Cheryl Meban (Chair)
Rev David Bruce
Rev Lesley Carroll
Rev Stephen Cave
Bishop Ken Clarke (Chair)
Rev Tony Davidson
Rev Dr John Dunlop (President)
Rev Dr Maurice Elliott
Dr John Gillespie
Rev Norman Hamilton
Dr Gareth Higgins
Bishop Donal McKeown
Rev Dr Gary Mason
Rev David Montgomery
Rev Dr Trevor Morrow
Rev Earl Storey
Rev Paul Symonds
Rev Janet Unsworth
of New Loyalties: Christian Faith and the Protestant
Working Class may be purchased from Centre for Contemporary
Christianity, priced £9.99
order a copy, please contact the office:
Recently a friend
of mine, who attends a well-known Belfast city centre church,
mentioned how on consecutive Sundays there had been guest
speakers. One was a visitor from Africa who talked about his
life and his faith community in his home country. The other
was a man with a secular background from a nearby working-class
street who was asked to talk about the issues facing his community.
My friend told me that he felt he had a great deal more in
common with the African who lived two thousand miles away
than he did with the fellow-Ulsterman who lived half a mile
down the road.
In May 2008, I completed
a project for the Centre which tried to address the huge social
gulf which had just become apparent to my friend. I began
by examining the very real social, economic and cultural deprivation
which has dogged many Protestant working-class communities,
while so many middle-class people have not only survived but
thrived. I then looked at the evidence for withdrawal by many
churches from working-class engagement, a process accelerated
by the Troubles. I also attempted to assess the function of
Loyalism in Protestant working-class areas and in particular
to grasp the status of the paramilitaries a status
which has made many church workers extremely wary of community
If my study thus
far confirmed the gulf which was referred to in the first
paragraph of this article, then further research offered some
more positive results. I looked at the role of Loyalist ex-combatant,
Billy Mitchell in creating both a theology and a local practice
of community restoration. I examined some of the innovative
Christian community work being done in other parts of the
world to see what lessons might be learnt here in Northern
Ireland. Finally I visited a number of Christians who, within
our own society, have refused to abandon the Protestant working-class
and who are finding ways to combine an Evangelical ethos with
a 'no strings attached' involvement with the needs and aspirations
of ordinary people in their particular neighbourhood.
At time of publication
of this issue of Centre News half of the copies which we printed
in June 2008 have already gone out, indicating considerable
interest in the topic. However my hope would be that New Loyalties
will do more than 'stir interest'. The real fruit would be
in stirring churches to the radical action which is so desperately
needed if the gulf of social class is not to grow continually
wider, placing many working-class communities beyond the reach
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom values of Justice,
Well-being and Peace.
Philip Orr Centre
Elaine Storkey Union Theological
College, 108 Botanic Ave, Belfast
Tuesday, 14th October 2008, 8pm
During a morning
workshop hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Christianity
at East Belfast Mission, Centre News took the opportunity
to talk to Marva Dawn about frailty and the purposes of God.
What follows is a transcript of the conversation.
You're very open about your illnesses and your frailties.
I wonder, do you feel yourself at odds with the general flow
of the Christian community?
Marva: I find
myself at odds with the general ethos. But I also find that
as soon as people find out I have handicaps, and that I'm
open about them, then those who have handicaps come around
to talking about it because they can't find many people to
talk to about them.
There's a tendency,
and this is probably more prominent in the US, to have a gospel
that's health and wealth centred, that if you're a Christian,
things will go well for you and you won't have many troubles.
Whereas I think the opposite, that if you want to follow Jesus
that will get you into trouble. I think that physical ailments
can be a part of that in that they form us and they are helpful
to us, but they're not generally understood by people who
have never experienced them.
People who have not
experienced persecution can't imagine what that would be like
and how that could coexist with being a Christian. But when
you're in the midst of being persecuted for being a true Christian
then you discover that that's a way to follow Jesus and that
there is a new strength in witnessing from that.
Well in the same way with illnesses. In general they don't
seem to match the flow of Christian community, but when you're
open about them you discover that there are many people on
the same path. It's a human tendency to have illness because
we live in a broken world.
resources have you found within the Christian tradition?
thing for sure is praying the Psalms. In fact my newest book
is about this. It's called Being Well When We're Ill,
and I found myself constantly referring to the Psalms through
I have been in the
habit of praying through the Psalms every seven weeks, according
to the Anglican pattern in the Book of Common Prayer. I find
that really helpful.
That's why in the
books I've written about worship I emphasise using the whole
music of the church because more modern songs tend to be more
But older material
seems to have more diversity. Like Martin Luther's 'Out of
the depths I cry to you O Lord'. Now he's referring to lamenting
over sin, but there's plenty of Christian hymnody that refers
to suffering and affliction and of how God is there in our
suffering and affliction.
