFC) in East Belfast where Methodist President, Rev Heather Morris, was preaching. Before the service began, I chatted to a few people whom I had met on previous occasions when I’d worshipped at the church. Once again, I was struck by the number of young people who were present in the church as well as the young people involved in leading the service. I was also struck by the superb graphics of the printed material and also the slides projected on the screens.
The service, which was led by a young woman called Laura Bell, began with a line from one of the psalms which encouraged us to worship God. We then sang a number of hymns including “Forever God is faithful, forever God is strong…”. After the hymns, we had a reflection on the Passover meal as communion which was to be celebrated. We were invited to allow this to become part of ourselves. As it was not possible to receive a blessing, I stayed in my seat and prayed for the unity of Christians.
This was followed by more worship songs from the praise band. We then had the collection. There was a visual overhead which reminded the congregation of Gift Aid, which allows the church to reclaim the tax paid on donations. Laura, who was leading the service, encouraged everyone to tithe — including the teenagers present. They were encouraged to give 10 percent of their pocket money.
Laura also told the congregation about the three days in Holy Week which were to be days of prayer and fasting. She also told us about a visit from Jeff Lucas who would be there to speak at Good Friday and then on Easter Sunday. She encouraged members of the congregation who had not been baptised as adults to consider being baptised. We were then invited to welcome one another to the service.
Laura then introduced Rev Heather Morris – who spoke on the title: “Bigot: Down with Division”. Heather began her preaching with prayer. Heather then preached a very comprehensive sermon on bigotry and sectarianism. In what follows, I share the points of the sermon which struck me. I would hope that key points from her sermon would be published for a wider audience to read.
Rev Heather Morris’ Sermon on “Bigot: Down with Division”
Heather shared about her early life including some childhood encounters which indicated sectarianism present in some of the children of her time. She went on to say that sectarianism is not of God. She talked about what it means to be a bigot and called on the congregation to root out bigotry. She acknowledged that rooting out as a process can be be difficult. Heather continued in prayer asking for the courage to root out bigotry. She prayed that we would be courageous – and she then read from Mark 12:28-34.
I was impressed to see the two young people sitting beside me with their open bibles following the reading as Heather read it. She talked about how Mark the gospel writer wanted his readers to know that following Jesus would have implications for their lives. She commented on the song which we had sung at the start of the service: “I want more of God.” Rev Morris pointed out how there would be a cost, as there was a cost for the early Christians in following Jesus. Heather said:
“If Jesus is the Son of God, then every other allegiance is secondary”.
She talked about Jesus as one who disturbs. In referring to him scattering the money changers, she pointed out how the temple courts must have been an uncomfortable place for Jesus. This was Jesus “doing theology in the public square”. Heather went on to say:
“it is not enough to talk about loving our neighbours in church and not live this out on the streets”.
Jesus was crystal clear about the commandments to love God and love neighbour. Faith and action are bound together. Love must be lived out.
Heather then pointed out how familiarity is dangerous. This is very familiar ground, love God and neighbour. She then asked the question what loving your neighbour would look like and she then became very concrete in her suggestions.
She began by saying: “Watch your language.” She raised the possibility that bigotry possibly might be against the flag protestors, and she cautioned against using language that would mock them. She mentioned the Four Corners festival in the Skainos centre – and she talked about the riots afterwards and the image of a little boy in his union flag scarf protesting. She stated very powerfully that he and the protestors are neighbours, our physical neighbours, loved by God and to be loved by us. She referred to an inspired blog by Glenn Jordan who talked about some of the voices which were not being heard in our society.
Heather then went on to talk about developing habits. She referred to former Corrymeela leader David Stevens on how we need to live these out in our lives. We need people to teach us the craft of reconciliation, we need people to teach us how to love our neighbour.
She then went on to share about a story of forgiveness and how one mother wanted her family to learn the craft of loving their neigbhours. She called on the young congregation to ensure they would stand against bigotry. She also referred to Derry/Londonderry and an attack on a bus in Derry taking Catholic workers to work and how some Quakers decided to be on the bus on the way to work and by doing so how they risked their own lives.
She called on young people to consider politics stating: “We need Christian politicians”. She made a passionate plea for young people to become involved in loving their neighbour and involved in reconciliation. She talked about the killing of two brothers in Co Tyrone which a female poet had written from the perspective of the 6-day-old child whose father had been killed in the gun attack. The poem finished by making reference to the use of the tongue.
Heather spoke about too many people saying that we as a society are teetering on the edge of going back. She said that we need to stand against this and we the people of God will love our neighbour as ourselves.
Every loyalty is secondary to Jesus. She encouraged us to grapple with what it looks like to stand for peace making. She talked about how we must stand as “God stirs your heart” so that we might move forward.
She then finished with prayer which included a reference to an art exhibition in Stormont called “Quiet peace makers.”
After Heather had finished, Pastor Andrew McCourt then told the story of a woman in Derry and her experience of the love and forgiveness of Jesus which enabled her to show love to soldiers patrolling the streets. Andy then invited the young people in the congregation under 30 to come to the front of the church to show they had no place for bigotry in their lives, that they wanted to live non sectarian lives. I found this a very powerful gestures as these young people then left their seats and went to the front of the church.
It was at this point that Andy invited Dr John Kyle and myself to come to the platform and he invited us to pray over the young people. I was very moved by the prayer John prayed which included a prayer for me.
As I finish this write up, I am very much aware that there are elements of this night in CFC which have huge significance for Belfast and beyond and which deserve to be revisited.