This week Fr Martin Magill attended the commissioning service for Laura and Stephen Coulter, who are embarking to Nepal as missionaries for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Laura will be working as a peace-building advisor to the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) and Stephen will be working as a mental health advisor to UMN. They have started a blog that will keep us updated on their work.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: The Commissioning of Laura and Stephen Coulter
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” — Gandalf in The Hobbit.
On Sunday evening, along with a number of parishioners from Sacred Heart Parish where I’m parish priest, I attended a commissioning service for Laura and Stephen Coulter. Laura in her role with the Irish Churches Peace Project worked closely with people from Sacred Heart Parish and Joanmount Methodist Church and had invited us to the special service in her church, Kirkpatrick Memorial Church on the Newtownards Road, in East Belfast.
In the course of the service, which included very well chosen hymns, focussed prayer, scripture readings, a background to the commissioning and a “charge”, we heard more about what was involved for the Coulters. I found it moving during the refreshments afterwards to see Stephen’s father and Laura’s mother in the church halls. Stephen also told us about the emotions involved in saying goodbye to their children. Overall I came away feeling inspired by what I had taken part in.
Laura and Stephen had originally wanted to go to Afghanistan but for various reasons this had not worked out. Instead as the months went on, Nepal emerged as the destination. I found it very interesting listening to some of the details of becoming a missionary with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, including the application process which they went through a number of years ago as well as hearing about some of the support available to the Coulters. During the service we also heard about the work of the Council for Global Mission in the Presbyterian Church. I had a brief conversation afterwards with Rev Liz Hughes, the convenor of the council.
Where I found the service particularly inspirational was during the “charge.” For the purposes of this reflection, I will call it the equivalent of a sermon. Kirkpatrick Memorial’s minister, Rev Christoph Ebbinghaus, spelled out what many people had been left wondering – how come a couple who at this time in their lives would normally be interested in comfort and security, in developing their career, in enlarging their pension pot — were going off on mission to Kathmandu in Nepal?
He pointed out that as people of faith, the Coulters believed this was in response to a call from God and they were motivated by their faith in Him. Chrisoph referred to a section from The Hobbit which highlighted the challenge of comfort versus adventure:
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” — Gandalf.
The minister pointed out that Laura and Stephen had chosen adventure because of their deep faith in the Lord. I particularly liked the way Christoph went on to say that Laura and Stephen were an inspiration and that maybe for some of us we might even be influenced even in a small way to take up the challenge in our own lives of following God as Laura and Stephen had done.
The evening finished with an invitation to refreshments in the church halls and the many opportunities this provided to meet and re connect with people.