And that's why I
mention the Psalms, because there are actually more lament
Psalms than there are thanksgiving Psalms although all the
lament psalms except one turn to thanksgiving and praise by
been intrigued by the title of your book and this idea of
being well in the midst of illness. What is your understanding
of wellness and how does it contrast with cure and healing?
Marva: I think
sometimes we can trust God for physical wellness, but more
important than physical wellness is emotional, mental, spiritual
and intellectual wellness. A wellness that doesn't depend
on my body being in good shape, but I can be at home with
God and be in deep prayer with God, in conversation with God,
aware of his presence and still not be in perfect shape.
My teaching today
is not because I'm in great shape, I'm struggling with certain
physical limitations but the wellness is a wellness of mind
and spirit where we know we are in God's hands and trust that
he will bring out of our work whatever he will, and we try
not to be in the way.
It is a wellness
that trusts God. And sometimes I really lack that wellness.
I don't trust as well as I should. No, I don't want to make
it a 'should'. I don't trust as well as I want to.
role do people who are ill or frail play in the body of the
is a very huge role for the church and that has been taught
to us by Jean Vanier and his L'Arche Communities. They always
pair a person who is physically, mentally well with someone
who is physically not so well or mentally challenged. And
usually the person who thought they were well, they discover
that they themselves are formed by the handicapped people.
We have a couple
of friends who have Down's syndrome. They are the deepest
lovers. Even if you have done something wrong they love you
to the hilt and they teach me so much about God things
that I couldn't learn no matter how mentally unchallenged
one is. There is something about our friends that appeals
to me, a simple hearted reliance on God and a great display
of God's love. So enfolding.
churches struggle to accommodate more diverse expressions
of wellness, children, visually impaired, hearing, but we
don't adjust the format of worship. Technology is about adaptation
but it is not about changing HOW we do things and how we who
are physically well are challenged.
Marva: I was
deeply affected by a sermon that was heard by six people with
Down's syndrome. This was in a congregation that was very
accepting of those who were mentally challenged and allowed
them to participate in worship and they all sat in the front.
I said something in my sermon and one man said out loud, 'what
did you mean by that?' And I answered him. And then he asked
another question, and then another. I ended up throwing away
the rest of the sermon and answered his questions. Afterwards
people said, 'that was a wonderful sermon', and I said, 'but
he wrote it! He planned it!' He just led me into some very
good questions and the answers were what people needed.
about the future, Marva? What is your eschatological vision
of heaven and a renewed world and a renewed body? Is that
important for you, sustaining for you?
part of it. The eschatological vision of God restoring the
whole earth is much larger than my own personal restoration.
It is my most viable source of hope, because I know God will
bring creation to completion and I'm sure that at that time
all things will be made new and restored. But in the meanwhile
that gives me courage for the day-to-day stuff.
I need to rely on
daily sustenance. It's why praying the Psalms is important
to me. One of the reasons I do that is that the early Christian
saints prayed the psalms because they knew they were the prayer
book of Jesus and that Jesus drew great sustenance from the
We know that all
the Psalms that say 'for the choir director/leader of worship'
were used in public worship. We also know that he participated
in the public worship of his day and made it his Sabbath custom.
So we know he heard those psalms again and again when he participated
in public worship. This makes the practice very important
The other practice
is using my own spiritual gifts. I do much better when I'm
out teaching than when I'm at home and start feeling sorry
for myself. I do much better when I'm with the community than
when I'm by myself.
you take your frailties with you into the public realm in
the exercise of your gift, rather than hide them away.
a funny dialectic. I have to rest much more now than I used
to, since my kidney transplant, and that's been three years.
And I often feel guilty when I have to take a nap after breakfast.
But Myron keeps assuring me that if that's what I need, that's
what I need. I must make a better job of listening to my body
and giving it the rest that it needs. I can't do everything
I used to. I work slower now.
there anything else you want to say in closing Marva?
Marva: I want
to speak especially to those who know that they won't ever
get better. A lot of times the temptation is to feel that
their life is wasted.
I want to assure every person that our lives are part of God's
great meta-narrative and that God is using even our immobility,
our not-being-able-to do anything. God is using those times
too, to form us and to form other people. I think that too
much of the ethos of contemporary christianity is 'you gotta
get well! you gotta get well!', which causes people who are
not made well to think that they are useless.
That's never true
for Jesus people, if we love him and desire to follow him,
then by the power of the spirit we can still live to the glory
of God. I want to stress that.
Ireland is changing. We are experiencing an increase in social
diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion and sexual identity.
