In this week’s instalment of ‘ecumenical tithing,’ Fr Martin Magill from Oliver Plunkett Parish in West Belfast shares his experiences at Braniel Methodist Church in East Belfast.
Fr Martin Magill and the Ups and Downs of Following Jesus
This week I felt drawn to worship in a Methodist church and decided to go to Braniel Church in East Belfast. I have known the Minister John Wonnacott for almost 10 years and knew I would be made very welcome which I most certainly was. As I don’t know the area well (until very recently Braniel was only a name on the front of buses and on signposts) I managed to arrive a few minutes late. There was a small group – (about 20 people) already seated in a semi circle in the church hall. John began the service with the notices drawing attention to a recent birth and some bereavements. In his welcome he explained my presence with them as “ecumenically tithing” – for more details see Gladys Ganiel’s explanation on www.gladysganiel.com who kindly hosts this reflection.
One of the things that struck me when it came to the hymn singing was “Oh do Methodists sing well!” I have a theory it must be in the Methodist DNA. I even thought about discussing a transfer fee with John for a few of them for my own parish here in West Belfast to boost our singing.
The service was very skilfully worked out – it was a preparation for the Methodist Conference in June 2013 in Carrickfergus (I’m looking forward to attending the installation of the new president). We in Living Church could learn something from John to help us prepare for our diocesan congress at the end of September.
The hymns took up the theme of the conference which is: “A people invited to follow” and each hymn picked up on the idea of “following”.
John’s sermon was very creative – from the booklet prepared for the conference he had set up a timeline for the 18 verses of scripture chosen from the life of the apostle Peter. John read the scripture passages and invited us to put a mark on the handout he had prepared of the scriptural timeline to indicate the highs and lows in Peter’s following of Jesus. After he had read the 18 different scripture pieces, John invited us to “join the dots” which showed very clearly for Peter his life and following were not “plain sailing”.
John then connected this with the experiences of us as followers of Jesus today reminding us in our discipleship of the highs and lows. It was an encouraging message.
Then there followed a time when John invited anyone present to indicate if he or she wanted prayer for another person or people. Most people mentioned specific people – I mentioned a young parishioner battling cancer. In a very poignant way, John having noted these names prayed for each person – very beautifully done.
Afterwards I enjoyed a conversation with a number of the people who were at the service. It was especially moving when one of the people talked about how he had met a woman a number of years ago who had given her testimony on how she had discovered a friendship with Jesus in the pages of her son’s Bible. I had preached about the same woman in my sermon earlier that day having heard about her testimony the previous day – even more amazing for me was the fact that the woman is a parishioner in St Oliver Plunkett parish whom I know very well.
Although the numbers were very small in Braniel Church, I left the church encouraged and enriched.