This week Fr Martin Magill’s ecumenical tithing took him to Ballysillan Presbyterian Church, where he attended a special service marking the retirement of Rev Norman Hamilton. Rev Hamilton served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 2010-2011 and has been well-known for his outspoken advocacy of reconciliation. He was also prominent during the Holy Cross dispute in 2001-2002.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Retirement of Rev Norman Hamilton at Ballysillan Presbyterian
This weekend I worshipped at Ballysillan Presbyterian Church, which was a special service marking the retirement of Rev Norman Hamilton.
The service began with a word of welcome from Norman himself. He told us there were at least 10 denominations present at the service.
We then sang a hymn which included the line “One heart, one voice, O church of Christ rejoice.” This was followed by prayer led by Norman which reminded us that God was with us in whatever we do or are, and that there is new grace for every day.
Norman then spoke about the last 27 years in Ballysillan.
He acknowledged the joys, sorrows, and the twists and turns of ministry. He told us about officiating at over 600 funerals. He told us about the 1000s of meetings he had attended over the years and he spoke about the privilege of being involved in those. He acknowledged his good physical health over the years. He thanked the congregation for the support he and his family had received. He talked about the first 10 years and about 30 deaths in the course of each year and he described this as a time of decline and sadness. He talked about how he felt called to rebuild a congregation in Ballysillan and how God’s grace had helped to rebuild the congregation. He shared particularly about his experience of Easter Sunday morning and the wide variety of people who were present and the church full of local people.
He then spoke about the need for local congregations to engage with the communities in which they live.
He suggested that the congregations which grow have a close connection with the local communities. He shared how some scripture verses were particularly helpful in motivating him, such as one from Jeremiah encouraging people to seek the welfare of the city. He focussed in on the birth of his daughter in 1990 and then the experience of Holy Cross Girls School and all the difficulties around that time. He thanked people in a general way for the support over the years. He told us about a conversation with a woman at the start of his ministry in Ballysillan who had promised to pray for him and his family on a daily basis. He thanked the “army” of unseen people who helped in the church on a weekly basis. He thanked his assistant minister Rev Dave Currie for his help and support and spoke very positively about his ministry. He thanked his wife and his daughter for their support. He summed up his words in Psalm 100:
“know that The Lord is God …we are his people… the sheep of his pasture, enter his courts with thanksgiving… for The Lord is good, his love endures forever”.
We then sang “Lord for the Years” and this was followed by the Offering. As it was being taken up, we sang: “Keep my eyes on you” which included the line “Keep my eyes on you whatever I go through”. Norman then led a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s blessings and prayed for those in need in our world.
The next hymn was: “You’re the word of God the Father”. We then had a reading from Ecclesiastes 3 which Norman had specially chosen: “A time for everything”.
Norman then reflected on the reading and we watched a video of the song: “Turn, turn, turn”. Norman acknowledged some of the losses with his retirement. He quoted verse 11 from Ecclesiastes 3 which included these words: “God has made everything beautiful in its time…”. He went on to say that God’s purposes are not that life should remain still, but that God is working his purposes out – God has put a sense of eternity in our hearts. It is in Christ alone we face the future. He acknowledged how we all have seasons in our life. The greatest delight would be that the Spirit of God would work in our hearts to bring a new sense of eternity and confidence in Christ. He suggested we ask the Spirit to embed this truth in our hearts and to have confidence in God as we face the future in Christ alone. Norman finished with words from Psalm 121.
(Image: Rev Norman Hamilton at the 2014 Four Corners Festival. Photo by Brian O’Neill)