We are emerging out of a paradigm of sectarian division between
two populations into a society that now recognises the presence
of minority populations. This increasing social diversity
presents the churches sector with realities that challenge
their norms of culture, religion and morality, norms that,
in the past, have been influential in shaping social attitudes
and behaviour. The churches sector must now relate to a civic
framework of equality, rights and inclusion that seeks to
protect the participation of members of minority populations.
With this comes responsibility.
research report is not about what Christians expect from others,
but about the character and behaviour of Christians as individuals
and communities. Christians do not get to choose the diversity
with which they live. The only choice is how to live with
you are interested in obtaining a copy of this report, please
contact CCCI. The report is available free of charge.
latest edition of lion&lamb is available online
and explores the topic, Faith in the City: Looking for God
in an Urban Landscape. It includes articles looking at ministry
in four very different settings in Ireland: Cork, Dublin,
Limerick and Londonderry, as well as interviews with Houston
McKelvey and Hugh Kennedy, the Administrators of Belfast's
of the magazine are also available on the website.
We know that you
have appreciated receiving lion&lamb in the past and we
would like to be able to publish further editions. However,
due to staffing and funding issues, we are currently unsure
of the future of the magazine. We will keep you informed of
any future developments.
We are pleased to
be re-launching p.s. It has been off-line since December 2007
during a time of transition at the Centre for Contemporary
Christianity in Ireland. Our desire for p.s. is that it should
provide informed, credible and practical comment and
analysis, rooted in Biblical reflection and theological thought.
We are aiming to stimulate Christian minds with issues in
the public square (p.s.), to inject new perspectives and provoke
discussion. Comments are posted on our website and on a weblog
part of our website where readers can add their own
Issues in the
public square can include challenges in politics to
media, education, climate change, to specific issues like
Christmas consumerism; the topic simply has to
relate to life and faith on this island. With the re-launch
we aim to publish fortnightly and those who previously received
p.s. via email will continue to do so. We have an editorial
team who provide guidance, edit and proof the p.s. articles
written by our team of contributors.
If you are either
interested in contributing or would like to receive p.s.,
having not received it previously, please contact us via our
new publication in our Soundings series will be launched in
January. This publication is entitled Divided Past: Shared
Future and contains two Essays on Churches addressing
the legacy of the Troubles. Watch this space for more details
on the launch.
The Board are grateful
to all the team, volunteers, Advisory Council and active supporters
for their commitment to the work of the Centre. In particular,
we thank our Director, who indicated his intention to conclude
his period of service at the Centre as of 31 March 2008. We
believe that this year has taken us forward in advancing our
objectives and serving the church and community in which we
live and work.
We remain deeply
grateful to those trusts and grant making bodies that provide
substantial support to our programme. As with many similar
organisations, financial sustainability is a significant challenge
for us. This will increase in the year ahead. Grants that
were available to us over the last ten years have come to
an end. We need to find new sources of funding.
As we plan for the
uncertainty this brings, we remain committed to equip the
church in Ireland to serve the changing and diverse communities
that call this island home. The Board will keep the developing
situation under review and take necessary and effective decisions
as required throughout the year.
following is a summary financial statement of Centre
for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland Ltd.
(regular and appeal)
and Gift Aid
Funding Carried Forward
in a Plural Society
in the Public Square
We would like
to acknowledge the support of a range of funders, both
statutory bodies and charitable trusts, who have made
grants towards various aspects of our work:
Community Relations Council (Core Funding & Peace
2.5), European Programme for Peace & Reconciliation
(Peace 2 Extension), Community Bridges Programme (IFI),
Department of Foreign Affairs, Ardbarron Trust, Sir Halley
Stewart, St Stephen's Trust.
an organisation, we will become increasingly dependent on
donations from people keen to support our work.
If you wish to give, please contact the office for a Gift
Aid form if this is appropriate.
Smith was appointed as Development Worker in June this year to help
sustain the organisation during this important time of transition
and to work with the Board and Council as they discern the way forward
for CCCI. She previously worked with the organisation as Learning
Co-ordinator from 2002 - 2005.
As a reader
of Centre News you will have been familiar with many of the staff
who worked for the Centre for a number of years. You may be interested
in where they are now. David and Fran Porter have moved to Coventry where David
will be Director of the International Centre for Reconciliation
at Coventry Cathedral. Derek Poole has become Director of LINC in York Street. Lynda Gould is working as Family and Community Director with
East Belfast Mission. Anna Rankin is enjoying her new role as a mother following
the birth of her baby daughter, Aoife. Claire Martin is working part-time for both IFES Ireland
and CCCI. June Spindler is Volunteer Co-ordinator with North Down YMCA.