The Northern Ireland Hospice

We had a most interesting and challenging visit to the Northern Ireland Hospice this week. Caroline, the Senior Chaplain, took us on a tour of both the Somerton Road building and the Children’s Hospice in Newtownabbey. The work of the NI Hospice attracts a lot of support from across the community, and it is all much appreciated and necessary as the Hospice needs to raise £5.5 million pounds each year in order to continue its wonderful work for those who are living with cancer. Without the work and contributions of many supporters, and the practical commitment of many volunteers, the Hospice would not be able to survive.

hospice-walk-2008It was great to chat with Caroline about her work and it was very challenging to know that she must address some of the biggest and most difficult theological questions that people ask. As many pastors and ministers know, a cancer diagnosis has a great way of focusing the mind and it triggers questions which might otherwise remain suppressed. That is why the spiritual aspect of the care which the Hospice provides is so crucial and so necessary. Continue reading “The Northern Ireland Hospice”

Wake up to Easter

The Garden Tomb
The Garden Tomb

In his typically thought-provoking way, Bishop Tom Wright says that it’s time the church re-thought the way it celebrates Easter. It is the greatest Christian festival of the year, and yet many churches struggle to give Easter the significance it deserves in their calendar of activities.

“Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival … with lots of Alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder that people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply a one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up.” (Surprised by Hope, p268)

Typically, Presbyterians don’t focus on the church year or the ecclesiastical calendar, and we don’t normally make a big deal about Lent or Palm Sunday. Good Friday and Easter Day are more prominent. But compared with the emphasis that we give to Christmas, our celebration of Easter seems less than half-hearted. The over-full Christmas programme means that most ministers struggle to come up with a series of sermons, children’s talks and carol service epilogues that are fresh and new each Christmas season. In a typical advent season, I have counted six or seven different occasions when I have had to reflect publicly on the Christmas story of the incarnation. The Advent season is such a challenge to my creativity.

But in biblical terms, if you leave the Christmas story out, all you lose is two chapters at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. That’s not to say that the incarnation and virgin birth are unimportant doctrines. However, if you leave Easter out, you finish up without a New Testament. Christianity and the gospel make no sense apart from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. So why do we not give it greater prominence? Continue reading “Wake up to Easter”

Lord knows He tried

If I was ever of a mind to use visual material in a service of worship, or a rap for that matter, then this might just be on my list! It will thrill some people and irritate others, but it certainly makes a good theological point that has been debated for many centuries. Methinks if John Calvin were around today, he might just tap his foot to this one!

£1 million

That’s the amount that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has donated in the past few months to help relieve poverty and suffering in our world. It’s an amazing amount and it represents the combined totals of the World Development Appeal at Christmas and the Moderator’s Haiti Appeal. The funds have been distributed equally between Christian Aid and Tearfund, two excellent Christian relief agencies. To all who have contributed, I say a big “Thank you”.

dsc02131Personally I am particularly delighted at this fantastic amount because of the involvement that Patricia and I have had with Christian Aid and Tearfund since our trip to Ethiopia last summer. In almost every congregation we have visited this year we have talked about that trip and about the wonderful work that both these organisations undertake in addressing the needs of the poorest people in our world. The response from Irish Presbyterians has been outstandingly generous, and we are so proud of what has been achieved.

Our church has made a number of headlines these past months through the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, and the distress that this situation has caused to so many people. I don’t imagine that this £1 million donation to help address issues of poverty and deprivation in our world will ever grab the headlines in the same way.

But it shows that in spite of a severe recession, and in spite of all the negative reports, members of the PCI have a heart of compassion and generosity for those who literally have nothing. We are not a perfect church, and there are many areas where the ecclesia reformata semper reformanda principle applies. But we ought not to allow our shortcomings to overshadow those things which Paul describes as “honourable, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise”.

Women and Children First

titanicIt’s interesting that after almost a century since it’s demise, the story of RMS Titanic continues to attract interest and may even be capable of triggering a bit of controversy. An article in a recent edition of the New York Times will be of interest to all local Titanic enthusiasts. It describes the behaviour of the men on the occasion of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 compared with the behaviour of the men when the Lusitania sank in 1915.

Most of us know that the Titanic struck an iceberg on 14 April 1912 and sank early the next morning, with the loss of 1,517 of the 2,223 lives on board. Less well-known is the sinking of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 7 May 1915, taking 1,198 of 1,959 lives on board. The sinking of the Lusitania was a major factor in bringing the United States into war against the German Empire in the First World War.

The two sinkings were notably different in one crucial respect. The Titanic took hours to sink, leaving time for a remarkable human drama on board the sinking ship. The Lusitania sank in just eighteen minutes. Continue reading “Women and Children First”