Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing- West Kirk Presbyterian: How Can we go the Extra Mile in a Troubled Belfast?

west kirk imageThis week Fr Martin Magill visited West Kirk Presbyterian near the Woodvale Road, near where there have been major disturbances over the 12th of July. As Fr Magill explains in this post, he felt it was important to pray in and be with people from the area. Many of us (myself included), struggle to know what Christians or churches might contribute in this tense situation. There have been a number of Christian reflections and contributions to conversations over the past few days (Methodist President Heather Morris, and a discussion on Sunday Sequence, to name but two), but I think many remain at a loss.

Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: West Kirk Presbyterian, Belfast

For worship this week, I wanted to attend a church in the vicinity of the Woodvale Road, Belfast, where there had been rioting for the two previous nights.  I wanted to pray for the area and I also wanted to be there because I believe churches have a major contribution to make in their local community, as well as the larger community, in facilitating reconciliation.   I had often wondered about West Kirk Presbyterian and a quick phone call to the minster, Rev David Clawson, assured me there was an evening service.  Being close to a Maud’s ice cream shop was also an attraction!

The service, owing to smaller numbers, took place in the church hall.  I enjoyed a conversation with a number of  people who were in the back seats and in the course of conversation, I was reminded of the tradition of “pew rent” – long since gone from church life here.

The service was led by David and began exactly at 7.00pm.  He opened with a quotation from Psalm 118 and throughout the service, he quoted a number of other psalms which appealed to me as someone who loves the psalms.  I was familiar with each of the hymns in the worship beginning with the opening hymn – “Tell out my soul”.  David then used some “Puritan” prayers – these were new to me.   We then sang another hymn which were the words of Ps 42 “as the deer pants for the water”.

The scripture text was from Luke’s gospel – 20:1-19, which included the parable of the vineyard and the mistreating and killing of the landlord’s servants and son.  David joked beforehand that his sermon would be a typical Presbyterian sermon of 3 points all beginning with the letter “P”.   In the first point, he parallelled the privileges of being in the vineyard with the privileges we have today in our modern world.  In his sermon, he also preached about rejections of Jesus and his way of life today including the rejection of the Word of God.  We were invited to continue to follow the way of Jesus even in a society which at times rejects his ways.

We then had a time of prayer which David led which gave me the opportunity to pray for this part of  Belfast and to pray for “our road”.  It was followed by some time to pray in silence for the needs we brought with us to worship.

After the service, I chatted to one of the elders who said — and I paraphrase —  that his sentiments when it comes to the peace process in Northern Ireland are:

“we don’t listen very much, we do a lot of talking and we talk over one another”.

It reminded me of a question I heard on my counselling course – “who really listens to you?”  I also had time to chat to David about ministry on the Shankill.

Earlier in the day, listening to Sunday Sequence on BBC Radio Ulster, I was taken with Fr Tim Barlett when he spoke about the need to ‘go the extra mile.’ This was in the context of a wider discussion about the disturbances in Belfast over the 12th of July. Throughout the day, and this service, I wondered what ‘going the extra mile’ would look like for me.

That’s a challenge for all of us.

Image of West Kirk sourced at:, by Scholte)

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