Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing–Return to Woodvale Presbyterian

woodvale treesThis week Fr Martin Magill returned to Woodvale Presbyterian Church for his ecumenical tithing. Since his last post on this blog, his mother has passed away. He has written about this on the Compromise after Conflict blog, in a post called ‘Living with the Voices of the Dead.’ Today’s post references his mother’s death and describes how people at Woodvale Presbyterian have contributed to his own healing during this time.

Worship in Woodvale

Before going to church for worship this weekend, I went for a walk in Woodvale Park, a beautiful, recently refurbished Victorian park just opposite Woodvale Presbyterian Church.  I’m hoping to strike it lucky on one of my walks there when a band will be playing in the band stand.

Thanks to the walk in the park, the worship in the church and the hospitality in the manse afterwards, I found a real experience of self-care.

I posted previously some photographs of the tree in the park dedicated to those who had lost their lives to suicide. This is one of the great sadnesses of the city of Belfast: the number of families affected by the death of a loved one to suicide.  The previous evening, I had met a young wife whose husband had taken his own life a year beforehand.  After my post, a parishioner in Sacred Heart Parish posted to say about the anniversary of her son next Sunday.  I prayed for those affected by death through suicide in the service.

Rev Ken Doherty opened the service with a call to prayer which included a line from a psalm and the invitation to “sing a new song of praise” which made for a seamless transition to the opening hymn.

The opening prayer struck many chords for me – God as creator and provider – our daily bread, we as stewards of creation, for “comfort in pain and joy in the face of sadness”.  We then sang our second hymn – “There is a Redeemer”.

I experienced at first hand the power of being prayed for in public – I was very moved when Ken prayed for me and those in bereavement at this time.

He also prayed by name for individual sick people in the congregation.  I especially loved his prayer that the congregation would be open to becoming multi cultural and would be a place of transformation (where people would be challenged and changed), as well as his prayer for unity amongst churches.

Ken had asked me if I would read the scripture reading at the service which I did willingly – from the letter of St James, chapter 5 beginning verse 13.

A member of the congregation then gave details of the congregational meal which I plan to attend – superb menu – really looking forward to this.

After the offering was taken up, Ken then preached on the theme of “Hard Times” based on the letter of St James.  In his sermon he began by drawing attention to endings since this was the end of the letter of James.

He focussed especially on the theme of prayer – individual praying, elders praying, friends praying and Elijah praying.  He reminded us of the different roles for Christians at prayer, in times of trouble, joy, sickness, trouble and reminded us that James’ letter was rooted in real life.  Ken referenced prophets such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea who knew suffering in their own lives.  I found his point especially helpful on how God is working for our good and his glory in our pain.  Ken also reminded us that many of the psalms were written in times of affliction and as laments.

It was very clear the hymns in the service were carefully chosen to fit with the reading and the final hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” fitted the theme perfectly.

It was then off to the manse for supper and conversation.  As I left the manse, looking back on Woodvale Park, Woodvale Presbyterian church and Woodvale manse, I felt nourished in mind, body and spirit.  This was truly a holistic experience.

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