For his ecumenical tithing this week, Fr Martin Magill paid his first visit to Woodvale Presbyterian Church, where he encountered a powerful sermon and worship experience and an easy hospitality.
As part of the regular process of rotating priests in the Down and Connor diocese, on Sunday Fr Magill also said good bye to St Oliver Plunkett Parish in West Belfast. It’s not my closest parish, but it’s near where I live, and he’ll be missed after 15 years in the West at both Oliver Plunkett and Nativity in Poleglass. But he’ll be moving to Sacred Heart Parish in North Belfast, not far from where I work at the Irish School of Ecumenics (Trinity College Dublin at Belfast).
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing – Woodvale Presbyterian Church
There was indeed a “welcome on the mat” when I walked up the steps of Woodvale Presbyterian Church for worship at their 7pm evening service and my first visit. Just after I sat down, members of the congregation made a point of welcoming me. I found conversation flowed with two men in the seat behind me.
The service began with a call to worship led by the minister Rev Ken Doherty. I loved the opening prayer which included a line that the church should not be a “church of yesterday “but a church of today reminding me of the danger of churches living in the past. The prayer also included an invitation to hear God’s Word and to hear God’s voice. After the hymn, the scripture passage was taken from James 5:1-6.
Then the announcements followed which included a member of the congregation coming forward to give details of the congregational meal. Had I been attending this church on a regular basis, I would have signed up for that staightaway – that seemed a great idea. The minister then gave announcements about a “walk in the park” to take place on Friday and details of a Facebook page for the church. The offering was then taken up.
I loved how Ken not only prayed in thanksgiving for the offering for God’s purposes but also that the members of the congregation would play their part in promoting peace and reconciliation (this man is talking my language – I thought) and an end to the troubles around us.
The sermon was based on the scripture reading from James 5 and especially on the first three verses. This reflection on wealth, money and possessions spoke to me as I had been packing up in my present parish to move to a new one necessitating considerable de-cluttering.
I was very struck by one of Ken’s lines when he talked about the letter of James being very practical, “practical Christianity.”
Then he asked the question what other sort of Christianity was there, if not practical? I found the overview to the letter of James very helpful and when it came to talking about wealth, it was good to be reminded of the danger of many possessions stifling spiritual growth. (Wealth was a good servant but a bad master). Issues such as social justice and selfish hoarding were also touched on.
We then moved from reading and reflecting on God’s word to how each of us would respond with a reminder that relatively speaking we here in Belfast are very well off compared to many others in the world. In the prayer afterwards we were invited to think beyond ourselves to have concern for the poor. The service finished with the hymn “Be Thou my Vision”.
I chatted to a number of people in the congregation after the service and readily accepted an invitation to coffee in the manse. I much appreciated the conversation with Ken and Hilary and the lovely hospitality. As I drove back to St Oliver Plunkett Parish for the last time from Sunday evening worship, I felt I was basking in the afterglow of an awesome experience of church.