Part of our 365m trip included our participation in the North British Isles District minister’s retreat in Newcastle. Driving through the hedgerows of this lovely country, we decided to stop by the town of Downpatrick where the Holy Trinity Cathedral on a ridge above the town. Our entourage included David and Glynda Wesley, Norm Henry, and missionaries Stephen Morley and Ted Voight.
The church includes a graveyard that possesses a particular commemorative grave stone that is used to celebrate the death of Saint Patrick, believed to have died at that location. Walking the grounds of this venerable site one could not help but wonder about the missional heart of Patrick with his deep desire to evangelize a people.
We continued to Newcastle in Northern Ireland but the drive included a long conversation of the Voight’s growing ministry with the Morely’s in Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland. I was struck by their commitment in this country, their own vision of Christ’s love to a society that enjoys Christian roots but now faces a growing secularization. Those changes demand a new, pioneering spirit those of the Morleys and Voights.
We arrived at the coastal city of Newcastle, at a remarkable Glenada resort, cosponsored by the YMCA and YWCA in Northern Ireland. Due to the size of the retreat, our accommodations were just up the road in a lovely bed and breakfast. The short walk between the two residences invited a spectacular view of the Irish sea often buffeted by a blustery, cold, wind. It was a great view, but also bolstered our appreciate of the warmth and fellowship within the building. The retreat was a gathering of pastors and spouses primarily in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England. Reverend Philip McAlister, the North British Isles District Superintendent, was our gracious host and convenor of the event
David Wesley opened the retreat with an introduction to 365m. His presentation included the vision of seminary education that includes mentored supervision in global settings. David and I have discussed this ministry so often over the last three years, yet I am still amazed with its comprehensive vision that includes cultural awareness, personal growth, and contextual learning. David explained to the pastors our need for quality locations where students might thrive in their ministry and learning. Yet David provided more than information, he also presented a powerful sermon with a vision of God’s own missional heart for the world, a vision reinforced in the voice of Glynda Wesley.
McAlister closed the evening service by asking for testimonies by the pastors of how they saw this missional vision being lived in their ministry. Several pastors rose to testify to God’s actions,
- in reaching women who have suffered injustice,
- through prayer and healing,
- through Alpha classes offered in local restaurants,
- by using “speed dating” techniques to connect local young people with aging congregants,
- and through other creative activities.
These testimonies only served as a door to other remarkable stories that we heard throughout the weekend. People called to ministry in their home congregations, serving in naval chaplaincy, and reaching the heart of the inner city.
One story was recounted over dinner with Jane Austin (yes, Jane Austin) and Karen Parker. Jane recounted how she and her husband, Jeffrey, nearing retirement, took a church of just six congregants on the western coast . Through the grace of God they were able to turn the church around, utilizing the adjoining land to create a community garden out of an experimental project of soil enrichment. Since then Jane now works restoring furniture in a newly created craft shop in the town where they can both resource the church while engaging people within the community. Their activities, like other pastors on the district, blend together the witness of God, the needs of people,, and the power of mission in their community.
For our part Norm Henry and I were asked to also present sessions for the pastors the following day. Norm provided a masterful overview of the need for personal self-care in an imbalanced world. His presentation reminded each pastor that incarnational ministry means we believe God lives in them and ministers through them, and that others see God in them. It also means that the instrument of their ministry is the very lives so personal health remains central to their effectiveness as agents of reconciliation. Henry then provided practical advice on spiritual, mental, interpersonal, emotional and physical aspects of care. I appreciate Norm’s blend of humor with his serious compassion and concern for pastors.
My own presentations followed, building on the emphasis of personal care with a call to professional growth through lifelong learning. To be frank I recognize that pastors are learners by nature, often learning to adapt to the needs of their parishioners and the demand of the Gospel. However the presentation provided a way for discerning the types of knowledge needed (entertainment, vs. enrichment, vs. enhancement of learning) and the basics for establishing a professional plan for growth through learning covenants. My hope was to merely set a stage so that pastors could determine their own plans with sufficient rigor to warrant ongoing continuing education for their own lives. The final presentation focused on the heart of discipleship, providing frameworks to help each pastor name their congregation’s “personality” as well as process of discipleship so they can align programs that best serve their congregations. The pastors were gracious enough to sit through my use of John Wesley to talk about how we form faithful disciples, lead them in discerning God’s will for themselves and their world, and empower congregants to engage their world. It felt odd to be presenting my interpretation of Wesley on British land, but worthwhile based on their feedback.
To be honest, we came as presenters but I felt more like a colleague in ministry, learning through our mutual sharing and understanding. We found a number of passionate, intelligent, pastors who pray and support one another.
For the sake of 365m the British Isles, as well as the Republic of Ireland, provide one place where our students can find ministers who live the Gospel, who can provide mentored support and guidance, and can serve a missional God worthy of the original vision of Saint Patrick. For my part I think one of the key’s to this form of contextual learning involves having a rich environment that brings together a deep culture, caring leaders, and opening possibilities for living and learning. I hope we can deepen our relationship between this part of the world and our efforts at NTS, for the sake of our student and for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The second day we closed our morning devotions with a corporate prayer led by pastor Nicole McConkey.
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing; at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.
The spirit of Saint Patrick lives.