This year is the 400th anniversary of the translation of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. This anniversary has received considerable attention in the media, and there have been many events marking the occasion throughout the English-speaking world. Here in Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Ulster’s two-part series with William Crawley, The Good Book, provided an insightful perspective.
You can watch Crawley’s introduction to one of the programmes here, although it seems that the BBC has taken down the full recordings.
On 24 September in Monkstown, just north of Belfast, the local churches and community will begin a week-long ecumenical celebration of the KJV.
Much of the activity is centred at the Church of the Good Shepherd, a joint Church of Ireland and Methodist congregation pastored by the Rev. Arlene Moore (Church of Ireland) and the Rev. Alan Lorimer (Methodist).
What encourages me about the programme of events is the genuine effort to be ecumenical. Not only are churches from a variety of Protestant denominations involved, but the event on Thursday 29 September is a ‘Celtic Praise Evening with supper’ and includes a time of chanting and contemplative silence led by the Benedictine monks of the Holy Cross Monastery, Rostrevor. It also will feature Irish dancers and a harpist.
Monkstown, for those unfamiliar with the area, is predominantly Protestant. On the Church of Ireland website, the area around the Church of the Good Shepherd is described this way:
Monkstown is a large loyalist estate with about 1400 houses and is about 8 miles north of Belfast. In the early 60’s it was built as a mixed Protestant and Catholic area but with the troubles, as happened in many other areas, Catholics felt safer in Catholic areas and Protestants felt safer in Protestant areas and so Monkstown became almost entirely Protestant.
Over the years, the Church of the Good Shepherd has established relationships with the monks at Holy Cross, the parish church of St Oliver Plunkett in Twinbrook in Belfast (Oliver Plunkett is even advertising the KJV events on its website), and Clonard Monastery in Belfast.
One of the week-long activities is creating a set of hand-written Gospels. Members of the community are encouraged to lend their hand to this project at one of five venues: Abbey Presbyterian (Matthew), the Village Centre (Mark), Hollybank Primary School (Luke 1-11), Monkstown Community School (Luke 12-24) and Church of the Good Shepherd (John).
The completed gospels will be dedicated at the morning service in the Church of the Good Shepherd on Sunday 2 October.
Between Sunday 25 September and Saturday 1 October, there will be continuous reading of the KJV at the Church of the Good Shepherd, from 4 pm. Another daily activity is 5 minutes of prayer and reflection at 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm and 7 pm.
Saturday 1 October will feature a Community Fun Day and Craft Fair (12-3.30 pm) and an Ulster Scots Celebration of Faith and Culture with the Low Country Boys and storyteller Liz Weir at 7 pm.
And in addition to all of this, throughout the week there will be ‘exhibitions from local museums, old Bibles, displays relating to Celtic Christian heritage and historical artefacts.’
I’m impressed by the scale of the celebrations planned, the emphasis on prayer, and the deliberate ecumenicity of the project. I grew up in a small town in Maine, USA, reading the KJV , and it’s still the translation I prefer.
While many in Northern Ireland and further afield may see it exclusively as a ‘Protestant’ Bible, I hope events such as this can help all people better appreciate the beauty of the translation – both in its language and in the message contained within it.