This week for his ecumenical tithing Fr Martin Magill visited the Church of the Good Shepherd (COGS) in Monkstown. Fr Magill describes a powerful service which included people from an array of backgrounds and traditions.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: ‘Silent Night’/Christmas Truce – Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Church of the Good Shepherd, Monkstown
If I had one regret about the lessons and carols event in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Monkstown, it would be that there would have been more of our politicians at it.
It was very good to see Newtownabbey Deputy Mayor, Pat McCudden. He and his colleague, Mayor Thomas Hogg were both present in Ballyclare the previous day for the Ballyclare Comrades’ re enactment of the Christmas Truce. Rev Arlene Moore, who leads the church and was leading the service, assured Pat of the prayers of the people present as well as asking him to convey the support of people for their work as politicians.
The whole service, a traditional Anglican service of Nine Lessons and Carols, was a model of inclusion.
People from different facets of church life read, as did people from various Catholic parishes known to Rev Arlene Moore or members of the congregation. It was very good to see Drumalis, the retreat centre in Larne, represented by Sr Anna who read one of the lessons.
The Irish language also played an important part in the service: one of the passages was read by tutor Niall Maclochainn and another by Betty Coates, the wife of a Methodist minister who served in the congregation a number of years ago. Present also, to my delight, were Seamus and Marie O’Labhdradh, from Sacred Heart Parish. Seamus as well playing an instrumental joined in a number of the hymns with some of the various instruments he plays and Marie read one of the lessons. There was also the beauty of Loreto McAuley’s harp playing and the lovely singing of Alison Montgomery. The local community was represented by Jay Townley from the Anchor Youth Club from Monkstown Jubilee Centre who read another lesson as did Gary Huntley, who is not only the church’s Youth and Children’s Team Leader but a member of Newtownabbey Street Pastors.
As we listened to the haunting tones of Enya from a recording of “Oiche chuin” (Silent Night), a variety of photographs was displayed on the overhead screen – photographs showing a wide range of people, some closely associated with the church, some visitors to the church and then other photos of people from Loyalist and Republican traditions.
Two of these stay clearly in my mind: one of a teenager whose face had been painted with the colours of the Union flag and another photograph of young people a number of whom had wrapped themselves in the Tricolour. Both political traditions were acknowledged in candle lighting at the end of the service. At the front and back of the church, there were red, white and blue tea lights as well as green, white and orange tea lights.
Two other parts of the ceremony also remain with me:
After a young woman, Lois Edwards had sung the first verse of “Silent Night” in German, two men came up the side aisles dressed in uniforms recalling the uniforms of the First World War – one was British, the other German. There was huge poignancy about this – Jim Deeds, a parishioner in St Teresa’s Parish, West Belfast has German ancestry and he was wearing the British uniform. Frazer O’Brien who was wearing the German uniform was a UDR solider and his father had fought against the Germans in World War l. They met at the front of the church, without saying a word, exchanged sweets with one another, embraced and walked down the aisle together reminding of us of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
The final part of the evening I want to comment on was the collection. All monies donated to the collection at the service and over the Christmas period until the covenant service on the first Sunday of the year will be shared equally between St Vincent de Paul and Tearfund’s Syria appeal.
“Silent Night” – Christmas Truce; Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Church of the Good Shepherd, Monkstown will stay in my mind for a long time to come.
Photos from Rev Arlene Moore’s Facebook page. Top to bottom the photos show: 1) The Cross of Unity and two olive wood marquetry crosses from Iraq. Praying for peace and unity throughout the world; 2) Rev Moore with Deputy Mayor, Alderman Pat McCudden; 3) Multi-coloured tea lights. Prayers for unity – Protestants and Catholics together, as it should be. Red, white, blue, green, gold….but all one in Christ.