Fr Magill writes about the warm welcome and prayers for Christian unity which he found there, and shares that he is sure he will visit again.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumencial Tithing: Immanuel Presbyterian, Crumlin Road, Belfast
As part of getting to know my neighbourhood, I chose to attend Immanuel Presbyterian Church this weekend. This was my first time to visit the church. I received a warm welcome at the door by one of the greeters, who asked me where I was from and even offered to introduce me to the minister leading the service. I decided to wait until after the service to meet the minister, knowing what it is like to finalise last minute things before Mass.
Immanuel church is a modern building, beautifully finished and very comfortable. There was an elegant simplicity about it which appealed to me. Whilst waiting for the service to begin, the musicians played some instrumental music.
As I sat watching and listening to the three very talented musicians, I imagined for a few moments what it would be like if it were possible to provide an opportunity for different musicians from various churches throughout North Belfast to play together.
The assistant minister, Roland Watt welcomed us to worship and delivered the announcements. He encouraged us to check out the church website which is http://www.immanuelbelfast.co.uk.
The theme of the service was the holiness of God.
Mr Watt read from Ps 29 (Ps 28) after which we sang “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”.
We then had prayer and a reading from Romans chapter 3 verses 19-31 which was followed by “a confession of sin” in which we recognised “our sinfulness on a daily basis.” This prayer acknowledged the power of the Spirit at work in us.
We then had a short reading from Colossians 1 and sang “From heaven you came”. The choir followed that with the anthem – “May the fragrance of Jesus fill this place,” after which was the offering.
Mr Watt then talked about a project called “Open Doors” and the work of missionaries throughout the world. He told us about some Christians in North Korea and the persecution of Christians there. He prayed for preachers. We then had another time of prayer. We prayed for the Christians of North Korea, for the church in South Korea, the church in Moldova, the people of Crimea and for the will of God to be done there.
We prayed for peace for the island of Ireland and for the city of Belfast. In the prayer there was an acknowledgement of us “being so divided and yet how blessed it is when brothers and sisters live in unity”.
We prayed for the sick in the congregation, and we prayed for those struggling with sin and temptation. We prayed for the minister of the congregation and his family and we prayed for the elders.
Mr Watt then talked about the word “sanctification” and the definition found in The Shorter Catechism:
“the work of God’s free grace whereby we are renewed -in the image of God who enables us to die unto sin and to live onto righteousness”.
We then sang the hymn: ” Yield not to temptation” and had a reading from 1 Thessalonians 3 beginning at verse 11 and ending at chapter 4 verse 12. The minister talked about “God’s will for my life”.
Verse 3 talks about “God’s will is to be holy …and abstain from sexual immorality” . Mr Watt explained this message is for those who are in Christ. God has revealed his desire we live a holy life. He continued to preach about holiness. Holy means to be set apart – to be without sin – and God works in us to be holy. He said we are enabled by God’s Spirit to be holy.
We also heard that this was Paul’s first letter and written to a church which was quite new. The first chapters were about what they had to believe. Then there were chapters on how to behave. Paul deals with sexual relations, work and death.
He told us the motive for our behaviour was “because it pleases The Lord”. He pointed out how in some translations, it talks about “walking with God”. He also pointed out the word “must”. As a Christian, I must please God.
He talked again about sanctification – the word of God’s free grace to renew us which was about “dying unto sin and living to righteousness”. We heard that as Christians our lives should reflect that we know God. He pointed out for Christians they were to abstain from sexual immortality .
Mr Watt then referred to Lent and he explained the meaning of Lent for other Christian denominations. In my opinion, he gave a sympathetic presentation of Lent.
He then pointed out Christians must always abstain from “porneia,” the Greek word for sexual immorality, and he told us this word covers a range of things outside marriage which is one man and one woman. Everything else is sexual immorality. He went on to say morals are loose in large cities – in the cities of Paul’s time, religion was often about worshipping various gods including fertility gods. The culture was for a man to have whatever sexual relations he wanted. Today we are bombarded by sexual immorality, but for the Christian, there is no negotiation: abstain – don’t go near, and we are to rely on God’s Spirit to live this.
Mr Watt also quoted from 1 Corinthians 6 beginning at verse 9:
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”.
He told us that the good news is that God still forgives and offers his grace. We are not in this on our own but the standard is still the same. God will give the strength.
Grace is greater than all other sins, and we are to live holy lives.
Mr Watt had another prayer and we then sang the final hymn “Purify my heart”. A member of the congregation then came over and introduced herself to me and we chatted for a time. She encouraged me to join them again for worship. I certainly intend to do so.