This past Sunday Fr Martin Magill returned to Townsend Presbyterian Church and experienced a ‘refreshment for body and soul.’ Reading his reflections, I can’t help but notice the emphasis on prayer in this service, especially how inclusive those prayers are. For me, this was an encouragement to think outside of one’s self and one’s usual group.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Townsend Presbyterian Church – Refreshment for Body and Soul
Since I moved back to North Belfast in August 2013, I had been wanting to worship in Townsend Presbyterian Church. I was warmly welcomed by members of the congregation and by the minister Rev Jack Lamb.
The service began with announcements including “Adopt a Sunday,” which was the church’s way of encouraging people to sponsor paying for the flowers on the communion table. Jack then opened with prayer and we had the first hymn: “Glory to you God this night”. After we sang the hymn, he reflected that in many hymns, there was considerable teaching. In his reflection, he also talked about shadow as very positive. In the context where much of the scripture was written, with warm sun and heat, shadow provided a place of coolness and refreshment.
He suggested church should be a place of refreshment of body and mind and reminded us of the danger of choosing to live our lives in our own strength.
We then sang the Lord’s Prayer. The next hymn was “Father of heaven, whose love profound”. One of the elders, Elizabeth, kept a close eye I didn’t get lost in the hymnal. Jack then made a few comments on the hymn we had just sung.
We then had a reading from the first letter of John. Jack commented a little on John and from the letter from John – “Blessed Lord”. In his commentary afterwards, he told us this hymn was really a prayer. He went on to say how many people feel weighed down by guilt and he encouraged us to share our faith, we cannot afford to keep the message of the gospel to ourselves. He gave the example of the Dead Sea which does not give out – it has become a place where no fish can live – the salt and minerals become more and more concentrated.
His message was if we keep things to ourselves we will die, giving out is good for us.
We then had another extract from 1 John and his prayer was one to ask God to forgive us our shortcomings and our wrong attitudes and our unwillingness to share and to love. He then led prayer for the students and pupils of the city of Belfast – we prayed for those who find studying hard. We prayed for “NEETs,” as some journalists call them, people not in education, employment or training. We prayed for those who were working to help them.
I was struck by this prayer: for people who feel the pain of longing for work and find it hard to get it.
We prayed for those who are retired – especially for those who find it difficult to cope with it. We also prayed for the frail and elderly. We prayed for all involved in peace making and for those who call the church to live out what it is. And we prayed for unity.
In his sermon Jack told us that he had been reading an autobiography of Cliff Richard. He focussed in on Cliff’s experience of Billy Graham and how Billy responded to critics. Jack reminded us that in 1 John, John the Beloved disciple was one of the sons of Thunder. But the Holy Spirit had worked in John and now John was writing about joy and love.
Jack told us that the only ones to find joy are “failures” who recognise they are sinners.
He commented on the importance of being honest with God and we sang “we come as we are”. He reminded us of the good news that “we don’t do it on our own”. Life is a shared journey, sometimes we will have to be carried. There is value in living life consistently. He also recalled how on the cross both thieves mocked Jesus, but one came to a place where he rebuked his fellow criminal.
This thief grasped who Jesus was and asked to be remembered – Jack told us that Jesus goes beyond what we ask for.
The final hymn was “Thine be the glory” and we prayed the grace together and sang a short prayer which included asking we would kept secure from our fears. Jack’s final comment expressed his hope that the worship had been something of a refreshment. It was.