This week for his Ecumenical Tithing Fr Martin Magill visited St Mary’s in Ballybeen for a Harvest Service. His account of the experience comes with a ‘health warning’: Worshipping regularly in other churches could seriously undermine your stereotypes and damage your prejudices!
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Harvesting the fruit of difference at St Mary’s, Ballybeen
Thanks to some photographs on Facebook and a suggestion from my “virtual friend” Michael Wardlow I ended up in St Mary’s in Ballybeen estate in East Belfast this week for worship. Michael, whom I’d never met, had posted some photographs of the harvest display in St Mary’s earlier on his page.
I chose to cycle there from my home in the Oldpark Road in Sacred Heart Parish to Dundonald. (If this ever gets read by anyone from Sustrans or from the DRD, please may we have more signs linking the cycle route from Titanic Quarter to the Comber Greenway!) Michael and his wife Karen brought me round to St Mary’s where I experienced a very warm welcome from the very start. Being warmly welcomed to a church works for me – hence my delight that Living Church initiative will be developing “Ministry of Welcome” training in Down and Connor.
I had an unusual experience where not only was I welcomed by name by the minister, Rev Mark Harvey, I was also invited to the microphone to introduce myself and share some concerns I had from the parish which needed prayer. We then sang a number of hymns – I loved the line from one of the hymns which said: “ by the grace of God we will carry on”. Mark then led a time of prayer which had a very strong international feel to it – we prayed for Syria, Egypt and Pakistan. He then invited anyone from the congregation to come to the microphone to share things from their lives for which they were especially grateful. This was very moving and some very powerful stories were shared.
After the sharing and some further singing, the visiting preacher, Rev Colin Davis then read from Genesis 1 beginning at verse 20, which gave details of the variety of God’s creation. The sermon focussed around the making of a pizza with the various different ingredients which made up the pizza – Ruth Menelly and Rev Mark Harvey prepared the pizza as Colin reminded us that we believe in a ‘God of variety’.
Very poignantly, he commented that human beings look and see differences as something negative whereas God looks and sees differences as positive. In harvest, we see the variety of God’s creation.
We also heard about Mission 2015 – a full year when the diocese of Down and Dromore will be focussing on mission. After the final hymn, we then had tea/coffee, biscuits and of course pizza. I had a very enjoyable time meeting some of the people in the church and will follow up some of the links I made there. Afterwards, Michael and Karen invited me to their home for further hospitality and a most stimulating conversation.
Some reflections on the experience
1. Importance of warm welcome – the parish was very good at welcoming me
2. Powerful point in the sermon on the reality of variety as something to be celebrated not feared – I had a hugely enriching experience of diversity in St Mary’s
3. Catholic churches could benefit from developing harvest services
4. I’m thinking of developing a warning about the experience of worshipping in other churches. It would suggest that: worshipping regularly in other churches could seriously undermine your stereotypes and damage your prejudices!